On a Mission to Promote the Benefits of Animal Research
Jasper Daube, MD, is impassioned about the subject of animal research. The chair of the AAN Animals in Research Task Force since 2002 makes it his job, literally, to educate others about the importance of animal models in biomedical research advances and the need to support responsible and humane research on animals to find new therapies for neurological diseases.
Dr. Daube did his neurology residency at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with six months post-residency doing basic neurophysiology in the laboratory of Clinton Woolsey, MD. He completed a two-year special NINDS fellowship in clinical neurophysiology from 1969 to 1971 with Edward Lambert, MD — one of the leaders in the field of EMG and other physiological studies — at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. He is currently professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine Rochester, MN, and a full-time consultant in clinical neurology.
Dr. Daube, one of the most respected physiologists in the field, first became a member of the AAN Animal Studies Subcommittee in 1990, which was renamed the Animals in Research Task Force in 2001.
Dr. Daube spoke candidly to Neurology Today about animal testing and his role in the Animal Research Task Force.
WHAT LED TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AAN ANIMALS IN RESEARCH TASK FORCE?
The task force was originally the Animal Studies Subcommittee, which began around 1985 under the leadership of Dr. Benjamin Brooks. I joined the subcommittee in 1990. The Animal Studies Subcommittee was later renamed the Animals in Research Task Force to better clarify its mission and vision, reporting to the AAN Science Committee.
HOW DID YOU BECOME CHAIRMAN OF THE TASK FORCE?
Around the time the subcommittee began, I was a member of a Mayo Clinic committee that reviewed and wrote a report on the methods and importance of animal research, and how to respond to attacks by animal rightists. We had been picketed by animal rightists.
At the time I was a clinical neurologist not doing animal research, but on that committee I became aware of the importance of animal research to advances in medicine and neurologic diseases. I was named Mayo Clinic spokesperson for our animal research. Those experiences, plus the knowledge and interest I gained in animal research, resulted in my appointment to the committee at the AAN. After Dr. Robin Brey, the previous chair of the committee, stepped down to join the AAN Board, I was honored and pleased to be asked to take on the leadership of the task force.
WHAT IS THE AGENDA OF THE ANIMALS IN RESEARCH TASK FORCE?
In a nutshell, we advocate for the continued ethical use of animals in scientific research. We promote public education and developed the “Sensitive but Sensible” brochure to explain that it is possible to be both sensitive to animals and sensible about the need to use animals in medical research.
We also provide information to lay organizations and AAN members about advances made possible by animal research. We provide quarterly information to Neurology Today and Neurology Now, and send abstracts of suggested topics for future articles. The task force has developed articles for AAN News as well as AAN Web sites, including Brain Matters.
IS THE FOCUS ON MORE PUBLIC EDUCATION A RESPONSE TO THE RISE IN ANIMAL ACTIVISM, SOME OF WHICH HAS GROWN VIOLENT TOWARD RESEARCHERS WHO USE ANIMALS IN BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH?
Yes. We want to defeat those who believe in giving “personhood” to animals, because if “animal personhood” were successful, nothing could be done to or with animals that is not also legal for humans — that is, animal research could not be done without permission from the animal. We have collaborated with the Legal Strategy Initiative Coalition, a consortium of science and medical associations including the AAN, Society for Neuroscience, Foundation for Biomedical Research, and others to develop strategies to counter this way of thinking about animal personhood.
PRESIDENT BUSH SIGNED INTO LAW LAST NOVEMBER THE ANIMAL ENTERPRISE TERRORISM ACT, WHICH INCREASES PENALTIES AGAINST ANIMAL RIGHTS ADVOCATES WHO THREATEN AND HARASS OR COMMIT VIOLENCE AGAINST BIOMEDICAL RESEARCHERS INVOLVED IN ANIMAL RESEARCH. DOES THE TASK FORCE GET INVOLVED IN THESE TYPES OF ADVOCACY ISSUES?
Yes, we participate in state and national efforts to support animal research, such as the 2006 congressional passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Our task force has been instrumental in other legislative issues, as well, including developing and supporting the AMA positions on animal research. For instance, we worked to defeat 2006 legislation that intended to prohibit funding for biomedical research facilities that lawfully purchase animals from dealers as designated under the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, commerce, and by dealers licensed to provide animals for research.
WHY IS ANIMAL RESEARCH IMPORTANT?
Every major medical advance – such as the development of anesthesia and antibiotics – is based at least partially on animal testing. This research has been the basis of most of the major advances that have been and continue to be made in understanding the pathophysiology and treatment of virtually every form of neurologic disease.
COULD YOU GIVE US A FEW EXAMPLES?
There are so many. But to name a few: The chemical abnormalities found in patients with Parkinson disease were produced in rats, leading to a better understanding of and new treatment to help the disease and the identification of possible gene therapies. Animal models have also shown how abnormal genes cause other movement disorders, such as Huntington disease and dystonia. The clot-busting treatment we use to reverse the disabling symptoms of stroke – tissue plasminogen activator – could only first be evaluated in the blood vessels of living animals.
WHAT MYTHS, IF ANY, DO YOU THINK NEED TO BE DEBUNKED TO REBUT ANIMAL RIGHT ACTIVISTS WHO PROTEST THE USE OF ANIMALS IN BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH?
Many people do not understand that the scientific community actually promotes animal welfare. Or they don't realize that the number of animals being used for research has actually decreased by 20- to 50-percent in the past few decades.
HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO CRITICS WHO SAY ANIMAL TRIALS DO NOT TRANSLATE WELL INTO HUMAN STUDIES?
That statement is based on a small number of anecdotal examples from the thousands of studies being done. It does not include a formal analysis of what research underlies the many ongoing advances in neurologic diseases. The statement also implies ignorance of how basic science studies that may seem unrelated to a specific disease nevertheless lead to understanding the causes of disease over the long run.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO CLAIM THAT ANIMALS ARE WASTED IN EXPERIMENTS BECAUSE THE EXPERIMENTS ARE OFTEN POORLY DESIGNED?
Very few examples have been cited from among thousands of studies being done. The statement is made without knowledge of the rigorous requirements for animal research protocols and the formal reviews that provide scrutiny.
WHAT ALTERNATIVES ARE THERE TO ANIMAL TESTING, AND HOW DO THEY COMPARE TO BENEFITS DERIVED FROM ANIMAL RESEARCH?
Computer modeling, human studies, in vitro tests, and epidemiological studies contribute to advances, but are typically carried out after and are based on animal studies. They cannot replicate the complex interactions found in living animals. Research protocols are required to describe such alternatives, and why they are unable to answer the question being tested.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK OF THE GROUP?
In addition to our efforts on the legislative front, we remind AAN members about the importance of animal research. We support the National Association for Biomedical Research, which advocates public policy that recognizes the vital role of humane animal use in biomedical research, higher education, and product safety testing.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK FOR YOU AS CHAIRMAN?
I make it my job to inform AAN leaders about ongoing animal research issues, and recommend policies or actions. I also monitor major advances in neurologic disease that are based on animal research and oversee and assist the staff in producing documents such as brochures for distribution and posters for the annual meetings.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE THE STRONGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN LEADING THIS GROUP?
Engaging other major medical societies in animal research issues is the biggest challenge. The AAN Board has strongly endorsed support for animal research. Some other medical organizations are not as aware of the issue. We are working to bring it to their attention.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF ANIMAL RESEARCH GOING?
Animal research will be needed as long as there are unsolved neurologic diseases. Because living systems are needed for biomedical testing, future advances in neuroscience will also require animal studies.
OTHER ANIMAL RESEARCH ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS