Aryenish Birdie has been working on the front lines to end animal testing for over 6 years and has been doing so as a lobbyist in Washington DC for over 3 years. She committed herself to this cause in the 7th grade after objecting to the frog dissection on ethical grounds with her mother. She is pursuing a Master's degree in Public Management at Johns Hopkins University and was recently awarded the prestigious Bryce Harlow Fellowship.
About once a month, Aryenish emails updates from the field to friends and colleagues. Those emails are reprinted here with her permission.
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Industry Reliance on Genetically Modified Animals Fails All
December 11, 2016
Congress is taking action in the lame duck session to pass the 21st Century Cures Act but problems with the drug development process will remain -- notably, the archaic reliance on animals to understand human diseases.
New Scientist magazine points out that drug research has gotten so hooked on working with genetically modified animals that it has lost touch with human disease. The article starts with a powerful quote from Elias Zerhouni, former director of the US National Institutes of Health:
"We have moved away from studying human disease in humans. The ability to knock out or insert specific genes in lab animals - mice in particular - has led ever more researchers to shift focus away from people. The problem is that it hasn't worked, and it's time we stopped dancing around the problem... We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans."
The good news is more and more alternatives to animal testing are being developed. In fact, a virtual liver model has recently been created to help reduce overdose risk from acetaminophen and other drugs.
Also, a powerful consortium of animal-welfare groups recently funded research to develop a product that could lead to more effective treatment of infectious diphtheria in humans while sparing thousands of horses now being bled to produce antitoxins.
The reason we use animal tests is because we have a comfort level with the process... not because it is the correct process, not because it gives us any real new information we need to make decisions... Animal tests are no longer the gold standard. It is a marvelously new world. - Dr. Melvin E. Andersen, Former Chief Scientific Officer at the Hamner Institute for Health Sciences
The Future Is Nigh: End of Animal Testing Nears with Human-on-a-Chip Advances
October 29, 2016
Have you heard about the human-on-a-chip effort? It's propelling science into the 21st century and making animal experiments a thing of the past.
In a nutshell, it's a process by which scientists are replicating human organ systems (like the heart, skin, and liver) on microchips the size of a fingernail--using human cells. The goal is to model all the organs so that they can make a human-on-a-chip.
Artwork credit: National Institutes of Health NCATS Tissue Chip Program
When this technology is complete, the sky will be the limit. Scientists will be able to personalize medicine so that drugs can be catered specifically to your biology without using inaccurate, inhumane animal models.
I'm not the only one excited about this effort! Forbes and other outlets report that investors have put $45 million into the company Emulate for organ-on-a-chip technology, which plans to roll out a commercial product next year.
Wired magazine says Harvard's new 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip is capable of collecting data on how strongly the organ is beating.
Ready for a weird one? Harvard reports that its researchers have developed a "tongue-on-a-chip" to study how muscular dystrophy affects muscle formation and strength, because "animals are not good analogues for muscular dystrophy in humans."
Science Daily reports on a new lab-on-a-chip system that mimics human metabolism and is capable of fast analysis of the effects of toxic substances.
My amazing colleague, Elizabeth Baker, had an article in the Capitol Hill newspaper, The Hill, on how this technology is the new frontier and how the government is investing in it too.
And this is just the beginning! The future of medicine is bright (and animal-free).
Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: 'Because the animals are like us.' Ask the experimenters why it is morally OK to experiment on animals, and the answer is: 'Because the animals are not like us.' Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction. - Professor Charles R. Magel
POTUS Signs Lautenberg Act - A Huge Victory for Laboratory Animals!
June 26, 2016
Top left: Celebrating with Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ, who spearheaded the animal protection language in the Act. Bottom: President Obama signs the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, a landmark bill for both human and animal welfare.
Exciting news -- a bill that I've been working on for six years was just signed into law by President Obama! It's been hailed by the Washington Post as "A victory for lab rats."
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will reform the way chemicals are regulated and sets a clear directive for the chemical industry and the Environmental Protection Agency to use nonanimal testing methods, saving countless animals. I was honored to be in the room when the President signed it into law!
On a different note, check out this awesome tool that is going to help the world eat better - and save a ton of animals. Lighter is known as the "Pandora of Food" and it works like this. They give you:
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You rate recipes and they learn about what you like and adjust your future menus, so you get more meals you'll love. I'm honored to be a featured member!
