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scientific community responds to GeneWatch UK report

The 100-page investigation into GM and cloned animals called for an independent inquiry into the use of these animals in medical research, claiming that inadequate controls are causing untold suffering to these animals.


Dr Simon Festing of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said:

“Countless suffers of disabling, distressing and fatal genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis are anxiously awaiting the results of research – much of which is in genetically modified animals. The emotive manipulation of these pitiful pressure groups does little to advance the ethical debate.”


Dr Mark Matfield, Director of the Research Defence Society, which represents UK scientists in the debate about use of animals in medical research, said:

“Genetically modified animals are proving crucial in the understanding of many serious and fatal diseases from cancer to cystic fibrosis and motor neurone disease. Scientists take their responsibilities towards all laboratory animals, including those that are genetically modified, very seriously.

“The regulations governing animal experiments in the UK are already the strictest in the world and include unannounced inspections by veterinary and medical inspectors. Excessive controls on this cutting edge research would simply force it abroad to countries with lower standards of regulation.”


Dr Harry Griffin, Assistant Director of Science at the Roslin Institute, said:

“All experiments on animals, whether they involve genetic modification or not, need to be justified on a case by case basis. In our view, genetically modified animals will be increasingly important to advancing medical knowledge, the testing of new drugs and in producing treatments for cancer and other diseases at a price society can afford.

“For GeneWatch to condemn an entire technology based on a few selected examples is irresponsible and a gross disservice to the patients who will benefit directly or indirectly in the future.”


Alastair Kent, Director of the Genetic Interest Group, an alliance of support groups for individuals and families affected by genetic disorders, said:

“If you look at the evidence dispassionately, you can see that research involving genetically modified animals to produce models of serious human diseases has contributed substantially to improving our understanding and moving us towards the development of cures. Without this research, we would be condemning 1000s of families to a future with little hope of an escape from these devastating and life threatening conditions.”


Sir John Harris, Sir David Alliance Professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester, said:

“All use of animals for food is unnecessary – so a first place to concentrate on the unnecessary use of animals would be in agriculture. In comparison the number of animals used in scientific research is negligible. On the other hand, if it is ethical to use animals in agriculture, which most people think it is, then it must be ethical to use them in science – which is almost always much more important.

“I personally can envisage a time when all animal farming may be banned, but using animals in science will still be accepted because it benefits humans in a way that farming does not.”


Vicky Cowell, Chairman of SIMR (Seriously Ill for Medical Research – a charity that puts forward the voice of the patient in the moral debates in medical research), whose daughter suffers from cystic fibrosis, said:

“In an ideal world, animals would not be used for medical research. But we do not live in an ideal world and countless numbers of people are dying from terrible diseases like cystic fibrosis each year. At the moment there are no other safe alternatives to finding life saving treatments and therefore animal research is our only option. Hopefully in the future there will be alternatives in place, but this is not the case today.”


Dr Ian Jackson, Senior Scientist at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, said:

“Research on genetically modified animals helps scientists to get a better understanding how genes work. Even when these experiments are not specifically targeted at producing new drugs, they will ultimately lead to new treatments.

“For example, the vast majority of diseases induced in mice by genetic modification are very good models of the same mutations in humans. Learning how they work in mice is the first step to a cure in humans.”


Simon Best, CEO, Ardana Bioscience Ltd, said:

“Cloning in the UK is very tightly regulated and it would not be allowed under the 1986 Home Office legislation on the Animals Scientific Procedures, unless the benefits outweighed the risks.”


Professor Robert Combes, Scientific Director of FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments), said:

“We are very concerned about the welfare of genetically modified animals, but I wouldn’t agree that there is no justification for these experiments. In some cases animal models can be very useful indeed. However, some animal work is done purely because it is technically possible, with insufficient strategic planning about the necessity of the experiments. We believe that there is scope for improving the implementation and effectiveness of animal welfare legislation in the UK.”


Professor Chris Higgins, Director of MRC Clinical Science Centre, said:

“Scientists don’t like doing animal experiments. They’re unpleasant, time-consuming, expensive and difficult. But we do them because we believe that they are the best way to improve medical treatments in the long run.

“Of course mice are different to humans, but that difference can be very informative. Mice with the cystic fibrosis gene don’t seem to get serious lung diseases, as humans do. Now that we understand why, we can design better drugs to combat cystic fibrosis in humans.”

Useful links: 1. Genewatch UK 2. Research Defence Society 3. Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments

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