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RESEARCH ETHICS By Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H.
ANIMAL RESEARCH REGULATION
Revised European Union Animal Welfare Regulations Announced
The European Commission has announced new regulations that would affect the lives of approximately 12 million animals each year in the European Union. These regulations would outlaw the use of great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans—in medical research and testing. And for experiments involving any animal species, the EU is pushing for more alternative methods; the proposal would establish “national reference laboratories” in each EU nation to oversee standardization and validation. The revision also requires the use of alternatives where available, provides for a case-by-case ethical review of all non-ape primate use proposals, and places strong restrictions on the use of wild-caught primates. Finally, the commission proposes to extend protections to all vertebrate and some invertebrate animals used for scientific research, education, toxicity testing, and tissue supply.
These proposals contrast starkly with U.S. protections for animals in laboratories. The Animal Welfare Act excludes the vast majority of animals used in research from any legal protections and does not require that alternatives be used in testing.
NONANIMAL REGULATORY TESTING
PCRM Expertise Sought for EPA Chemical Evaluation Program
The success of PCRM scientists in promoting “thoughtful toxicology” has not only saved animals, but also caught the attention of the American Chemistry Council. The council has asked PCRM to join the High Production Volume Chemical Peer Consultation Pilot expert panel. The program is designed to quickly assess information on the health and environmental hazards of industrial chemicals. PCRM will play a key role by suggesting ways a chemical’s potential hazards can be characterized to protect public and worker health, while avoiding expensive, inhumane, and time-consuming animal tests.
For example, chemicals with structural or physical similarities can be grouped together, and toxicity information from one chemical can be “bridged” to other chemicals in that group. Panel representatives consist of scientific experts from the Environmental Protection Agency, PCRM, and an emeritus toxicologist of the National Toxicology Program who has represented an environmental group in the past.
For more information, please visit PCRM.org.
German Government Studies Nonanimal Inhalation Toxicity Testing
Scientists at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment are testing the predictive power of human lung cells for assessing the toxicity of airborne chemicals; the cells could become part of a strategy to replace animals in these tests. The use of animals in acute inhalation toxicity testing has concerned European and American scientists and animal protection groups for both ethical and scientific reasons. The animals used in these tests are confined to small cylinders barely larger than their bodies and are forced to breathe toxic concentrations of contaminants for four to six hours at a time, often day after day. And yet these studies are poor predictors of toxicity for humans.
In the nonanimal method of testing, human lung cells are grown on a plastic microporous membrane that allows them to be nurtured with culture fluid on the bottom, while a gas is piped onto the top of the cells (shown here). The ongoing study will compare the results of cell toxicity assays with known toxic effects of several common gases; preliminary results are expected in June 2009.
Smirnova L, et al. Prevalidation study: testing the toxic effects of inhalable substances (gasses) on human lung cells using air/liquid culture technique. Poster presentation at Middle European Society for Alternatives in Toxicology Congress, Linz, Austria, Sept. 18, 2008.
NUTRITION By Dulcie Ward, R.D., and Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.
Foodborne Infection Originates in Meat and Poultry
Most cases of gastroenteritis caused by a common bacteria occur because people consume or prepare meat from infected chickens or cattle, according to a study by researchers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. Ninety-seven percent of human disease from the pathogenic bacterium C. jejuni originates in animals farmed for meat and poultry, the study found. Researchers analyzed DNA from 1,231 cases of C. jejuni infections in Lancashire, England. Only 3 percent of cases were traced back to environmental contamination or wild animal sources. These results implicate livestock as the primary transmission route for the leading cause of gastroenteritis, which is thought to infect 2 million to 3 million people per year in the United States alone.
Wilson DJ, Gabriel E, Leatherbarrow AJ, et al. Tracing the source of campylobacteriosis. PLoS Genet. 2008;4(9):e1000203.
Plant-Based Diet Helps Reduce Premature Aging and Disease Risk
Comprehensive lifestyle changes, including a low-fat vegan diet, increase the body’s ability to fight premature aging, cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases, according to a study in The Lancet Oncology. Twenty-four men participating in a prostate cancer study switched to a vegan diet and added daily exercise and relaxation techniques. These diet and lifestyle changes led to increased levels of telomerase, an enzyme that protects and repairs DNA. Blood levels of telomerase increased by an average of 29 percent during the study.
Ornish D, Lin J, Daubenmier J, et al. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. Lancet Oncol. 2008;9(11):1048-1057.
Another Study Shows No Link Between Dairy and Weight Loss
Another study has shown that dairy products have no effect on metabolism or weight control. The Swiss study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and funded by Nestlé, tested the hypothesis that boosting calcium intake promotes weight loss, at least in people who are not already getting adequate calcium. Participants took either a 400-milligram dairy calcium supplement or a placebo twice a day for five weeks. Neither treatment had any significant effect on resting energy expenditure or body weight.
The dairy industry has spent millions of dollars on marketing campaigns promoting the dairy–weight loss hypothesis, but this notion has not held up in clinical trials.
Bortolotti M, Rudelle S, Schneiter P, et al. Dairy calcium supplementation in overweight or obese persons: its effect on markers of fat metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88(4):877-885.
Lanou A, Barnard ND. The dairy and weight loss hypothesis: an evaluation of the clinical trials. Nutr Rev. 2008;66:272-279.