Fauna's Monkey, Eugene

A Guest Post from Dr. Theodora Capaldo

Guest post from Dr. Theodora Capaldo, President and Executive Director of NEAVS, written in response to a blog comment supporting the use of animals in research.


Thank you for the opportunity to respond to some of the prevailing myths that accompany the use of animals in research. Your comments state a few of them. In response, I wish to recognize the fact that this is a time in history when strong ethical and humane objections to animal research are reinforced by scientific argument. Systematic analysis in multiple areas of biomedical research clearly concludes that data derived from animal studies inadequately predicts what is true for humans.

When applied to humans animal derived data is often erroneous, dangerous and in some circumstances, deadly. Therefore, animals are a poor model thru which to arrive at biomedical interventions for humans. Advanced and prevailing science reveals again and again the severe limitations of animal use. There are few scientists today who disagree on the limitations of the animal research model — while the debate continues as to how rapidly we can and must replace it.

Your assertion that virtually “all life improving and extending treatments available” have benefited through animal research is a claim promoted by well financed lobbying organizations. These organizations include suppliers of animals, caging, equipment and others which benefit financially from the use of animals in research. No evidence exists to substantiate this broad and sweeping claim. In reality, many advances in human health have been delayed or outright derailed because of dependence on species that differ from humans. One example includes a former director of a national cancer research institute who stated, “We have been curing cancer in mice for decades. It simply hasn’t worked in humans.” Or the director of a chimpanzee research center who admitted, “I cannot tell you what we have learned about HIV and AIDS from the chimpanzee.” Instead, factual evidence dictates (according to the U.S. Federal Drug Administration) that the vast majority of drugs proven safe and effective in animal studies, fail in human clinical trials. Out of the small percentage that make it to market, nearly half of these drugs are withdrawn because of serious side effects to humans. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that animal testing has not protected humans from serious or even fatal side effects of modern medications. Animal studies have led to erroneous conclusions that have cost millions of dollars (including tax payer money), delayed scientific breakthroughs for human health and had detrimental results in humans.

Fauna's Sue Ellen
Sue Ellen is the last remaining chimpanzee at Fauna who was injected with the HIV virus.

Fauna’s rescued chimpanzees who were used for HIV research give us a starting point to give two examples out of numerous possibilities of some of the problems with using animals. HIV contaminated blood was released into the human blood supply, thereby infecting 6,000 hemophiliacs with HIV and its progression to AIDS because while chimpanzees can be infected with HIV it does not lead to AIDS in them. Rather, they often clear the virus. Observing chimpanzees infected with HIV led researchers to falsely conclude HIV was a benign virus. In addition, systematic reviews of Hepatitis C studies indicated the chimpanzee had already been all but abandoned as a model of choice for vaccine development. In fact, major pharmaceutic companies testified before the Institute of Medicine that chimpanzees were no longer necessary for successful vaccine development. In vitro methods are becoming the model of choice for research and vaccine development. Therefore, removing chimpanzees from use to develop and test a Hepatitis C vaccine, will not impact a vaccine being successfully available for humans and may instead accelerate its availability.

The animal model is the only area of science where we do things the way we did 100 years ago. There is no other area of science or technology where the status quo continues to be vehemently defended. For example, the Apple iPhone bought today will be outdated in a month. The safety features on a 2015 BMW will be surpassed in one year. Laundry detergent will contain ’new advanced stain removing power’ from one grocery shopping to the next. Every field of science and technology utilizes a ’here today, gone tomorrow’ understanding of what advances can and must be offered. Except the use of animals in research.

Why are we not asking ourselves: “Is it truly the ’best’ or even a necessary way to understand human health, develop treatments, prevention and cures?” The only clear answer is a definitive no. The U.S. spends more money on animal research than any nation in the world, yet on last count it was only 16th in morbidity and mortality in the world. The millions of animals used — to the tune of billions of dollars — are not making Americans healthier or live longer than many other countries. Using a different species for the benefit of advancing human health is antiquated science.

And, animals in labs, despite the gentlest and kindest of lab workers, suffer greatly. Captivity is where the suffering begins, because the cruelty of animal research starts with a cage. It arises from the attitude that this animal is here for human use. And in those first moments, before scalpel or drug meets their flesh, the animal’s innate rights, dignity and safety are annihilated. We deprive them of their natural life, choices, community, and all of what nature had intended for them and for which each was uniquely created. We trap them in cages, Lucite boxes, restraining devices, stereotaxic chairs and we do things to them. Scary, painful and many times lethal. And, in the vast majority of situations, entering a lab cage is a death sentence. Most will die or be killed at the end of the research. So, let’s put ourselves in the animals’ place for one moment, one hour or one day — let alone a lifetime.

Sanctuaries, such as Fauna, rescue animals who have spent decades or most of their life in a lab. Every care giver at Fauna knows, with great pain in their hearts, that many of those rescued will never be restored to complete well-being, physically or psychologically. Instead every day in sanctuary presents an enormous challenge of trying to make the rescued animal feel safe. The very small percentage who make it out of a lab alive and safely to sanctuary, have the psychological and physical scars to attest to the hardship, cruelty and suffering they endured.

Fauna's Chimpanzee Yoko
Yoko suffered years of abuse in medical labs, finally succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver in 2014, at the age of 39.

Please join us in bringing science into the 21st century. As a society, we must stop defending an inherently cruel and outdated method. Join us in fighting the profit driven industry of animal research. Demand that existing alternatives be used in every corner of science. Join us in insisting that in today’s world of science there is a better way. And, that through scientific advancements we will develop real solutions for people afflicted with life threatening disease and injury. It is through epidemiology, genetic research, the use of human cells and tissue, post mortem studies and other non-animal alternatives that there will be genuine and tangible scientific advancement in human health.
Finally, if a species, such as the chimpanzee, who share almost 98% of our genes, has been  shown to have failed as a predictive model and is no longer needed to study human disease — what about all the rest of the animals who are still suffering in labs? The response must be that the cost to their lives is immeasurable and the benefit to humans is negligible or, dare we say, non-existent.

Please think about this. Critically examine what we have been taught about the impact animal testing has really had on human health  and scientific breakthroughs. And, recognize that those of us dedicated to ending the use of animals in research are also striving for  the better health and wellbeing of humans. It is not about choosing animal welfare over human welfare. It is about choosing both.

–Dr. Theodora Capaldo, Ed.D.


Dr. Theodora CapaldoAbout Dr. Theodora Capaldo

Dr. Theodora Capaldo, Ed.D., led the charge that ended U.S. chimp research, through a NEAVS campaign called Project R&R, launched in 2004, four years after passage of the CHIMP Act, which called for the creation of a national sanctuary system for research chimps no longer in use and mandated that they couldn’t be euthanized for labs’ convenience. Read more about Dr. Theodora Capaldo.