Animal Research: A Discussion of Ethics



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One of the most contentious topics in medical research is the issue of experimentation on animals. Animal models are used in many types of research, from testing new surgical procedures to establishing toxicity levels for chemical compounds.

How well do animal models predict what might happen in humans? What alternatives to animal testing are there, and how well do they work?

Experts talk with guest host Joe Palca about the ethical issues that arise from performing medical experimentation on animals.


William Stokes, director, National Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Jonathan Wolff, member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics; professor and department head, Philosophy, University College London

Michael Conn, co-author of The Animal Research War, associate director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health and Science University

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JOE PALCA, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Joe Palca sitting in for Ira Flatow.

It may only be the last day of February but 2008 has already been a busy year for militant animal rights activists. These protesters use tactics like smear campaigns, vandalism, and sometimes violence to try and stop researchers from experimenting on animals in the lab. They appear to be responsible for a fire at a UCLA scientist home three weeks ago and there are allegations activists were involved in another attack on a West Coast researcher's home just last weekend. Overseas, in Europe, businesses associated with animal research are reporting an increase in vandalism.

Today on SCIENCE FRIDAY, we're exploring the issue of animal rights and research ethics. If you'd like to join us, give us call. Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And if you want more information about what we'll be talking about at this hour, go to our Web site at where you'll find links to our topic.

And let me introduce my first guest this hour, Michael Conn, is associate director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center. He is also co-author with James Parker of the forthcoming book, "The Animal Research War" from Palgrave Macmillan, in which he discusses the rise of the militant animal rights movement. He joins us from Portland.


Doctor MICHAEL CONN (Associate Director, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health and Science University; Co-Author, "The Animal Research War"): Hello, Joe, and thanks very much for featuring this important topic.

PALCA: Well, thank you for joining us. And frankly, you know, as someone who is bringing this up, you know, it is tend to be - it does tend to be sort of - scientists seem to like to have a low profile about this, and in fact, in your book, you talk about the silent war. Can you tell me more about what you mean about - when you say that, silent war?

Dr. CONN: Well, the war against animal researchers is a very real and, as you pointed out, very violent war but all but invisible in the media. And that was one of the reasons that Jim Parker and I wrote this book. We would like to place this on the public agenda. We'd like the public to understand that there are researchers who are now walking away from productive careers because they fear for their families's wellbeing.

Extremist groups are having a strangling effect on a lot of drug development. The book talks about the battles, the spies and the casualties in the animal research war, but our fear that if the extremists win, the real losers will be the public - all the people struggling with disease.

PALCA: But if you - I mean, there's always a double-edged sword here because on the one hand, you can certainly point to examples of research that's benefiting humans and the human health. But there's certainly research that has also gone nowhere and - in retrospect, anyway - caused unnecessary suffering from animals. And you sometimes wonder, well, if people really knew the whole story maybe they wouldn't - they'd say on balance, you know, we don't want the benefits because the costs are too great. What do you say to that?

Dr. CONN: Well, I think every once in a while you hear about something that's gone wrong, a bad scenario, and just for the moment because as often as not, we don't really know what happened. Let's assume that some of these scenarios are true. So what you're really saying then is because people die in car accidents, we shouldn't drive cars. Just because there are occasional problems, it does not mean you should turn off a pipeline. It is unquestionably improved the circumstances not only of people but of animals as well.

We live in a wonderful time. The happy news is that a lot of young people you'd talked to will think the iron lung is a rock group. They won't remember polio, they won't remember small pox. Those are some of the major triumphs of animal research. They affect virtually everybody's life.

Research as you point out is a tradeoff. In order to learn more how to help humans, we engage in animal experimentation, but this experimentation is governed by strict rules and regulations put on our plate by the federal government. There is very little pain or suffering in animal research.

PALCA: You know, you're at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, and over the years, I've had occasion to do stories that involved your institution and every time I call there's a great trepidation about what's the media going to say if they come here. And then I have to do - I feel a lot of convincing that I'm, you know, that I'm not coming in to do a expose of some sort, I'm just interested in the science - although I suppose if there were an expose to be done, I'd want to do that, too. But the point is, it seems to me there's a defensive quality on the part of scientists as well, not just because - it may be justifiably but certainly it's sometimes hard to get in the door to hear the story of what the benefits are.

Dr. CONN: Well, there's a couple of reasons for that. Some of them are technical. Because our animals are susceptible to human tuberculosis, we require anyone who enters the facilities to have proof of not being tuberculin positive. Beyond that, just interacting with the animals requires some training. It's not a good idea and it's very stressful for animals - when you stare at them, it upsets them. It upsets animals when there are new people around them. They wonder what's going on.

