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RESEARCH ETHICS By Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H.
New Advances Reduce and Replace Animal Tests
Two recent advances from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will help reduce the use of animals in testing. In November, the OECD upgraded its QSAR Application Toolbox. The software helps users limit animal tests by finding existing information on substances, estimating potential aquatic or human toxicity values, and creating categories of substances with similar chemical properties.
The toolbox is the product of collaboration among governments of many countries, university and industry scientists, and animal protection groups. For more information and to download the toolbox, go to QSARToolbox.org.
This fall, the OECD’s Chemicals Committee also approved a new draft test guideline for reproductive toxicity testing that uses 1,200 fewer animals than the current guideline, preventing the deaths of tens of thousands of animals per year. The Extended One Generation Reproductive Toxicity Test, which can be used in draft form until official adoption by the OECD Council in 2011, also includes optional evaluations for developmental immunotoxicity and developmental neurotoxicity testing, which could prevent the deaths of 3,500 animals per substance tested if used in place of independent tests.
The new test guideline provides a stop-gap measure that will greatly reduce the number of animals killed under European and American chemical testing regulations, while researchers in the European Union continue to make progress on methods to detect reproductive toxins using human cells and tissues.
The draft test guideline can be found at: http://bit.ly/OECDguideline.
EU Releases New Report on Animal Testing and Research
The European Commission has released its latest report on the numbers of animals used for scientific purposes. Approximately 12 million animals were used in laboratories in 2008, which is similar to 2005 numbers.
New nonanimal methods and declines in the number of animals required for certain toxicity tests have contributed to a decrease in the number of animals used in chemical and cosmetics testing from 140,000 in 2002 to 80,000 in 2008. The number of rabbits used was cut in half from 2005 to 2008. More reductions are expected in the next survey after the acceptance of additional alternatives. Great apes are not used in the European Union.
However, the expanding use of genetically modified mice contributed to an increase in the total number of mice to 690,000, and the REACH chemical testing legislation is expected to subject another 9 million animals to tests.
The European Commission’s analysis is intended to help policymakers set priorities for alternatives development. The report also gives PCRM and other organizations occasion to call for similar analyses in the United States. The United States does not currently conduct any similar survey of the estimated 20 million animals used in the nation’s laboratories each year.
Abbott, A. European research animal use holds steady. Nature. Published online October 7, 2010. doi:10.1038/news.2010.524.
Stimulus Money Funds Nonanimal Cancer Research
Detroit-based human tissue supply company Asterand has won a National Cancer Institute grant to supply human cells and tissues for a cancer research project. The National Institutes of Health Cancer Genome Atlas project is cataloging the genetic makeup of cancer cells and tumors to help discover new targeted treatments. This award confirms the importance of conducting research in human cells and tissues, rather than animals. Asterand’s Randall Charlton won PCRM’s Henry Heimlich Award for Innovative Medicine in 2007.
NUTRITION By Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., and Kathryn Strong, M.S., R.D.
Nutrition Education in Medical Schools Inadequate and Getting Worse
Nutrition education in medical schools is declining, according to a new report from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Between 2008 and 2009, researchers distributed online surveys to all accredited U.S. medical schools inquiring about their nutrition education. Of the schools that responded, only 25 percent had a required nutrition course, down from 30 percent in 2004. Nutrition instruction hours also declined from 22.3 hours in 2004 to 19.6 hours. While the National Academy of Sciences recommends 25 hours of nutrition instruction in medical school, only 27 percent of the schools that responded met that minimum, down from 38 percent in 2004.
Editorial note: Responding to the dearth of nutrition education in medical schools, PCRM distributes its Nutrition Guide for Clinicians free of charge to medical students, and provides nutrition posters and Vegetarian Starter Kits to practicing clinicians. See Good Medicine’s Marketplace section.
Adams KM, Kohlmeier M, Zeisel SH. Nutrition education in U.S. medical schools: latest update of a national survey. Acad Med. 2010;85:1537-1542.
Current Heart Disease Therapy Does Not Target Cause: Meaty Diets
Standard approaches to heart disease need to change, according to a recent article by renowned Cleveland Clinic researcher Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. In his article in the American Journal of Cardiology, Dr. Esselstyn explains why common methods of treating heart disease, such as stents and bypass surgeries, may have their place among a minority of patients, but for the vast majority, they are not as effective as low-fat, plant-based diets. Patients who are educated about nutrition experience weight loss, blood pressure normalization, and improved or resolved diabetes, angina, and heart disease.
Esselstyn CB. Is the present therapy for coronary artery disease the radical mastectomy of the twenty-first century? Am J Cardiol. 2010;106:902-904.
Fish Oil Does Not Boost Cognition or Treat Depression
Consumption of fish oil during pregnancy does not benefit babies’ cognitive development or mothers’ mood, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Pregnant women who consumed 800 milligrams of a DHA-rich fish oil supplement each day during pregnancy showed no benefits for depression, and their babies did not differ cognitively from children born from women who consumed a vegetable oil (rapeseed, sunflower, and palm) supplement. A team of researchers in Australia evaluated depression in 2,320 women six months postpartum and cognitive scores including memory, problem solving, and language for 694 children at 18 months.
Makrides M, Gibson RA, McPhee AJ, et al. Effect of DHA supplementation during pregnancy on maternal depression and neurodevelopment of young children. JAMA. 2010;304:1675-1683.
New Evidence Finds Early Humans Were Plant-Eaters
New evidence contradicts the notion that early humans were mainly hunters. Archeological findings recently unearthed in Italy, Russia, and the Czech Republic show evidence that grains were ground into flour as far back as 30,000 years ago. The findings were presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Revedin A, Aranguren B, Becattini R, et al. Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2010;107:18815-18819.