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AIDS could soon be history.

Johnson & Johnson recently announced plans to test an experimental HIV vaccine in the United States, South America, and Europe. It’s already conducting a clinical trial of the vaccine in Africa, with results expected in 2021. If successful, this research could yield a workable vaccine within 10 years.

AIDS was once a death sentence. A quarter-century ago, HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death among Americans aged 25 to 44. But over the last four decades, scientists have made significant progress against the disease and the virus that causes it. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV can expect to live approximately as long as someone without it, thanks to the latest antiretroviral treatments.

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Research in animals made that progress possible — and has put a vaccine within reach.

Yet HIV is still a public health crisis. More than 1 million Americans have the virus, as do about 38 million people around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, one of the regions hardest hit by HIV, almost 1 in every 25 adults is infected with HIV.

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Animal research has been crucial for every major breakthrough in HIV treatment, in part because HIV is very similar to the simian immunodeficiency virus, which infects chimpanzees and macaques. Consequently, nonhuman primates were instrumental in testing the safety and effectiveness of the earliest antiretroviral treatments, including AZT — the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat HIV/AIDS.

Animals also aided the development of a second revolutionary drug called saquinavir. After research in animals demonstrated that the drug was ready for clinical trials, saquinavir went on to become the first FDA-approved protease inhibitor. Almost immediately, use of this class of drug helped bring about a drop in AIDS-related deaths and hospitalizations of between 60% and 80% in countries that had access to it.

More recently, animal research has helped guide the search for an HIV vaccine. Studies showing that macaques could be immunized against SIV helped demonstrate the feasibility of such a vaccine.

In July, researchers eliminated HIV from the genome of a mouse using antiviral therapy and CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. It was the first time they’d been able to do so in any animal — and it could represent a first step toward eradicating the virus in humans.

Despite delivering these important scientific victories, animal research is under attack. Many animal rights activists allege that all research on animals is cruel — and that powerful new computers can simulate much of the research traditionally conducted in animals. They’ve found some sympathetic ears in Congress, as lawmakers have introduced several bills that would limit the use of animals in research, including two singling out dogs and cats.

But their case is weak. For starters, animal research is carefully and ethically performed. Regulations governing such research in the United States reach further than those pertaining to research on humans. Researchers are required to provide quality food, shelter, and medical care to animal subjects. That includes administering anesthesia for potentially painful procedures.

Those powerful new computers and the use of artificial intelligence, meanwhile, are no match for the complexities of biology. Computer models are useful for studying things scientists fully understand and can replicate. But HIV can interact with living organisms in more ways than even the most robust simulation could ever consider.

Animal rights activists claim the moral high ground while arguing against this research. But ending a scientific practice that could help defeat HIV/AIDS is reckless at best — and inhumane at worst.

Matthew R. Bailey is president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which aims to illuminate the essential role of animal testing and research.

  • Those who do not realize and respect that humans are on top of the food chain, and that seek to dilute scientific medical progress by wanting to eliminate animal research : please do volunteer yourself as a research subject at very early preliminary lab-stage. You will be very quiet soon, and then we’ll have animals again instead of you. Because in-vivo (live) research can not be duplicated / replaced by AI. There are just too many unpredictable elements involved.

    • Animal research is far from predictable or humane. So whatever you are trying to infer by your nonsense- is just that, nonsense. I also suggest that it might be laziness. For a number of centuries animal research has gone on- and many people have prospered. The animals keep dying, and yet we have few to no cures for all of the death and effort. I think the science needs a re-boot and some creative thinking- because just doing the same thing over and over again to no avail doesn’t make sense. The animals by the millions have more or less died in vain- and what little progress “you all” scientists have made have made you wealthy- I have little faith in the process, and unless those animals are jumping on your tables to get “experimented on” it’s time to leave them alone.

  • Ok everyone. I have the solution so both sides can be happy. All the animal rights activists that want to end animal testing, get together and volunteer for the phase 0 trials. (Pre-clinical trials). You will protect the animals and the rest of the population gets the medications, vaccines, and treatments needed. It’s a win win. If you aren’t willing then stop speaking out because pretending to care about something that you aren’t actually willing to do anything about is hypocritical. Also you and your kids and family damn well better not be vaccinated, better not ever use medications, and better not be getting help from doctors.

    • You’re funny! Apply that logic to another abuse situation. Would someone who advocates against domestic violence be a hypocrite if they didn’t volunteer to move into the victim’s home and take the ass beatings for themselves? Use your brain.

  • Ok, so this whole article is absolute crap. If you click the link above “recently announced” and read about the actual study- no animals are involved. The studies are to be done on humans only!
    “The first proof-of-concept efficacy study is the ongoing Phase 2b clinical trial known as Imbokodo, which is evaluating the vaccine regimen among 2,600 young WOMEN across five countries in southern Africa.”
    It continues:
    “What makes this new trial different? Mosaico, a Phase 3 efficacy study, will evaluate the vaccine regimen in men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people aged 18-60. It aims to recruit 3,800 participants at approximately 55 clinical trial sites across North America, South America and Europe—making it Janssen’s largest study to date for the vaccine.”

    “Of course, nothing would be possible without VOLUNTEER ENROLLMENT. Imbokodo achieved full enrollment in May, right on schedule, and Sanchez and Schuitemaker are hopeful that Mosaico will follow suit.”