But one of our real problems has to do with the media. In an effort to create balanced news casts, media frequently give individuals with extremist views, people who make outlandish and often untrue accusations the same platform and the same air time as researchers. The public presumes that the truth is somewhere in between. The media should strive to find out the truth and report that.

PALCA: And so, can you cite an example of where a claim by an animal rights group has been given equal weight with a scientifically valid point of view?

Dr. CONN: Absolutely. One of the things that drew my attention to writing this book, to begin with, came from a personal experience when I went on a trip to the East Coast - I'm on the West Coast now. And what happened was an animal extremist learned that I was going to be taking that trip, and this is an individual who'd said that the killing of animal researchers is warranted in order to stop animal research. He posted that on his listserv and I was followed around for about two and half days. They tried to meet me at the airport. They made wild accusations to the media which were reported by the media. I was in a very defensive mode trying to address them when in fact they were made up from whole cloth, and I ended being on the same platform as individuals who were literally making up stories.

At the time, we were not using monkeys at all, in fact. And at that time, I hadn't even used rats in several years. But they made all kinds of outlandish claims, put up billboards at the university where I was and used public access laws in that state to attend meetings, to shout at me. And it really got us nowhere.

PALCA: Okay. Let's take a call right now because this is obviously a very contentious issue but let's go now to the phones and talk to Justin(ph) in Vernon, Connecticut.

Justin, welcome to the program.

JUSTIN (Caller): Thanks for taking my call, Joe.

PALCA: You bet.

JUSTIN: You know, I think, it's kind of undeniable that there's this growing body of research showing that grandiose claims about, you know, the predictive value and contribution of animal experiments to human health are completely unfounded, and that the overwhelming majority of all animal experiments have no utility at all for human health…

PALCA: So wait a minute. Wait a minute. That's a pretty broad statement. Can you cite a scientific paper or…

JUSTIN: There's an article that came out in this month's journal of Royal Society of Medicine. It's written by Robert Matthews.

PALCA: Okay.

JUSTIN: He makes these claims exactly and he says…

PALCA: Well…

JUSTIN: …the successes that have come from animal experiments are nothing more than anecdotal much like - I would suggest the claims that Mr. Conn is making about the existence of violence in the animals rights movement.

PALCA: Okay. Well, okay, let's ask first, Mr. Conn - Dr. Conn if he knows about this article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society…

Dr. CONN: I do not. But there's many, many examples in the literature suggesting just the otherwise to be true. I mean, let's face it.

PALCA: Right.

Dr. CONN: Even humans are not perfect models for other humans. Animals are not perfect models for humans, but there is one classic study that has been often cited in the literature and it was done by Harry Olson and colleagues. And what they did was they brought together the results from 12 different international pharmaceutic companies and they looked at the productivity of animal tests in human toxicity.

The overall conclusion from 150 randomly selected compounds and 221 human toxicity events was that the animal model had significant predictive power to detect most but not all areas of human toxicity, so there is a big advantage. If you look at the history…

JUSTIN: And the FDA…

Dr. CONN: …and we do a lot…

JUSTIN: The FDA also reports that 95 percent of drugs that are tested on animals fail in human clinical trials because they can't predict the side effects of the drugs in animals that are going to result in human beings…

PALCA: Justin, hold on. Hold on a second. And Dr. Conn, hold on a second. We may be able to cut through this because I have another guest who's on the line and he's actually from the U.K. and I'm going to bring him on now.

Jonathan Wolff is a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and he's a professor and department head in Philosophy at University College London.

Welcome to the program, Dr. Wolff.

Doctor JONATHAN WOLFF (Member, Nuffield Council on Bioethics; Professor and Department Head, Philosophy, University College London): I'll say good evening because it's evening in my time.

PALCA: Well, fine, that's good. We'll accept that. We're familiar with time change here. So I don't know if you've been hearing what we're just talking about but there was allegedly or apparently an article in - is it, Justin, which journal?

JUSTIN: The journal of the Royal Society of Medicine…

PALCA: Journal of the Royal Society…

JUSTIN: …by Robert Matthews.

PALCA: By Matthews, talking about the lack of predictive value of animal research.

Did you see that article, by any chance?

Dr. WOLFF: I didn't see that one. I'm familiar with those sort of claims. Yeah.

