Should animal testing stop for health studies? 800 experts say yes

More than 800 doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals have joined the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to appeal to the medical journal Nutrients to stop publishing animal studies that violate the publication’s own ethical guidelines.

NutrientsThe guidelines for authors explicitly require the “replacement of animals with alternatives whenever possible”. Yet in a letter sent to the journal’s editors, the group points to a number of published studies in which small animals were experimented on even though alternatives were readily available.

“We wish to inform you that the journal’s repeated publication of articles that violate its ethical guidelines and its refusal to act on reports of such violations has caused us to lose confidence in the integrity of the journal,” the letter states. The letter notes that by publishing these articles, Nutrients shows young researchers that it is okay to violate ethical mandates and that the journal will publish their studies anyway.

For example, a March 2021 article published in Nutrients focused on researching the antidepressant properties and behavioral effects of saffron. The study used 50 mice, which were force-fed saffron extract by gavage and then thrown into a tank of water.

“The forced swim test is used as an indicator of the animal’s will to live,” PCRM’s Janine McCarthy, MPH, said in a statement, “as if those who struggle longer are less depressed and those who give up more easily are more depressed.”

PCRM says the test has been denounced by leaders in the scientific community, such as Bayer, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline, and numerous studies concluding that it is not a valid model for depression. Further, McCarthy said, there are few similarities between the clinical symptoms of depression in humans and the behaviors measured in the test. The researcher would have been better off giving the humans saffron, she said, and asking them to report their depression.

“We found articles in almost every issue of Nutrients where commercial supplement makers, students, young faculty or others circumvented ethical research methods that would have avoided animal testing,” McCarthy said. Instead, these researchers purchased and experimented on small animals, especially those exempt from welfare requirements, and then submitted the results to Nutrients for publication.

Why Animal Testing Isn’t Necessary

The PCRM group says that for health studies like these, animal testing is unnecessary, unethical and irrelevant. “When investigators use animal instead of human research methods that might ethically serve their research goals, they steer medical investigation away from the species of interest and toward other species whose biological responses may differ and often use scientifically unsatisfactory methods,” the letter reads. “In some cases, the study methods would be viewed by objective observers as constituting sadistic behavior inflicted on small animals under the guise of science.”


Nutrients charges authors about $2,600 to publish their papers, which means publication brings in more than $13 million a year in author fees. In 2018, journal editors resigned, citing a lack of commitment to scientific integrity.

In addition to writing Nutrientsthe PCRM group also sent a separate letter to MEDLINE, the bibliographic database of the National Library of Medicine, asking it to limit or suspend Nutrients’ participation in the database until the problem is corrected.

“It’s vital that journals adhere to their ethical policies,” McCarthy said. “Publishing poor quality research that does not contribute to the advancement of public health is detrimental to the scientific community.

Conduct scientific research without animals

PCRM is a medical community of 17,000 physicians and 175,000 members working with government and industry to replace the use of animal testing with modern methods. In addition to lobbying, publishing research, training scientists, and attending and leading scientific meetings, the group also organizes physician-led protests with the goal of bringing about positive change within the community. the medical community, such as the one conducted earlier this year calling for an end to the use of live animals in the University of Cincinnati’s surgical training program.

An accompanying petition called on the school to improve medical training by replacing pigs with the same human-relevant methods used by hundreds of other programs. The group of doctors also bought advertisements on 10 bus benches across the city.


At the University of Cincinnati, interns perform invasive medical procedures on live pigs before the animals are killed, but PCRM’s survey of surgical residency programs shows that 76% of hospitals and universities are responsive, including including both Cleveland Clinic campuses, Wright State University, University of North Carolina and John Hopkins University — do not use animals. Instead, these programs use superior educational methods that accurately replicate human anatomy and physiology.

“Animal-based medical education is on its way out, and for good reason,” John Pippin, MD, FACC, director of academic affairs at PCRM, said in a statement. “Modern training methods used across the country benefit future patients and physicians, allowing for repeated practice, anatomical configuration that replicates that of a human, and more.”

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