AR-News: (UK)Winston urges more animal testing to save human lives
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Sat Oct 18 20:15:05 EDT 2003
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Winston urges more animal testing to save human lives
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
18 October 2003
Lord Winston, the country's most famous medical
scientist, sparked controversy yesterday when he
called for more animal experiments in Britain to save
In comments which drew the ire of
anti-vivisectionists, the Labour peer and television
celebrity warned in a Lords debate that British
scientists were being strangled by red tape that was
hindering the prospects of medical advances.
Already, many leading scientists were so frustrated,
they were subcontracting key animal experiments to
colleagues in the United States where research
licences were easier to obtain, Lord Winston said. He
told the Lords it took two or three months to get a
research licence, and even a minor change in
scientific procedure mid way through an experiment
meant that the licence had to be renewed.
"In the US, where I work a great deal of the time, I
can get proper, ethically peer-reviewed licences to do
work on large animals, not just mice, within two or
three weeks," he said.
Gill Langley, a leading opponent of animal research
who sits on a government-appointed committee
overseeing licence applications to the Home Office,
said: "I have no doubt some scientists are doing
animal research in some countries where regulation is
slacker. I also know the Home Office has made efforts
to reduce the bureaucracy and set itself target dates
to award licences.
"But I'm not at all convinced there is too much
bureaucracy. You need enough administrative power to
apply the law. It's more a case of scientists saying,
'We don't like the manner in which animal experiments
are regulated here'," said Dr Langley, an adviser for
the Dr Hadwen Trust, which investigates alternatives
to animal research.
Lord Winston told The Independent that bureaucratic
red tape was causing a "research drain" to the United
States, with a net loss of patents and intellectual
property which could drag Britain behind in the
international race to understand and exploit the
benefits of the human genome, which promises to
revolutionise 21st-century medicine.
The peer, head of fertility studies at Imperial
College London, also criticised the Government for its
failure to inform people about the benefits of animal
experiments, which are portrayed as cruel and
unnecessary by anti-vivisectionists.
"There needs to be much more clear communication for
the public about how valuable it is for their own
health and their children's health and what has been
achieved with the sort of work now and in the past,"
Lord Winston said. "But the Government has done
nothing about it and I think that is something that
really should be much more actively pursued. One of
the things Government is not doing is explaining
clearly what the advantages of this research are. The
advantages are colossal. Many people have no idea
what's going on because so few scientists are prepared
to put their head above the parapet."
For years, senior scientists, including several Nobel
laureates, have complained to the Government about the
time and effort it takes to apply for and gain a Home
Office licence to do even the most basic research
Lord Winston, who leads a word-class IVF research team
at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, said he has had
to resort to sending some of his experiments to
California because of the long delays in Britain. "So
many animal licences do not involve any kind of
suffering to the animal at all and yet it can be quite
a long time getting a licence," he said.
"Some of us are commissioning work in the United
States because it was taking too long for us to get a
licence in the UK. It's a research drain and that does
have quite important consequences because if there is
a patent involved ... some of that IPR [intellectual
property rights] will have to be shared."
Lord Winston said a vast area of modern medicine, such
as antibiotics and cancer research, could not have
been done without research on laboratory animals. "We
have gained a huge amount of knowledge we could not
have gained any other way."
Dr Langley said: "I believe [scientists such as Lord
Winston] think there is too much emphasis on ethics
and too little emphasis on what they perceive as
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