PALCA: And what do you make of them in general?

Dr. WOLFF: Well, I'm a philosopher not a scientist and so I have to leave it to the scientists to decide whether the studies are predictive.

But in the report we did for the Nuffield Council, we thought it was very important to make a distinction between the scientific questions and the moral questions because even if it is true that we learn a lot from animal experiments, it doesn't follow from that that they're morally acceptable. And so we do have to take the ethical questions separately from the scientific question.

PALCA: Okay. So now I want to go back, Justin, if you'll indulge me for a second with Dr. Conn because it does seem as if there's - is there a question I would never have doubted the validity of animals in research based on, you know, 25 years of science reporting, but do you have any doubts at all?

Dr. CONN: Our obligation to animals, Joe, is that they don't suffer or feel pain. Our obligation to people is that we respect people's rights to be self-directing within the context of society.

There's been a great deal of discussion about the morality of doing research and I was actually - I receive a great deal of insight from comments made by the Dalai Lama when he addressed the neuroscience meeting in - I think it was 2005. He said, I encourage the minimum use of experiments on animals; the absolute minimum of pain; only perform highly necessary experiments with as little pain as possible. If it must be done and that is your path, it is compassionate to kill out of necessity, but only with empathy.

I think that's extremely telling and I think it addresses something that we all embrace in animal research and that is the three Rs: reduction, refinement and replacement.

PALCA: Okay, Dr, Conn, I'm going to have to cut you off there because we have to take a short break.

Justin, thank you very much for starting this topic. We will not stop here.

And do stay with us. We'll be right back after a short break.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)


We're talking this hour about animal research. My guests are Michael Conn. He's the associate director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center and the co-author of the new book, "The Animal Research War." And Jonathan Wolff has joined us. He's a philosophy professor at University College London, who helped write a 2005 bioethics report on animal experimentation.

And I want to come back to those three Rs that you were mentioning, Dr. Conn, but I want to - I just want to belabor Justin's point for one more second which is - is the use of animals scientifically valid because as Dr. Wolff said, you know, there's a moral question that has to be dealt with. But if they're not even getting useful information from animals - which I never knew was even being seriously suggested - but if you're not, then you shouldn't even - then why bother in the first place? So do you accept the premise that animals are not valuable as predictors for behavior of drugs and what have you and in understanding human disease?

Dr. CONN: Animals are very valuable but they're not perfect predictors. In fact, anyone watching the news recently will know that drug trials for cough medicine that was tested in adults failed to provide accurate data for children. The drug industry has known for years that even things like gender, age and the ethnic background of test subjects may result in data that's only reliable for that demographic.

In the same way one could certainly argue that fish are not very good models for human hearing aids but in point of fact, the proof is in the pudding. The majority of the cures that have come out in the last century has come as the direct result of animal research. Diabetes was first discovered in dogs and it was animal studies that helped us understand the mechanism by which diabetes occurs.

PALCA: So coming back to you, Jonathan Wolff, and the report that you wrote, I presume that it starts with the premise, at least, that there is some value in using animals in research, else, why bother coming up with a report to discuss the appropriate use of animals in research?

Dr. WOLFF: Well, it's certainly a question we have to consider because we receive - we took evidence from the public and we got quite a few letters arguing exactly the point that Justin made before that there's no predictive power. And indeed, some people argued that some animal research had held up medical research because if we haven't been wasting our time experimenting on animals, we would have done other things which were much more valuable, so we have to consider this.

And in fact, our view in the end - not my view because I didn't write that part, but the view of the committee was very similar to Dr. Conn's view. There are many mistakes but there are also many benefits as well.

PALCA: Not your view?

Dr. WOLFF: Well, it's not - I didn't have a view because I'm not competent with scientific…

PALCA: Got it. Okay. All right. That's fine. That's a perfectly reasonable point of view.

All right. Let's take another call now and let's go to Najib(ph) in Oklahoma City, I guess, Oklahoma.

Welcome to the program.

NAJIB (Caller): Thank you for taking my call. Good afternoon, gentlemen.

PALCA: Good afternoon.

NAJIB: It's a very, very interesting subject. I'm a professional scientist and I work for a public university here in Oklahoma and I'm also a member of a committee on - at the university which is called the Animal Use Committee. And I was wondering if I could bring the discussion to a more pragmatic point which is that the federal government mandates that such committees exist on all institutions where animal research is conducted. And this committee is charged with the mission of ensuring that animals are used humanely and one of the things that we have on our research protocols, the three Rs that have been mentioned in the discussion.

