Animal option is wrong choice

Reflecting on World AIDS Day (1 December 2006), there has been much in the media concerning the failure of research efforts to find an HIV/AIDS vaccine. However the fundamental issue that is often missed is that research efforts are actually being hampere

Reflecting on World AIDS Day (1 December 2006), there has been much in the media concerning the failure of research efforts to find an HIV/AIDS vaccine. However the fundamental issue that is often missed is that research efforts are actually being hampered because we are studying the wrong virus in the wrong species.

AIDS remains a major global killer with no cure or vaccine despite more than two decades of animal experimentation. For years, primates (including chimpanzees), cats and mice have been used in experiments even though HIV infection doesn't cause AIDS in any animal other than humans. Consequently researchers use different viruses, causing different illnesses in different species. More than 30 experimental AIDS vaccines, mostly tested first in primates, have been tried in human volunteers in 70 clinical trials, but so far none has proved safe and effective.

By contrast, some of the most successful drugs, like protease inhibitors, were identified using non-animal research techniques. In fact many major research milestones resulted from non-animal studies such as molecular and genetic techniques, test-tube research, human cell and tissue cultures and computational models.

The Dr Hadwen Trust's own research programme reflects this: we are funding pioneering AIDS-related research at University College London's Centre for Infectious Diseases & International Health. Our project uses donated samples of human lung cells from patients to develop the first-ever test-tube method for culturing a pneumonia-causing pathogen that remains the commonest AIDS-defining opportunistic infection in North America and Europe.


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With an epidemic of such gross proportions, re-focusing research efforts to more ethical and biologically relevant strategies is a vital component of the global fight against AIDS. Indeed unless we move away from misdirected animal experiments, we will be squandering our opportunity to save millions of human lives.

Dr Gill Langley, Science Director, Dr Hadwen Trust For Humane Research, Tilehouse Street, Hitchin

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