Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Real Cost of Medicine

The Academy of Medical Sciences has published a report that demands better regulation of experiments on Animals Containing Human Material (ACHM) in scientific research.

Animals that contain human tissues, cells or genetic information are used in medical research since they can better represent human disease. For instance, by putting human breast tumor cells into mice, researchers were able to test cancer drugs on human tissue.

However, such controversial testing has divided public opinion, and whilst most medical groups consider it a vital part towards understanding and treating human illnesses, many religious bodies and animal welfare groups condemn the practice as unethical.

Animal research is currently regulated by the Home Office’s animal procedures committee. However, Professor Martin Bobrow, chair of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Our report recommends that the Home Office puts into place a national expert body, within the stringent system of animal research regulation, to provide specific advice on sensitive types of ACHM research”.

Such ‘sensitive’ types of experiments that were of concern to both the public and the scientific community could involve modifying non-human primates to create what are perceived to be uniquely human-like behaviors, although Professor Bobrow stressed that nobody had done anything like this as yet, and were they to go ahead, such experiments would require strong scientific justification.

Such an area of research has the potential to provide significant advances to medical treatments, but at what social and ethical cost? The study by The Academy of Medical Sciences recommended that the UK should lead the effort to raise international awareness of testing on Animals Containing Human Material, and should promote consistency in research practices.

The government said it would consider the recommendations.

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