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Veterinarian defends animal testing

October 1, 2014

President of LASAM argues that the use of animals in medical research cannot be completely abolished.

By Anthony Thanasayan

animal testingWorld Animal Day which is celebrated this Saturday, is an event that was started in 1931 to highlight the plight of animals and celebrate the relationship between man and animal.

This day is also used by animal lovers and activists to call attention to key animal rights issues such as veganism, rescuing and re-homing, and animal experimentation.

One of the most controversial, and perhaps widely misunderstood animal rights issues is the unethical use of animals for testing in medical research.

Recently, I spoke with Dr.Abdul Rahim Mutalib, a veterinarian and president of the KL-based Laboratory Animal Science Association of Malaysia (LASAM) who argues that animals are still needed for research and testing purposes.

“Biological scientists worldwide also agree to it. Although many in-vitro systems such as the mechanical laboratory equipment, cell or organ culture and computer simulations have been used in biological research, none has been able to completely replace the use of animals. The animal is a ‘complete in-vivo system’, explained Abdul Rahim.

He pointed out that in-vitro systems can only show a limited response when a stimulus is given, unlike the in-vivo system of the animal.

“When a stimulus is given to the animal, several responses will occur immediately or simultaneously.

“More often, several consecutive responses will occur over a period of a few hours, days or weeks. There are also responses that will occur after several months or years. This phenomenon does not exist in the in-vitro system,” he clarified.

According to Abdul Rahim, the use of laboratory animals in experiments can be classified into a number of categories – pathogenicity studies (the study of a disease process), safety and efficacy testing of products meant for human consumption/use such as vaccine and drugs, and studies on new surgical techniques.

Other categories include propagation of certain types of microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria, cancer studies and many more.

In studying diseases, whether human or animal, laboratory animals are used as animal models.

Abdul Rahim pointed out that one of the primary uses of animal experimentation is to determine the safety and efficacy of drugs or products designed for human use.

These tests include determining the short and long-term toxic effects of a drug or product. Animals used in this type of test is divided into two categories namely, laboratory animals such as rats and mice and higher mammals such as dogs and monkeys. Testing done on the animal model is called pre-clinical testing or trial.

Abdul Rahim reasoned, “Although the physiology of animals such as the rats and dogs or monkeys are not exactly the same as that of the human physiology, there are many similarities.

“Hence, many experimental results carried out in animals can be extrapolated to humans.”

“Clinical trials are only carried out when these pre-clinical trials have been shown to have no detrimental effects on the animals.

Once this has been established and accepted by the scientific community, clinical trials in humans are then carried out,” he said in defense of animal testing.

According to Abdul Rahim, it is imperative that drugs for treatment be certified safe before it is used to treat humans.

Vaccines for humans and even animals have benefited from animal testing which uses animal models to determine their safety and efficacy. He added that animal testing has also benefited surgical techniques such as cardiology and eye surgery.

Abdul Rahim revealed that the expertise required to carry out these techniques in humans can only be obtained after numerous experiments or practices have been carried out on animals.

In the study of the pathogenesis of infection or cancers, animals are also used as models to determine the response which will eventually lead to finding a suitable drug to cure cancer.

He cautioned that it was still necessary however to determine whether a disease can be studied in a particular animal model as in many instances, only a certain animal species can serve as an experimental model for a particular disease.

“Currently, there are thousands of strains of rats and mice developed through inbreeding and transgenesis, and other laboratory animal species that are used as models to study diseases and drug testing.

“Various strains of mice and rats have been produced that spontaneously developed diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer and are the animals of choice as animal models in these studies,” concluded Abdul Rahim.

Dr.Abdul Rahim Mutalib can be contacted via email: [email protected]

Anthony Thanasayan is a FMT columnist


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