A further increase in the use of genetically altered (GA) animals in laboratories flouts EU regulations and is in direct opposition to the UK Government’s pledge to reduce the numbers involved.  If the Government is going to keep its promise it needs to address this question urgently in order to stop the upward trend.

FRAME is deeply concerned that GA animals now seem to be viewed as some sort of alternative technique and that very little discussion is underway to determine how to stop the rise, or whether the techniques are actually the best research method.

“FRAME has always been concerned about the use of GA animals in research for a number of reasons. Although techniques used to produce them are improving, some methods are still inaccurate and create a huge number of animals that do not have the necessary genetic alteration an investigation calls for,” said FRAME Scientific Programme Manager Michelle Hudson-Shore.

The production and breeding of a GA line is based on complex procedures, and requires a high number of animals, including embryo donors, vasectomised males and foster females. Cross-breeding stages can result in up to three quarters of the offspring having the wrong gene make-up, and therefore hundreds of animals are bred but not used. They are simply killed.

GA mice have become a routine model for researchers in a number of fields, yet many uncertainties and inconsistencies remain.  Specifically, there is concern over the relative efficiency of GA mice as an in vivo (live) model for human disease.  FRAME is currently undertaking a review of the use of GA mice in research to monitor the trajectory of their increased use and to investigate their validity.

“It is also important to realise that, even with genetic alteration, a mouse is still a mouse, or a fish is still a fish. They can never provide a fully accurate model for any human disease, ” said Ms Hudson-Shore.

Following the introduction of the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act total animal use in UK laboratories began to fall, but it has risen steadily since a minimum in 2001, and continues to climb.

“If the Government is to have any chance of meeting its commitment to reduce the number of animals used in research it must act soon to deal with the escalating levels of GA production.”

Dogs

FRAME is also dismayed to see the continuing use of dogs as a second species in pharmaceutical safety and efficacy studies in spite of a study published last year, that looked at the results of 2,366 published cases of dog-based research, and showed their accurate prediction rates to be little better than chance.

Primates

The continued use of non-human primates is disappointing. Although primate use appears to be minimal, accounting for only a very small percentage of procedures in the UK, the highly social nature of monkeys, and their complex behavioural activity, means it is highly likely that they are able to understand what is being done to them and their cage mates.

In addition, given their close similarity to humans, they tend to be used in late-stage testing, and experience more severe pain, suffering and distress, rendering results gained from them even less reliable. Stress causes hormonal changes that affect responses to test drugs. as a result, drugs tested on monkeys in the past have been found to be ineffective or even toxic when used humans. The use of monkeys, and the most recent developments of genetically modified monkeys is questionable at best.

 

The numbers:

Procedures carried out on GA animals:  2012 – 2,433,500  2013 – 2,511,929

Procedures carried out on dogs: 2012 –  4,843  2013 – 4,779

Procedures carried out on non-human primates:  2012 – 3,020  2013 – 3,236

*GA: genetically-altered (genetically-modified animals plus animals with harmful genetic defects)

Reaction to Home Office Annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals
Great Britain 2013