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The Physicians Committee



Editorial: Better Choices: A New Direction in Research

A new trend in research raises issues regarding not only the treatment of animals, but also about how and why research is conducted in the first place. In a multicenter study, experimenters are subjecting enormous numbers of mice to electric shocks, food deprivation, forced swimming, and other stressors, as you’ll read in Dr. Balcombe’s article in this issue. Needless to say, these experiments cause tremendous misery for these unfortunate animals. Disturbingly enough, that is exactly the experimenters’ intent. By repeatedly stressing animals and then offering them alcohol, these researchers hope to learn how stress leads to alcoholism, including how genetic factors play a role in the process. Other researchers are doing similar experiments using various drugs of abuse—stressing animals and then offering them cocaine or narcotics.

The tools to conduct vitally important reserch ethically and non-invasively are now available to researchers everywhere and should be vigorously used.

In such studies, the welfare of the animal subjects is violated by design. But there are other concerns. In contrast to the meticulousness in using only the most purified chemical substances, running experiments in exactly the same way each time, and choosing proper measurements and statistical procedures, the researchers ignore the most basic question: How do these experiments relate to people? Does a rat being forced to swim for his life tell us anything about human stresses? Are rat genes really comparable to human genes? And do these experiments really help us treat drug or alcohol abuse?

The fact is, we already know that genetic factors make some people more susceptible than others to substance abuse. Individuals with too few brain receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine, for example, become addicted very readily. And we know that stress plays a major role, too.

What we need now is not another animal experiment to show how stress or pain lead to addiction. Rather, we need to find ways to prevent addiction in humans and to intervene if it has taken hold. Some researchers have taken up these important challenges, but research funders have not yet made them a priority.

The importance of human-centered research is highlighted in a second article on advances in prostate cancer survival. In studies of cancer patients, research teams have begun to look at who does well over time and who does not. By examining diet and other factors, scientists have designed methods to improve survival and have put them to the test. It turns out that diet changes make an enormous difference, helping many cancer patients conquer the disease and extend their lives. This line of research has also shone a new light on how such dietary interventions can prevent cancer in the first place.

In addition to the educational and advocacy work we do at PCRM, we also conduct clinical research trials in which patients work with us to help us understand how diet changes can affect cholesterol problems, obesity, hormonal problems, and other conditions. We are about to launch a new research trial seeking to improve and potentially reverse type 2 diabetes. The tools to conduct vitally important research ethically and non-invasively are now available to researchers everywhere and should be vigorously used. Whether researchers are examining the human brain with high-tech positron emission tomography scanners, teasing apart subtle biochemical reactions on samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid, studying the body’s cellular defenses against HIV, or simply understanding normal growth and development, our job is to do ethical and high-quality research, not on animals, but in partnership with human volunteers who ultimately gain as much as we do in the process.

Neal Barnard signature
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM

 



Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.



Spring 2003
Volume XII
Number 2

Good Medicine
ARCHIVE

 

 
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