Meet PCRM’s Associate Director of Laboratory Medicine: Kenneth Litwak, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Kenneth Litwak, D.V.M., Ph.D., started conducting animal experiments with the presumption that his work was going to save human lives. Nearly 20 years later, he is now a leading advocate for a very different approach to research.
Dr. Litwak received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University and his doctorate in molecular and cellular pathobiology from Wake Forest University, where he also completed a postdoctoral fellowship.
“I was always uncomfortable using animals to simulate human conditions, but I believed the benefits outweighed the harm that I was causing to animals,” says Dr. Litwak. “In retrospect, I was fooling myself.”
From 1998 to 2007, Dr. Litwak directed surgical research laboratories dedicated to testing artificial organs in animals at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Louisville. During that time, he authored or co-authored nearly 40 published manuscripts.
But Dr. Litwak, who is now the Physicians Committee’s associate director of laboratory medicine, came to the realization that not only did animal experiments lead to suffering; animal disease “models” did not reflect the human condition.
“Heart failure develops in humans over decades,” says Dr. Litwak. “So why is it assumed that we will learn to treat the condition from experiments that induce heart failure in dogs over the course of weeks.”
From 2007 to 2013, Dr. Litwak was the attending veterinarian at the Cleveland Clinic, where he worked to improve the quality and level of care and welfare of the laboratory animals.
The combination of examining animal experiments from both a scientific and ethical stance ultimately led Dr. Litwak to leave research in 2013.
“The differences between an artificially manufactured animal disease and a real human patient are like the differences between a plastic lawn flamingo and the real bird,” says Dr. Litwak. “They are both pink, but closer examination reveals how truly different they are.”
Dr. Litwak now provides the Physicians Committee with scientific expertise on the issues of replacing animals use in research. He recently led the Physicians Committee’s campaign to stop the Taiwanese government from injecting unvaccinated beagle puppies with rabies (see page 17). He also spoke out against a highly publicized study that inaccurately equated the amount of sugar that is toxic in mice to humans.
“Animal experiments are based on so many flawed assumptions that they only serve to mislead and misinform medical progress,” says Dr. Litwak.