    “We need armies of PEOPLE to help make it happen,” Schuitemaker says. “People in the sciences, people in clinical centers to execute these trials and volunteers—especially VOLUNTEERS. I’m so impressed with the PEOPLE who are helping move human health forward.”
    Absolutely no mention of animal testing. So why bring it up? Oh, to try to make animal rights activists seem like terrible people and trying to imply that we want humans to suffer a horrible disease?
    Nice try anyway. Shame on you. Have an ounce of integrity.

    • The studies you are referring to are the clinical part of drug development which is always done in humans. The preclinical part, where the drug is actually developed, includes animal testing to prove efficacy (the ability to produce a desired or intended result) and safety. Mr. Bailey actually did an excellent job of explaining this further in the article.

  • I wonder how many of the “animal activists” would choose an animal over themselves if it was them or a monkey. Want to take any bets? Go right ahead and volunteer in place of a cat etc.

  • It is not the responsibility of animals to solve our problems. You could just as well argue that we select a portion of the human population for testing and research on the grounds that it will ultimately help more people than it will hurt. The animals are not volunteering to be Guinea pigs and suffer for us, so it is fundamentally unethical.

    • This is an irony – Animal rights activists trying to protect animal rights.
      Perhaps they could also prevent animals from being slaughtered for food….cause these animals never volunteer to become a plate of meat on a table. So whats the logic for this ? I now wondering if all these animal activists are also vegans – stop with all these nonsense.

      As long as research is done correctly with little pain inflicted on animals, then we as humans have to use animals as a benchmark for our research, else what else can we use ? Ourselves ?

    • Yes Tom, almost all of the animal rights activists I know are vegans. Myself included. What I don’t understand is how one act of cruelty (animal agriculture) justifies another (testing on animals) With that logic we could say that standing up for the rights of children who are being abused by their parents is “nonsense” when there are children who are being abused by their babysitter.

  • Ridiculous. Those regulations you speak of are rarely enforced, there just isn’t enough oversight. And the penalty for not providing even the most basic care to these laboratory animals is a slap on the wrist at most. Animal rights advocates aren’t the monsters you’re trying to paint them as. To call them inhumane for trying to end suffering is complete nonsense.

  • The Hopkins group has already demonstrated that AI beats animal testing for predicting human outcomes. Add stem cells, organs on chips, human organoids, structural databases, etc and animal research becomes even more unreliable than it already is. Folks like Bailey and FBR are hanging on for dear life.

    • The AI you mention only applies to toxicology of which there is a huge database. This AI was developed by researchers to use “the most common alternative to animal testing a process called read-across, in which researchers predict a new compound’s toxicity based on the known properties of few chemicals that have a similar structure.” What many fail to mention is a great deal of that data was generated from animal studies.
      The other alternatives that you mentioned “stem cells, organs on chips, human organoids, structural databases, etc” are used when appropriate but they don’t always provide the answer that researchers need.

  • The most sophisticated computers in the world, programmed by the best scientists, cannot with a convincing degree of accuracy even predict the path of a hurricane or tomorrow’s rain. It is simplistic naivete at best to think a computer model could successfully mimic human reaction to drugs and procedures. The possibility of drugs being administered with a “probability” of success like the probability of rain is horrifying. “Mr. Smith, according to the best computer model, this drug has a 30% probability of curing you. We don’t know what the other 70% probability includes.”

    • Agreed. Well said. Computers cannot account for all the variables in living systems. I think the article makes good points.

    • Computers cannot account for all the variables in living systems.- per JEFF P
      note with all the variables in living systems, “animals” you can’t make
      predictable headway there either- Animal Research is a poor path to take
      for predictable outcomes- and it is also cruel and inhumane. PERIOD

  • Mr. Bailey you wrote, “Regulations governing animal research in the United States reach further than those pertaining to research on humans.”

    Right now I’m making that “mind blown” gesture and KA-BOOM sound!

    Thank you, sir, for this mind-opening essay.

    • The regulations reach further because animals can’t communicate their needs as a human can. Animals are also incapable of filling those needs without the help of a human. Example- a human can easily say “I’m hungry” and use their smartphone to have food delivered to them. Animals can’t do that. When in confinement, they are at the mercy of the humans who feed them, give them medicine and provide shelter. An animal doesn’t have a voice to say “I’m in pain, I feel sick..” a human does.

    • hey Lissa, you’re right. I can say “I’m in pain, I feel sick…” but the only one listening is my cat b/c I can’t afford to see a doctor – who probably has something to help me which I’m sure was made possible by research with lab animals.

    • So, this is about you and your financial troubles now? You’re not the victim in this scenario. Also, you missed my point completely. I was only trying to explain to you why animals need more regulations.

    • Interesting.

      Now the woman who is rich enough to use her smartphone to have food delivered whenever she’s hungry is lecturing me about my financial challenges?

      Lissa, you missed my point completely.

      I was only trying to reiterate virtually everything a doctor, LPN, veterinarian, vet tech, paramedic, or pharmacist can give the sick or injured is made possible by animal research.

  • stand up fight back
    animals do not deserve to die in this endeavor…. I appreciate your efforts but there has to be a different way- period.

    • Of course there is a different way.

      All of the millions of people who get aids can just die a lingering painful death.

      Or we can proceed with attempting to find a cure using animal testing.

      Period.

    • That’s not a different way. Pretty sure she means a different way to do the testing, not a different way to treat a patient. Do you have anything constructive to contribute to this conversation? Seems like you’re just here in an attempt to accuse others of wanting patients to suffer, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. If that were true, why would Colleen even care about finding a different way?

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