[Researchers] are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we're trying to cure humans. - Dr. Ronald W. Davis, Stanford University
Important Victories Save Animal Lives
April 15, 2016
After pressure from many stakeholders, including the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (the group I work for), the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it will stop requesting a particular animal test for pesticides testing requirements. Its reasoning? To "better ensure protection of human health...[and] to significantly reduce the use of animals." This decision will save around 3,000 animals each year.
Across the pond in the Netherlands, a motion to phase out experiments at Europe's largest primate-testing laboratory passed in the Dutch Parliament. This means that the lab must reduce the number of tests it carries out on monkeys, while focusing on developing humane, nonanimal testing methods. Congrats to my colleagues at PETA who made this possible.
Finally, after decades of being subjected to invasive testing, 19 chimpanzees will finally feel grass beneath their feet and the sun on their faces when they move to a forested sanctuary in Louisiana. Congrats to the local activists and my colleagues at the Humane Society of the U.S. for helping to make this possible.
There's So Much to Tell You
March 16, 2016
I don't even know where to begin.
The Swiss government recently announced it will ban the sale of cosmetics containing ingredients newly tested on animals. If passed it would make Switzerland the 35th country to take legal action to stem the trade of animal-tested consumer products.
Legislative action here in the US has centered around reforming the way chemicals are regulated. Wired magazine covered the issue with an exciting headline, "The EPA's New Toxicology Tests May Save Some Animals." I've been working on this issue for 6 years and am eager to give you an update on it later this year!
Another way scientists have been saving animals is by developing computer models to predict toxicity in humans. According to a recently completed high-throughput screening study of 10,000 substances, known as the Tox21 10K collection, the computer models appear to be doing a better job than using animals.
"Mini brains" could eliminate much animal testing
"Mini-brains"are yet another new testing method that's gaining momentum. Researchers at Johns Hopkins have grown these "mini-brains" using cells from human neurons that mimic the structure and function of our actual brains. This new development has the potential to reshape brain research and drug testing.
Finally, my colleague published a fantastic op-ed in The Hill which details why the FDA should accept human-focused preclinical tests to improve drug safety and better protect humans. Hint: it involves moving away from animal experiments.
Phew! That was a lot -- thanks for reading!
It is simply not possible with all the animals in the world to go through chemicals in the blind way we have at the present time, and reach credible conclusions about the hazards to human health. - Dr. Joshua Lederberg, Nobel Laureate in Medicine
Why Animal Testing Is Bad for Humans
February 6, 2016
Did you see this recent New York Times article? It's a story about how six healthy men were hospitalized, one brain-dead and four others seriously injured, while participating in a clinical trial in France. The French government was surprised by the adverse effects of the drug and said, "the drug had previously been tested on animals, including chimpanzees" -- our closest living relatives.
As this story shows, using animals to understand human reactions to drugs is frequently a recipe for disaster. According to a 2014 FDA report, adverse drug reactions cause about 100,000 deaths annually, making it the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.
This means that 100,000 people die every year in the U.S. alone after these drugs pass through animal experiments.
The good news is scientists around the globe are recognizing the inherent problems with animal tests. In fact, in South Korea a new Center focusing on advancing nonanimal testing methods will open its doors this June.
In Turkey a partial ban on cosmetic animal testing and sales went into effect on Jan. 15.
Here in the States, three government agencies are offering scientists up to $1 million to update testing methods that assess the toxicity of chemicals without using animals.
Onward and upward!
2016: The Year of the Rat
January 11, 2016
While 2016 isn't actually the year of the rat on the Chinese calendar, it may as well be -- 2016 is shaping up to be a game changer for rodents!
The Senate recently passed a bill my colleagues and I have been working on for the better part of a decade and I am elated to share the news with you.
After months of anticipation, the Senate voted unanimously on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The bill requires nonanimal methods and strategies be used in chemical tests and places restrictions on animal testing (something that's never been done before). The Lautenberg Act still needs to be reconciled with a bill that passed out of the House of Representatives this summer so our work is not yet over. Stay tuned!
While this bill has implications for all animals used in chemical tests it will mostly impact rodents who make up ~95% of the animals used. Rats and mice often get a bad rap but they are a lot more like humans than you might expect. Did you know that rats laugh when tickled?
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