OPINION: Trump Budget Reduces Animal-Experimentation Agency — But Should Really End It

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The Trump administration’s 2020 budget proposal calls for slashing the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $4.5 billion, or a cut of 11 percent of the agency’s current allotment.

Given the agency’s abysmal record of taxpayer waste, maybe it’s not enough.

If ever there was an overfed government agency, it’s the NIH. It consistently throws good money after bad at projects that have failed, year after year, doing precious little to advance its supposed goal of improving the health of the nation.

Each year, NIH awards approximately 47 percent of its research budget to experiments that use dogs, rats, monkeys, mice, and other animals as “models” of humans. The return on this investment is dismal, with little of this experimentation translating into cures or effective treatments.

In fact, a full 95 percent of all new drugs that test safe and effective in animal tests fail in humans — and some even cause harm. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out why. Biological and genetic differences exist between animals and humans, so what works to heal a dog isn’t guaranteed to work in a human.

Even NIH knows this is true.

“Petri dish and animal models often fail to provide good ways to mimic disease or predict how drugs will work in humans, resulting in much wasted time and money while patients wait for therapies,” the agency said in its most recent 5-year strategic plan.

Readily available research backs this up. A 2015 analysis concluded that as much as 89 percent of preclinical studies — most of which used animals — could not be reproduced, a fundamental step to confirm that scientific results are valid. That’s $28 billion wasted every year.

The current NIH administration acknowledges this debacle. “Preclinical research, especially work that uses animal models, seems to be the area that is currently most susceptible to reproducibility issues,” NIH Director Francis Collins has said.  

To put a fine point on it, the failure rates of new drugs developed using animals in specific disease research areas exceed 95 percent. To name just a few:

  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease: 99.6 percent failure rate.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 96.6 percent failure rate.
  • Cancer: 96.6 percent failure rate.
  • HIV/AIDS vaccine: 100 percent failure rate.
  • Stroke: 100 percent failure for 1000 new agents tested in animals and in 100 clinical trials.

Seemingly undeterred by failure, NIH continues to fund dead-end experiments for which there is growing abhorrence on the part of the American people.

The agency must tackle this waste head-on. It must divert money from flawed animal experimentation to promising animal-free, human-relevant research methods or face the budget axe.

In just one of many examples, tiny human brain “organoids” — models  of living brains created from 3D cultures of neural cells — have allowed researchers to identify the root causes of a rare genetic disorder that leads to fatal brain malformations. Previous studies on this condition, known as Miller-Dieker Syndrome, relied on mouse models. Scientists finally admitted these were failures.

NIH must also conduct systematic reviews of all areas of research in which animals are used to identify the biggest sources of waste. When chimpanzee studies were subjected to this analysis, it was determined that experiments on these primates could be performed in other ways. NIH acted on this information and shut down the funding, sparing both chimpanzees and our tax dollars.

We deserve a wiser use of our money. Patients deserve cures. The animals deserve to be left alone. If NIH is to receive one penny, it should be forced to make spending decisions based on the best science available, not on its current habit of flushing taxpayer money down the toilet.

Emily Trunnell (@Eroseengland) Ph.D., is a research associate in the Laboratory Investigations Department at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.