The first one is replace and one of the questions we ask of our researchers to do is to ask them, have you considered alternatives to animal use? In other words, have you considered replacing the animals that you're requesting for the kind of work that you do and the kind of hypothesis that you are positing. And thank you, I'll get your comments off the air.

PALCA: Thank you very much, Najib.

What about that, Dr. Conn?

Dr. CONN: Well, the - one of the things that we learned when we were writing the book that surprised us is about half of the American population does not realize that animal research is regulated. Not only is it regulated very, very strictly by the Animal Welfare Act in the United States but there are comparable laws in the U.K. and other parts of the world as well. These laws give the USDA the ability to come in and inspect our facility - and inspect, they do.

The USDA shows up at random times during the year, typically about twice a year. Last year, it happened to have been three times a year. And they show up at random times. Everyone stops what they're doing. They can open any door. They can look in any closet. They look to make sure that we don't have any Tylenol that's two weeks beyond expiration date. If we do, we get cited. They can also shut us down. They can also levy very heavy fines and they've done that at institutions in the past when they're out of compliance.

PALCA: So, Dr. Wolff, Jonathan Wolff, in the U.K., are there similar protections - are more stringent or do you know the differences between the U.S. and the U.K.?

r. WOLFF: Well, we believe that we are the most stringent country for regulations - though perhaps every country thinks that, but we have very similar regulations for the ones just described.

PALCA: And, I mean, but the regulations presuppose again that any research is acceptable in any - and that some pain is acceptable or disease induction because the benefit is there. So you're still starting with some level of use that some people will object to?

Dr. WOLFF: Well, that's true. And we do, in our regulations, have the committee that performs the type of cost-benefit analysis which they use to grant a license. And so if you're applying for license, you have to show there's going to be a medical benefit for human health or animal health. And the committee has to be convinced that the benefits do outweigh the costs. But you know, the problem with any cost-benefit analysis is when you have a situation where the benefits go to one group and all the costs fall on another, and that really is what is morally problematic for many people.

But even though many animal experimentations are done for animals, they're not done for the animals who are in the experiments and these will suffer, some think, maybe not very much pain but they will die prematurely, and that is a concern for some people - many people, I think.

PALCA: Let's take another call now and go to Angie(ph) in Chicago, Illinois.

Angie, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

ANGIE (Caller): Oh, hi. I'm a research scientist and I happen to have a love of animals. I have many animals at home and actually studied animal sciences in school and ended up in a human research lab because of the more availability of jobs. And - but I guess - so that's just my background - but I guess I wanted - my comment was or question - I understand that he call animal rights activist, terrorists and militant, but it's kind of sounds biased to me. You're coming off saying he's militant, animal rights activist instead of saying these animal rights activists which some of them you know, do, you know, non-justifiable actions but there are people out there, like I feel, you know, a lot of empathy and feelings for the animals that we use in our lab, and I guess, to be called a militant person because I have a - I feel…

PALCA: Well, I…

ANGIE: …animals do…

PALCA: No, I think you're making a fair point. I think, as I hear it and I'll let Michael Conn speak to this, but we're making a distinction here between people who hold strong beliefs and would prefer, I think, even in your book, Michael Conn, there's a card that some people are - you know, you offer to people saying I don't want to benefit from animal research, I don't want to take part in it, I don't want my research dollars to go for it so I'm signing this card, you know, I'm saying, don't do anything beneficial for me that's based on animal research, then we make a distinction between people who have a moral objection and people who take that moral objection and use it to justify violent threats against researchers. At least, that's how I would see it, Michael Conn, maybe I didn't characterize it properly.

Dr. CONN: Well, when I call people extremists, I'm talking about individuals who believe in no leather, no pets and no medical research and those views are very extreme compared to most of the public. It is absolutely okay for you or anyone to disagree with me, to publicly discuss your views, to lobby your congressmen, to try to change the law. What is not okay is to put a bomb at my doorstep and menace my family. People living in a civilized society can all agree that firebombing homes and threatening children, is not part of the acceptable process of bringing about political change. In a democracy, fear and intimidation cannot be allowed to play a part in changing the hearts and minds of people.

ANGIE: Sure, but I think it's important when we're on a national media like this that we don't give people that are really fighting for animal rights maybe in an honest way and a good way that we don't give them a bad name, too.

PALCA: Right, so, you're saying, be - don't tar people with a broad brush stroke that there's nuance in this debate, and I appreciate you're bringing that point up.

