In just a few days since we published our latest exposé, almost 1,300 people have taken action against the BHF’s financial support for cruel experiments on dogs, pigs and goats. We are extremely grateful to everyone who has spoken out on behalf of these animals. The BHF has now responded to the messages it has received from members of the public, and we would like to address some of the points it has made.
1. The BHF argues that it has not distanced itself from animal experiments that it has funded.
We feel justified in saying that the charity has sought to distance itself from some of the animal experiments that it has financially supported, and that the distinction it makes between experiments it has ‘directly funded’ (for which it assumes responsibility) and those it has ‘financially supported’ or ‘supported with funding’ (over which it claims no responsibility) is not a credible position. The reasons are outlined below.
Towards the end of 2013, we uncovered a shocking experiment involving the surgical mutilation of pregnant sheep.[i] The scientific paper describing the experiment declared that it had been ‘supported by funding from’ the BHF.[ii] In addition, one of the key researchers has received more than £1million from the BHF.[iii] Yet when approached by a national newspaper journalist, the charity stated that it had not funded the research, but merely contributed to the equipment in the laboratory.[iv]
We swiftly uncovered another sheep mutilation experiment involving the same BHF-funded researcher. The scientific paper describing this second experiment said it had been carried out with ‘support’ from the BHF.[v] This led to a major exposé in the Sunday Express, in which the BHF insisted that they had not funded the research, but were simply ‘one of the many general funders’ of the laboratory where it had been carried out.[vi]
A few months later, we uncovered a third experiment – an invasive study on pigs that involved them being deliberately given heart attacks. The scientific paper declared that the experiment had been ‘sponsored’ by the BHF, and cited a grant number.[vii] One respected scientific database stated that the study had received ‘funding’ from the charity, while another database cited ‘grant support’ from the BHF.[viii] This time, the BHF narrowly escaped another highly embarrassing exposé in the national media by insisting that it had not funded the study directly.[ix]
2. The BHF states that ‘studies which are not directly funded by us do not go through our rigorous peer review process. In these cases, therefore, we are less able to comment on the details of the research.’
We find this assertion deeply troubling. Financial support from the BHF is clearly acknowledged in the scientific papers describing the experiments we have highlighted. The charity, in our view, has a duty to rigorously check the nature of studies to which it has given any kind of financial support and be able to comment on them when this is required. This duty is made all the more pressing by the fact that the funds in question have been donated by members of the public in good faith.
3. The BHF stresses the merits of animal research and suggests that medical progress has only been possible because of it.
It is true that animals have been extensively used in medical research and that life-saving drugs and treatments do exist. However, this does not mean that animals were essential in the development of these treatments, and there have been many cases where the misleading results of animal experiments have hindered medical progress. Gleevec, a drug used to treat leukaemia, is a case in point. It was almost abandoned as it causes severe liver toxicity in dogs, but the manufacturers persisted due to the promising results of human cell culture tests.[x]
The key point is that animal experiments do not produce results that can be reliably translated to humans, and the scientific community is becoming increasingly doubtful about their utility. An article published on May 30 in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlighted the problems with using animals in research as ‘models’ of humans. It mentions some of the many instances of vivisection failing to advance medical progress, such as the fact that more than 100 drugs have been tested in a mouse ‘model’ of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a type of motor neurone disease) but not one was ultimately found to be beneficial for humans. The authors also state: ‘In stroke medicine, despite decades of immense human, animal and financial investment, animal models have failed to yield a single neuroprotective treatment for humans.’ [xi]
To read more about the specific problems with using animals in heart disease research, please view our article on the topic.
4. The BHF states that it only funds research on animals when ‘no alternatives are available.’
It is accepted that some animal experiments into heart disease cannot be replicated without the use of animals. But these experiments do not produce results that can be reliably translated to humans, so are not worth doing. For example, there is no non-animal way to replicate tying off a dog’s arteries to induce a heart attack. Yet this is clearly only a very crude representation of how heart attacks occur in humans. There are, however, many non-animal methods that can be used for research into heart disease. These include the use of human-derived raw materials (such as tissues, cells and DNA), computer modelling, microfluidics and high resolution scanning. There are also a range of important traditional methods such as autopsies and clinical studies. For more examples, please see our briefing sheet on non-animal methods of disease research.
We reiterate our call for the BHF to take heed of public sentiment and modern scientific evidence, and ensure that only humane and productive non-animal research receives financial support in the future.
[i] Kaandorp J, Derks J, Oudijk M et al (2013). Antenatal Allopurinol Reduces Hippocampal Brain Damage After Acute Birth Asphyxia in Late Gestation Fetal Sheep. Reproductive Sciences, June 2013
[iv] The BHF’s chief executive made the statement in response to a request for comment from a national newspaper journalist. We have an email record of the statement.
[v] Kane AD, Herrera EA, Hansell JA et al (2012). Statin treatment depresses the fetal defence to acute hypoxia via increasing nitric oxide bioavailability. J Physiol. 2012 Jan 15;590 (Pt 2):323-34
[vii] Tondato F, Robinson K, Cui J et al (2012). Effects on arrhythmogenesis and arrhythmic threshold of injection of autologous fibroblasts into myocardial infarcts in adult pigs. J Cardiovasc Transl Res. 2012 Jun;5(3):337-44
[viii] – Europe PubMed Central states that the BHF has provided ‘funding’ for the experiment and includes a grant number.
– PubMed of the US National Institutes of Health states that the BHF has provided ‘grant support’ for the experiment (together with a grant number).
[ix] The BHF produced a detailed statement in response to a request for comment from a national newspaper journalist.
[xi] Pound P, Bracken MB (2014). Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research? BMJ. 2014 May 30;348:g3387