One of the greatest threats to the preclinical research necessary for science-based medicine today is animal rights activism. The magnitude of the problem came to the forefront again last month with the news that animal rights terrorists tried to enter the home of a researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) whose research uses mice to study breast cancer and neurologic disease while she and her husband were having a birthday party for one of their children and assaulted her husband, who had gone to the front of the house to confront them. This unrelenting attack on the use of animals in research is primarily based on a belief that animals and humans should have equal rights and that eating meat or even having pets is viewed as immoral. However, increasingly, I seem to notice animal rights activists trying to use science to justify their beliefs. In other words, it is not enough to use ethical arguments; they feel they must argue that animal research is bad science.
Orac mentions a hero of his, Dr. Judah Folkman:
My favorite example to cite when I hear the argument that other methods besides animal research can do better than animal research in helping us understand disease (or, in its more sophisticated form, that animals may have been needed a few decades ago to discover, say, insulin, but our understanding has advanced to the point where they are no longer needed) comes from my field and my area of research interest. It also happens to come from my scientific hero, Dr. Judah Folkman, who passed away suddenly in January. It shows an area of cancer biology whose importance would have been incredibly difficult to model, appreciate, or target for therapy without mouse models of cancer. That area, of course, is tumor angiogenesis, and Dr. Folkman did his pioneering work that has now resulted in drugs like Avastin and other antiangiogenic drugs that are making it to market now and making a real impact on cancer. Dr. Folkman did it through an ingenious strategy that began from the clinical observation that sometimes tumor metastases appear shortly after the operation to remove the primary tumor.Read the rest here, and check out the comments as well.
As it happens, there is an article in today's NY Times that mentions Dr. Folkman. In A Daring Treatment, a Little Girl's Survival, reporter Denise Grady writes:
Melanie was 9 months old when her parents faced an agonizing decision. She had already had two operations for a malignant brain tumor [see x-ray above], and doctors could not be sure they had removed all the cancer. She needed more treatment, but standard chemotherapy offered little hope in exchange for its harsh side effects. And yet the McDaniels knew that if they did nothing, the odds were high that the tumor would come back.
“It won’t save her, but it may help other people,” her father, Paul McDaniel, told me in an interview for a Science Times article published in April 2002. Then he paused and added, “Maybe it will save her.”
After the article was published, I was afraid to call the McDaniels again. I didn’t think Melanie would survive.May Melanie go from strength to strength, and may Dr. Folkman's name be a blessing. Thanks again to Caveat for the link [and for fighting the good fight in the Great White North].
Recently, Mr. McDaniel sent me an e-mail message. “Melanie is now 7 years old, attending first grade, and doing very well,” he wrote. “The doctors told us last year that they do not see any residual tumor in her brain. Their original diagnosis was that her tumor had no known cure.”
What had prompted him to get in touch was the death on Jan. 14 of Dr. Judah Folkman, the researcher at Dana-Farber whose work had led to Melanie’s treatment. Mr. McDaniel wrote that he wanted “to celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. Folkman, who faced resistance on his ideas that, by the grace of God, cured my daughter of an incurable brain tumor.”