Time to focus on prevention
Today is World Heart Day and as we spare a thought for those affected by heart disease, we also reflect on the countless animals who continue to suffer and die in pointless research.
Scientists have used animals in heart disease research for over a century and they continue to insist that animals are necessary to increase our understanding of the disease. However there is still no one animal experiment that is able to encompass all of the variables known to affect human heart disease. The failure of these cruel experiments is evident in the high rates of death and illness it still causes.
It is well known that heart disease can be prevented through lifestyle changes. Sadly however, preventative medicine continues to receive much less support than more ‘glamorous’ approaches such as drugs, surgical intervention and transplantation.
Much current research focuses on artificially inducing atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) in animals, which is the major cause of heart disease. In these experiments rabbits, rats, dogs, pigs and even monkeys are forced to consume a ‘western diet’ that is high in fat and cholesterol. The animals are then put on a healthier diet or given drugs to see if the resulting clogging of the arteries can be reduced.
Heart disease is a complex disorder affected by many factors including diet, age, lifestyle and existing conditions such as diabetes, which cannot be appropriately reproduced in animals. Many animals also metabolise fat in a completely different way to humans as well as differing in their susceptibility to the development of atherosclerosis.
Other experiments involve subjecting animals to highly invasive surgical procedures in which the arteries near their hearts are cut, blocked or constricted to trigger a heart attack. Traditionally, dogs have been the most frequently used animal in these experiments, but pigs, rats and even goats have become more popular in recent years.
These experiments are extremely artificial when compared to the human situation. The symptoms of a heart attack in the animals used in these experiments usually occur immediately as a result of the surgical intervention. But in humans it is often as a consequence of many years of underlying disease.
A recent study found that half of all heart disease deaths in the USA could be prevented by reducing known risk factors.1 A similar study in the UK found that over 7,000 deaths could be prevented by banning trans fats, which contribute to the development of coronary heart disease.2 Clearly, ‘quick-fix’ solutions are not the answer. Instead of continuing to subject animals to such cruel and fruitless experiments, the focus should shift towards optimising prevention.