While the ethics of animal testing have often been debated, a Yale researcher and his colleagues are now calling for changes not in the practice of animal testing, but in the cataloguing of the research results.
In an article in the British Medical Journal, Yale professor and co-director of the Yale Center for Perinatal, Pediatric and Environmental Epidemiology at the Yale University School of Medicine, Michael Bracken and a group of his colleagues concluded that the contributions animal research makes to inform human trials and potential treatments need urgent evaluation. At the moment, there is a lack of systematic reviews of animal studies. These reviews provide researchers with an unbiased overview of all the research on a specific subject.
Along with four other British researchers who comprise Reviewing Animal Trials Systematically Group, or RATS, Bracken argues that the systematic review of animal studies will help researchers make better decisions about methodology used in human trials.
“To practice medicine, doctors need to have the very best information they can get and they get this from the systematic reviews,” Bracken said. “It’s a simple message really.”
Through the Cochrane and Campell Collaborations, scientists have access to the systematic reviews of both health care and social science experiments done on human test subjects. These reviews are designed to help researchers navigate through both published and unpublished studies in order to improve and build upon future studies. However, animal studies, which are the basis for most studies done on humans, are not being systematically reviewed like human studies, and thus there is a lack of information available for use by researchers.
Bracken explained the importance of systematically reviewing these studies.
“Humans are being put at unnecessary risk because we haven’t properly reviewed the [animal] research,” he said.
Bracken and his colleagues argue that by systematically reviewing animal studies, human studies can be designed and carried through in a more effective way. He said human trials are often designed on animal research that is not necessarily adequately designed or thoroughly extensive.
“Let’s get a systematic review of animal studies and it will help us making decisions about the right time to do a human trial, or the right dose to give,” he said.
While the study has received mixed responses from both sides of the animal testing battle, Bracken reiterated that the article is not for or against animal testing, but about getting the research formally evaluated and reviewed.
“This report is certainly not an argument against animal experimentation,” he said in a press release.
The article, published in the Feb. 28 British Journal of Medicine received a positive response from the British Government, which is in support of setting up workshops in London where animal researchers can learn to do systematic reviews. Bracken said the United Kingdom is more advanced than the United States in the process toward doing systematic reviews of animal testing and he hopes that once these workshops begin in the United Kingdom, such practices will be adopted by the National Institutes of Health in the United States.