The pharmaceutical industry and the National Institutes of Health spend billions of dollars annually on medical research techniques that have been rendered obsolete by technological advances.
Adult stem cell research is key to our status as the world's leader in medical research. The continued use of animals to test the effectiveness of medications and health interventions for humans is akin to using smoke signals instead of e-mail as a method of communication.
Animal testing has never really worked. Animal tests proved penicillin deadly, strychnine safe and aspirin dangerous.
In fact, 90 percent of medications approved for human use after animal testing later proved ineffective or harmful to humans in clinical trials. It is humbling to realize that the flipping of a coin would have proved five times more accurate and much cheaper. Animal-tested drugs have killed, disabled or harmed millions of people and lead to costly delays as well. Among the most publicized are the delays of a polio vaccine by over three decades and a four-year delay in the use of protease inhibitors for HIV treatment - after animal testing showed these interventions to be useless.
We have spent billions of dollars to cure cancer in mice, but so far have failed to replicate human cancer in any animal, let alone close in on a cure. All but a very few diseases are species-unique, and the only efficient and effective way to discover cures and create vaccines is through the use of the same species' cells, tissues and organs.
The use of animals as models for the development of human medications and disease almost always fails, simply because humans and animals have different physiologies.
Adult stem cell research is more effective than animal testing because there are no complications or failures related to tissue rejection. In fact, international researchers using adult stem cells - cells that are present in all growing human tissue - have shown success in treating cardiac infarction, Crohn's disease and thalassemia. The answers to the mysteries of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's will be found by using stem cells and other modern technologies, not by cutting up beagles.
Most Americans tolerate vivisection because they believe that it is a necessary evil. It is evil, but it's not necessary. Whether vivisection is morally right or wrong no longer matters: It is as obsolete as eight-track tapes, telegrams and bloodletting. It is time the public stopped funding this antiquated science, through tax dollars and research and development costs imbedded in prescription prices.
It may even be time to consider lawsuits aimed at pharmaceutical companies that continue to profit by charging patients, insurance companies and the state and federal governments for medications and treatments based on such flawed and antiquated research. These lawsuits could rival the tobacco lawsuits of the past decade, with individuals and states seeking damages for the cost of caring for those killed or disabled by dangerous medicines.
Regardless of one's feelings about animals, it is time for consumers and taxpayers to realize that vivisection wastes hundreds of millions of dollars annually and produces an inferior product.
The medical progress of the past century is the result of technology, public health improvements, epidemiology, human clinical research, human autopsies, mathematical modeling and the mapping of the human genome, not experiments on animals.
The NIH must take responsibility for ensuring the United States maintains its status as the world's leader in health care innovation, a position that guarantees our country's future economic strength and protects the world from the growing threat of biological terrorism. This responsibility begins by ensuring that the research funded with Americans' tax dollars uses the most modern technology and methodology.
Whether you will live a full life or die early probably depends on today's medical research. Researchers have proved ad infinitum that hitting a beagle on the head with a hammer causes trauma and forcing monkeys to smoke gives them cancer.
It's time to insist that they stop harming defenseless animals and wasting our precious health care dollars so they can get busy saving our lives by embracing technologies that work.
Kelly Overton is executive director of People Protecting Animals and Their Habitats in Cambridge, Mass. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columnist Trudy Rubin will return Tuesday.