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Human Relevant Testing: A Conversation on Enhancing Human Health and Animal Welfare with Dr. Aysha Akhtar

Unmasking Animal Experimentation: A Conversation with Dr. Aysha Akhtar on Enhancing Human Health and Animal Welfare

Smiling woman of color with long dark hair and a black dress,
Dr. Aysha Akhtar

Animal experimentation is a contentious topic that provokes equally compelling arguments on both sides. Often, it becomes a battleground between the relentless pursuit of human health advancements and the advocacy for better animal rights. Dr. Aysha Akhtar, a prominent neurologist and public health specialist, navigates this complex landscape with a solutions-oriented approach that could revolutionize traditional protocols and address both human health and animal welfare concerns more effectively.

The Often Ignored Discomforts: Truths about Animal Experimentation

Many would argue that these animals are protected in laboratories, but Dr. Akhtar shatters this widespread myth, highlighting the grim reality of countless animals subjected to severe treatments under the guise of research.

It is an unfortunate truth that animal testing lacks effective regulations or limitations, allowing researchers to conduct induced diseases and other horrifying procedures on millions of animals. It’s also crucial to remember that such experimentation is predominantly applied to basic, curiosity-driven research rather than direct drug, product development/toxicity testing. This means countless animal lives are unnecessarily wasted for inconclusive and often irrelevant results.

Shifting the Glossary and the Model: From 'Alternatives' to 'Human Relevant Testing'

Dr. Akhtar posits an innovative suggestion to veer away from the word ‘alternatives’ when describing non-animal-based research methods. Rather, she recommends using 'human relevant methods'. This shift in terminology emphasizes the reality that animal testing isn’t necessarily relevant to human biology.

Thus, instead of seeking alternatives, she promotes the idea of advancing more accurate, human-centric methodologies. For example, 'organ-on-a-chip' technology, which effectively presents the complexity of human organs on a microchip, satisfies this criterion. Another promising prospect is Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can harness the power of data analysis to further human-biology-based methods.

These innovative approaches could potentially save millions of animal lives while refining drug efficiency in humans.

Organ on a chip

Unraveling the Imperfect Tangle: Connecting Biomedical Practices to Societal Ethics

In our quest for knowledge and progress, vulnerable populations, both human and animal, have been used, often without consent, for biomedical research. Dr. Akhtar highlights the ethical ramifications of our dependence on animals for advancements in human health. Animal experimentation is a cruel and outdated practice, stemming from an era when our understanding of ethics and biology was rudimentary.

However, in the 21st century, with our current understanding of the significant physiological variations across species and a growing appreciation for animal rights, it’s high time for a shift in paradigm—a shift towards more human-relevant, ethical, and effective means of research.

This shift can not only liberate animals from the distressing environments of laboratories but also significantly improve the accuracy and relevance of our biomedical research, leading to better treatments and preventative measures for human diseases.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Aysha Akhtar’s insights shed light on the challenging ethical landscape of animal experimentation. Indisputably, animals' welfare and human health enhancement should not be on the two opposing ends of the spectrum.

The potential for human-relevant methodologies is immense, with a plethora of benefits for both humans and animals— whether we allow this potential to translate into reality depends on our collective efforts and our phase as a "teenage" or mature species.

(This blog post was based on an AI generated script and edited by me for accuracy and additional information)

"Most of these animals are not even covered under the Animal Welfare Act, which is the only federal legislation that covers animals use and experimentation. And even for those few species which are covered, The Animal Welfare Act really is pretty pitiful as a regulation.  It doesn't prevent any kind of experimentation from happening." -Dr. Akhtar

Episode 6 of Series 9: Unveiling Vegan Culture Transcript

This Episode explores the transition from traditional animal experimentation to human-relevant testing methods with guest Dr. Aysha Akhtar. This  thought-provoking conversation is about the ethical, scientific, and practical limitations of animal testing in favor of more accurate, human-relevant methodologies like organ-on-a-chip technology. 

The Cover of Animal Liberation Now by Peter Singer
Dr Akhtar's Book Recommendation

Guest: Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., is the Co-founder, President, and CEO of the Center for Contemporary Sciences, (CCS) which is pioneering the transition to replace the use of animals in experimentation with superior human-based testing methods. A military veteran, she is a double-board certified neurologist and preventive medicine specialist. She served as Deputy Director of the U.S. Army Traumatic Brain Injury Program. As a Commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Dr. Akhtar frequently deployed to assist with national public health emergencies. For a decade, Aysha was a Medical Officer at the Food and Drug Administration, most recently in the Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats,  Her work has appeared in numerous articles and she has been interviewed for the New Yorker, New York Times, National Geographic, and WIRED, among others.  Publications include the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Pediatrics, Journal of Public Health Policy, Lancet, and Reviews in the Neurosciences. Aysha is a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.  Our Symphony With Animals. On Health, Empathy and Our Shared Destinies and Animals and Public Health. 

Book Recommendation: Animal Liberation Now by Peter Singer and Our Symphony With Animals.

On Health, Empathy and Our Shared Destinies and Animals and Public Health by Aysha Akhtar

Other Links:  Organs on Chips

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