When Animals Are Used in Research
More from our inbox:
- Racism in America
- Preparing for the Next Pandemic
- ‘The Maternity System Needs an Overhaul From the Roots’
- Amazon’s Donations to Charities
A baby longtail macaque is examined at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand in May 2020. After conclusive results on mice, Thai scientists from the center tested a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine candidate on monkeys, the phase before human trials.Credit…Mladen Antonov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
To the Editor:
Re “Rethinking the Debt Owed to Lab Animals” (Science Times, Jan. 24):
Biology, the study of life, is complex, and deciphering it requires the use of living organisms, unfortunately. As a biologist who studies tissue development and regeneration, I still struggle with the use of animals in research.
I also find it ironic that for us to fully understand life, we must also destroy life. This contradiction is at the center of the debate on the use of animals in research; it goes beyond developing drugs and vaccines, and it is one that we take very seriously.
Yes, there are certain biological processes that can be studied in single-cell organisms, individual cells in vitro or through computer simulations, and we can now create organoids (tissues) in culture, but we are nowhere close to developing a whole organism with all of its complexity and the interconnectedness of its systems.
Till that day, we will continue to research on animals, insects, plants, fish, bacteria, etc., in order to fully understand the biology of an organism.
And let’s not forget that we also conduct experiments in humans (with the consent of the participants, of course) known as clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals, biomedical devices and so on.
To the Editor:
There is no “repayment” for the innumerable animals who die after being abused in experiments. Until we replace animals in testing and research with human-relevant methods — which my organization works toward every day — we must ensure that those who are conducting animal experiments are transparent about the lack of meaningful regulatory protections afforded those animals.
It took a lawsuit to expose the senseless and deadly brain experiments that Elon Musk’s company Neuralink has subjected monkeys and other animals to. The federal government is now investigating the company.
Questions about the pandemic
When will the pandemic end? We asked three experts — two immunologists and an epidemiologist — to weigh in on this and some of the hundreds of other questions we’ve gathered from readers recently, including how to make sense of booster and test timing, recommendations for children, whether getting covid is just inevitable and other pressing queries.
How concerning are things like long covid and reinfections? That’s a difficult question to answer definitely, writes the Opinion columnist Zeynep Tufekci, because of the lack of adequate research and support for sufferers, as well as confusion about what the condition even is. She has suggestions for how to approach the problem. Regarding another ongoing Covid danger, that of reinfections, a virologist sets the record straight: “There has yet to be a variant that negates the benefits of vaccines.”
How will the virus continue to change? As a group of scientists who study viruses explains, “There’s no reason, at least biologically, that the virus won’t continue to evolve.” From a different angle, the science writer David Quammen surveys some of the highly effective tools and techniques that are now available for studying Covid and other viruses, but notes that such knowledge alone won’t blunt the danger.
What could endemic Covid look like? David Wallace Wells writes that by one estimate, 100,000 Americans could die each year from the coronavirus. Stopping that will require a creative effort to increase and sustain high levels of vaccination. The immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki writes that new vaccines, particular those delivered through the nose, may be part of the answer.
But for every Neuralink, there are countless animal experiments that deserve, but don’t receive, the same high-profile scrutiny. The experiments often kill animals for research that has already been conducted safely in humans. And mice used in these experiments receive no protection under the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Animals don’t want to be experimented on, and more human-relevant methods are better and safer for humans, too. Instead of hollow atonement for ethical sins, let’s make ethical science a reality and leave the animals alone.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The writer is vice president for research policy at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Racism in America
To the Editor:
Re “Officers’ Race Turns Focus to System” (front page, Jan. 29):
The shocking killing of Tyre Nichols, a young Black man, by five Black Memphis police officers has stimulated a much-needed discussion regarding the culture of policing in the United States.
However, because those involved were all of the same race, some have argued that this brutal act therefore had nothing to do with racism in America.
On the contrary, this is an explicit example of how deeply ingrained such racism is in our history and culture. Can anyone honestly imagine five Black police officers pulling an unarmed white man from his auto and beating him to death?
While our nation has certainly made progress in understanding the role of race in our history and national consciousness, it is disturbing that at this crucial time so many national leaders, largely Republicans acting for their own political benefit, are discrediting such much-needed discussions as presented by the 1619 Project, critical race theory, and even Advanced Placement courses offering an in-depth discussion of America’s racial history and experience.
As this brutal act indicates, there is no more critical time to pursue these discussions than the present.
Preparing for the Next Pandemic
To the Editor:
Re “Head of Effort to Distribute Covid Vaccines Is Departing” (news article, Jan. 15):
Dr. David Kessler’s departure as the driving force behind “a vast federal effort to develop and distribute coronavirus vaccines and treatments” coincides with the government’s plan to shift further development and distribution to the private sector.
That plan, however, is doomed to failure without the government’s continued coordination and financial support.
Private companies lack the resources to build the nationwide infrastructure needed to address future pandemics. And, as viruses mutate, private companies lack the commercial incentives to develop new treatments for underserved populations — including, for example, the millions of Americans with compromised immune systems who fail to respond to vaccines and need post-infection treatments such as monoclonal antibodies to avoid hospitalization and death.
The government’s abdication of a leadership role in preparing for the next pandemic is bad policy from every point of view.
‘The Maternity System Needs an Overhaul From the Roots’
To the Editor:
Re “Fighting the Odds With Doulas for Black Women” (front page, Jan. 19):
Thank you for again highlighting the continuing crisis of maternal deaths in this country.
Yes, doulas can really help. If I were giving birth at an American hospital today, I wouldn’t do it without one. But of course the deep-seated systemic problems in our maternity system that are causing our shameful outcomes, particularly for Black women, cannot be solved by doulas alone.
As a certified nurse midwife, I urge all members of state maternal mortality review committees to humbly admit that the maternity system needs an overhaul from the roots, so that the overuse of medical interventions is reduced, normal biological processes are supported and, most important, women are listened to.
Amazon’s Donations to Charities
To the Editor:
Re “Amazon Axes ‘Smile’ Charity Program, Citing Limited Impact” (news article, nytimes.com, Jan. 19):
AmazonSmile has been important not only as a source of funds for nonprofits, but also for providing transparency about the company’s philanthropy. Since funds for the program were disseminated through a corporate foundation, detailed information about grants was ultimately publicly available.
Much of Amazon’s other giving is reported in a piecemeal fashion that makes it challenging to gain a complete picture of philanthropy at the company.
As I have found in my research, P.R. about philanthropy projects an image of companies like Amazon being good corporate citizens that care about issues such as equity and inclusion. However, a lack of comprehensive publicly available information about giving means that many of these corporate claims cannot be easily verified.
If Amazon’s new direction in philanthropy does not involve giving through a foundation, then it may be even more difficult to independently evaluate the company’s claims about giving. Given the large amount of money donated through AmazonSmile (over $45 million in 2019), this would be a significant loss in transparency around corporate social responsibility.
Patricia A. Banks
The writer is a professor of sociology at Mount Holyoke College.