ANGIE: Okay.

PALCA: I think now, we've been talking some about alternatives to animals and research, and we have another guest this hour who can speak directly to that question.

William Stokes is the director of the National Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, a committee organized by the NI - National Institutes of Health that helps look at using non-animal alternatives in the lab.

Welcome to the program, Dr. Stokes.

Doctor WILLIAM STOKES (Director, National Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences): Thank you very much, Joe.


Dr. STOKES: I appreciate the opportunity to be on your show.

PALCA: Good. So tell me, what is this new program? How will it replace animals that are currently being used in research?

Dr. STOKES: Well, we have a inter-agency committee that involves all the federal agencies that are responsible for safeguarding the public health and safety of both animals and people and the environment. We work together to review, propose new alternative methods. And I just want to emphasize that those alternative methods are ones that reduce the number of animals used for a procedure or replace the animals with a non-animal approach or refine the procedure to reduce discomfort that is experienced by the animals.

So we have actually had this committee operating for 10 years now and we have looked at a variety of alternative methods and many of these have now been adopted and are being used for - by regulatory agencies for determining whether chemicals and products are safe or hazardous to people, animals or the environment.

PALCA: So, I mean, do you have an estimate? Is this going to eliminate hundreds of animals, thousands of animals, tens of thousands of animals from research?

Dr. STOKES: Well, we estimate that it's had a fairly significant effect. Just one example is a test that's used to determine whether a chemical can be poisonous to people or children. It's called the Acute Oral Toxicity Test. When it originated early in the 20th century, it was standard to use up to 200 animals to conduct that test. By the '80s, that number was down to 25. And we recently reviewed and endorsed a method that's been adopted internationally now to make that determination that only uses about six to nine animals. So, you know, there's a 70 percent reduction on average in the number of animals used for that particular test. And that is the most common toxicity test or safety test conducted in the world, so I think that's pretty significant.

PALCA: Jonathan Wolff, has this kind of thing been taking place in the U.K., this idea of replacing, you know, using toxicological screens involving cells rather than living animals?

Dr. WOLFF: Yes. And the idea - and I have to say - was invented in the U.K.…


Dr. WOLFF: …from Richard Ryder in the 1950s. And it was ignored for about 20 years - now, become fashionable again. And, yet the three Rs are I think very important and there's no doubt that if we could really carry them forward, this would be the way of the future, I think. And the scientists I have spoken to have been enthusiastic. But what we have to realize is, particularly on the replacement end, it is limited, so we can make a distinction between safety testing and drug research. And although a certain amount of safety testing can be done using replacement techniques, cell cultures and so on, it's very hard to see how you can test a drug on something less than a whole animal, so there are limits to the three Rs, particularly on replacements.

PALCA: We are talking this hour about animals in research: the ethics, the merits and the possibilities for replacing them, I suppose, that - that would be one way of looking at it.

I'm Joe Palca and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And now, we have a query from the people who are listening to this program on - in Second Life on SCIENCE FRIDAY Island. And we have a question from Manther Riptide(ph) who says, theoretically, don't many researchers need to file petitions showing lack of alternative safety testing.

Michael Conn, is there a need most to researchers to say, this is why we must use animals in this particular project?

Dr. CONN: Absolutely there is. Every protocol is reviewed according to the three Rs. We try to reduce the number of animals used; to refine the techniques so there's less pain and suffering; and ultimately, to replace the animals with non-animal techniques. I think that's something we all agree on. Animal research is very costly and very difficult. And as new alternatives become available, I will be first in line to use them.

I read an article by Dr. Wolff in which he noted that between the '70s and today, animal use has already been halved.

PALCA: Dr. Wolff, is that the direction you think things are going in?

Dr. WOLFF: Well, I hope it is. I fear it might not be because we live in a time when we are more and more concerned about chemicals and toxins and safety. And so we have had directives in the E.U. that a great deal more safety testing must be done. So at the same time, it is trying to reduce the number of animals in research, we have increasing numbers used to safety testing in some areas.

But also we have to remember that there are lots of other ways in which animals are used in scientific research, for example, in genetic modification. And so there's a need or scientific need to often to create genetically-mutated mice, say, for particular purposes. But this is very haphazard and thousands - hundreds of thousands of mice will be bred without the correct mutation and euthanized - is the term.

And what worries a lot of people, I think, is that huge loss of life, admittedly, animal life. But the fundamental moral question is whether an animal life is less valuable than a human life. Now, it may be that it is, but we need to think, why is this? What are the reasons? What are the arguments?

