A systematic review is a way of systematically bringing together the findings from research studies in a particular field and this paper is about the appropriate use of systematic reviews in the field of animal studies. Some researchers suggest that systematic reviews of animal studies conducted prior to human trials (i.e. prospective systematic reviews of animal studies) would allow scientists to scrutinise data on the safety and efficacy from animal studies, helping them decide whether or not human trials should proceed. However Pandora Pound from Safer Medicines Trust, together with Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga from Radboud University in the Netherlands, argue that while prospective systematic reviews can make the evidence obtained from animal studies more transparent, individual studies in animals are not necessarily able to reliably predict the safety and efficacy of an intervention when trialled in humans, and so systematic reviews of these individual studies would likewise fail to offer reliable predictions of safety and efficacy. As a result they would not be able to reliably safeguard humans participating in clinical trials. The authors also note that animal and human studies are often conducted concurrently, which not only makes prospective systematic reviews of animal studies impossible, but suggests that animal studies do not inform human studies in the expected way. They argue that it is time to review expectations of what animal studies can deliver and focus instead on investigating how clinical knowledge is actually produced. Read the full paper here
The open access journal ‘Animals’ is running a Special Issue guest edited by Pandora Pound of Safer Medicines. The topic for the Special Issue is ‘Are Animal Models Needed to Discover, Develop and Test Pharmaceutical Drugs for Humans in the 21st Century?’ Original manuscripts that address this question are invited for the Special Issue. The deadline is May 15th 2020. More information can be found here: http://www.mdpi.com/journal/animals/special_issues/animal_models_2020
Background to call for papers
Despite many decades of research, much of which has focused on studies in animals, humans continue to suffer from diseases and illnesses for which there are no cures or treatments. It is now clear that insights provided by animal studies do not often translate to humans, explaining the very high failure rate observed when new medicines are evaluated in human clinical trials. In addition, there is increasing evidence that animal studies are frequently conducted so poorly that no clear conclusions may be drawn from them. Some claim that if only the quality of animal studies was improved, and animal models were made to more faithfully capture the relevant human disease, then these models would begin to translate and deliver clinical benefits. Others argue that research focusing on humans is necessary to gain a better understanding of human disease and to develop safe and effective drug treatments.These scientists point to developments in human biology during the last decade that have yielded in vitro and in silico techniques capable of providing novel insights into human disease mechanisms, as well as human-relevant disease models for developing and testing drug treatments for humans. A key question is whether there is value in refining animal models, or whether these should be relinquished in favour of new, human-focused research approaches.
A chapter on the problem with animal models has just been published in the Routledge Handbook of Animal Ethics, by Pandora Pound from Safer Medicines. The handbook is intended as a resource for philosophers and the chapter on animal models aims to bring readers up to date with developments in the field. It discusses recent evidence relating to weaknesses in the design, conduct and reporting of animal studies and explores how these weaknesses raise significant doubts about the validity of animal study findings and their translation to humans. The chapter argues that the evidence relating to poor scientific conduct and lack of human relevance challenges the existing ethical frameworks that govern animal research, such as the harm-benefit assessment. The hope is that this chapter will provide philosophers with the evidence necessary to develop a reinvigorated and updated ethics of animal research. https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Handbook-of-Animal-Ethics-1st-Edition/Fischer/p/book/9781138095069
On November 6 2019, Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga, Professor of Evidence-Based Laboratory Animal Science at SYRCLE (Systematic Review Center for Laboratory (animal) Experimentation www.syrcle.nl) in the Netherlands, was appointed Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau, a civil and military Dutch order of chivalry open to “everyone who has earned special merits for society”. This honour, bestowed upon Professor Ritskes-Hoitinga following her inspirational inaugural lecture at the University (highly recommended reading), comes after 30 years of improving the quality of animal research in the Netherlands and elsewhere, and dedicating herself to developing systematic review* methodology in the field of preclinical research.