From the week of January 18, 2001

A Lab, A Dog

Blind data: I have several comments regarding the story "Screwing the Pooch" (James Hibberd, January 4).

First, the research work demonstrated by Mr. Hibberd is extraordinary. It is apparent that he took the time to speak with research professionals with the expertise to understand the issues. It also is apparent that he took the time to carefully read the documents and to understand material that is difficult, to say the least.

Second, it is important to distinguish between research with and without scientific merit. Scientific merit means that the focus of the project is important enough to merit the work and that the data (results) of the work indicate that the research is moving forward and support the theories behind the research. The allogenic glioma project has had relentlessly negative results over a 10-year period. Arizona State University voted to terminate the protocol, at least partly, because there were little or no data indicating that the project had any scientific merit with respect to results. It is wrong and cruel to hold out the hope of a treatment or cure when a research project is not progressing and producing data.

Beyond that, holding on to research that is going nowhere takes away resources from projects that may offer hope. In the time Michael Berens killed more than 300 puppies trying to create a canine model of a brain tumor, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have begun to understand certain genetic characteristics of brain tumors that predict how well a patient will respond to chemotherapy. If the patient does not respond well, these researchers have begun to manipulate the genetics of the tumor to make chemotherapy work better. In the time that Michael Berens refused to change his project and destroyed all those animals, a researcher in the United Kingdom has developed two new drugs for the treatment of brain tumors. The treatments soon will be going into clinical trials. These studies all were done on human subjects. The point is that Dr. Berens, over 10 years and several hundred thousand dollars, tried to make something work that was not working without changing it. In that time, others moved forward and found treatments with real hope for brain tumor patients.

Finally, this is not the 19th century. It is true that in the 19th century, and even later, researchers were able to slaughter animals indiscriminately to answer questions of science and even to satisfy their own curiosity. Today that is not true. The Animal Welfare Act, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees such as the one at ASU, and the Public Health Service Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals dictate that research on animals must show results and data. ASU chose not to accept a standard of a 95 percent to 98 percent failure rate. ASU did the right thing.

Patricia Haight

No-brainer: Every animal species on Earth is biologically unique -- right down to the cellular level, where disease occurs and drugs have their effect. This point cannot be overemphasized. Sadly, Dr. Berens will reap only weariness and disappointment so long as he continues to study dog cancer in order to cure human cancer. Even if a treatment is found to work on dogs, it won't cure a single human being. Ask any veterinarian if a human could use the same drugs and treatment given to dogs. It's a nonsensical idea born of a false ideology. It doesn't matter if research is done on beagles or chimps or mice. You cannot make an animal "model" of a human disease.

Scientists know that while morphine is a stimulant in dogs, it has the opposite effect in people. Vets know that while humans need to eat vitamin C, dogs produce all of their own. Even a 5-year-old knows that dogs can't eat chocolate while humans can! Why can't Dr. Berens learn what a child knows?

All medical advances of the past have come from the careful observation of human beings, be it at the patient's bedside, studying human populations and the patterns of lifestyle and disease, learning from autopsies and so forth. Scientists already know that smoking, eating animal products, exposure to hazardous chemicals, pollution and stress lead to cancer. If Dr. Berens switches to preventing human cancer instead of wasting time, money and lives in the laboratory, that will be the day he enters the path to saving the very first human life yet in his entire career.

Paul Sewick
Roseville, Michigan

Research for tomorrow: I was very happy to read your recent article titled "Animal Fights" (James Hibberd, January 4). It was an excellent discussion of the two sides of the animal rights/animal welfare versus animal researcher argument. Although I personally would like to see animal experimentation end in my lifetime and I believe that it is wrong to kill animals for human benefit, I do appreciate the other perspective and realistically I know that animal research has benefited my life and the lives of my loved ones.

However, I firmly believe that people must be given the facts and left to make their own decisions about what is immoral and what is truly justified. Thank you for writing an article that explained both sides without bias. I hope it will serve to educate a few more people about what the issue really boils down to: a personal decision.

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