PALCA: All right. Fair enough. Let's - I think we have time for one quick call before the break. And let's go to Rick(ph) in Phoenix, Arizona.

Rick, welcome to the program.

RICK (Caller): Oh, good afternoon, gentlemen. A very interesting topic today. Just very briefly, I had polio in 1952 - full paralysis of both legs, braces throughout the childhood, throughout my adulthood, and now suffer from post-polio muscular atrophy where I'm losing whatever muscle tone I had gained through arduous efforts throughout my life. And if it hadn't been for Salk growing the vaccine in the pancreas of Rhesus, this scourge of mankind which has been - there's even a cartouche of a pharaoh with the characteristic flail leg of a polio victim. If it hadn't been for Salk and other sciences - scientists working with animals to create this vaccine, millions of children would suffer the same fate that I suffer.

PALCA: Right.

RICK: And that would end my comment other than saying that the animal rights activists seem to be as ignorant of the scientific method as most Americans.

PALCA: Oh, well.

RICK: End of comment.

PALCA: Okay, Rick. Thank you very much for that call.

Well, we are going to continue talking about the use of animals in research: the benefits and the ethics and the possibilities of replacement. So stay with us. We will be right back after a short break.

(Soundbite of music)


We are talking about animals in research and my guests this hour are Michael Conn, he's the associate director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center; Jonathan Wolff, a philosophy professor at the University College London; and William Stokes. Dr. Stokes is at the National Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods. It's a committee organized by the National Institutes of Health that helps look at using non-animal alternatives in the lab.

And really, what I wanted to do is ask each of you gentlemen, as we wind up this segment, to speak to the question of, what's missing in the debate?

I mean, William Stokes, has there been an aspect of the animal research debate that hasn't gotten enough attention in your opinion? And maybe that there are alternatives but what's missing from the debate from your point of view?

Dr. STOKES: Well, I'm a veterinarian by training and I actually specialized in laboratory animal medicine. And I think it's really important, as Dr. Wolff pointed out, to - for the public to understand that animals are only used where they have to be used and that their use has to be justified; that they must be used in the most humane way possible; and that the number of animals used can only be that number that's necessary for scientific validity; and that animals in the laboratory get exceedingly good care; that they all have an attending veterinarian that's trained in laboratory animals.

I think the other thing that's missing is there's not much emphasis given to the progress that's being made in both research and in the area of testing. Where we are able to use non-animal methods and where those are having an impact on the animal research, we've made incredible advances in being able to grow different types of cells and organs within the body and culture. We've come up with improved computational approaches, including the new science of informatics where we can integrate very complex biological information. And I think it's important for the public to be aware of this progress that is being made and that's often not discussed.

PALCA: Okay. Jonathan Wolff, what about - what's missing here that should be given more emphasis, in your opinion?

Dr. WOLFF: Well, I agree with everything that's just been said and I think there's this tremendous lack of knowledge. And I would just say, talking(ph) very briefly, which is that I think a lot of people who give money for charity, medical charities, don't understand where that money goes. So if people who make a donation to a heart charity or cancer charity, they somehow think that the inputted money and the output will be a cure, without thinking that that money is paying for laboratory experiments, very often on animals. And I'm not saying this will change peoples' view but it does seem to me important that people know what is happening to the money that they provide.

PALCA: All right. Interesting point.

Finally, Dr. Michael Conn, go ahead with - what's missing? You've written a book trying to call peoples' attention to this what you call a silent war. What do you think is missing?

Dr. CONN: We are. We're trying to get it on the public agenda. We want people to know that animals are treated well in research and that a great deal of good comes from research. The question I would end with is, does the possibility of a child having a normal lifetime weigh less than the abstract principle that we cannot use animals in research?

PALCA: Well, we'll leave that one hanging in the air just as you've phrased it. Thank you very much, all three of you gentlemen for joining me today.

Dr. CONN: Thank you very much, Joe.

PALCA: That was…

Dr. STOKES: Thanks, Joe.

PALCA: You're welcome.

Michael Conn - that was Michael Conn. He's the associate director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center. He's also the co-author of the forthcoming book, "The Animal Research War" from Palgrave Macmillan. We also spoke with Jonathan Wolff, a philosophy professor at University College London, who helped write a 2005 bioethics report on animal experimentation; and also William Stokes. He's the Director of the National Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, a committee organized by the National Institutes of Health that helps look at using non-animal alternatives in the laboratory. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.