The debate of whether animal testing should be permitted in the field of medicine has been reignited. Meanwhile, scientists believe they may have found a vaccine for coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to plague countries across the globalized world. While there are so far 80,000 recorded cases of the disease, 2.600 people have already succumbed to the killer strain. This number is only expected to go up in the near future. Therefore, scientists are working around the clock to develop a remedy or, even better, a vaccine that will act as a preventative measure. Unfortunately, the remedies are being tested on laboratory monkeys, The Daily Mail reports. The age-old debate of whether cruel methods of animal testing should be permitted for research and development has thus been newly reignited.
Macaque monkeys have been infected with a strain of Coronavirus in the hope the remedy can be trialled with COVID-19— LADbible (@ladbible) February 24, 2020
Researchers at the United States National Institute of Health have injected over dozens of rhesus macaques monkeys with MERS-CoV, a cousin of the current strain of coronavirus, COVID-19. Prior to being injected with the virus, up to 6 of these monkeys were previously injected with an experimental antiviral drug first invented to treat or prevent Ebola known as remdesivir. The scientists detected that the monkeys not injected with remdesivir displayed signs of MERS, the illness caused by the virus. Meanwhile, six control monkeys showed far more severe signs of the disease, such as decreased appetites, ruffled fur, and increased respiration. On the other hand, six monkeys injected with the experimental drug 12 hours after being injected with the virus showed some signs of disease, though they were not as extreme as the symptoms present in the control group. Their lungs also had lower levels of the virus.
As the first tests have shown promise, the research team led by Dr. Emmie de Wit is hopeful that remdesivir could work against the current strain of coronavirus. The research team, writing in the journal PNAS, stated, "Remdesivir is a promising antiviral treatment against MERS. It may also have utility for related coronaviruses such as the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV emerging from Wuhan, China." In a separate statement, the team added, "MERS-CoV is closely related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Remdesivir (developed by Gilead) has previously protected animals against a variety of viruses in lab experiments. The drug has been shown experimentally to effectively treat monkeys infected with Ebola and Nipah viruses."
While the monkeys were the test subjects in this instance, they are not the only ones being experimented on. Earlier this month, China filed a patent for the same drug in the hope that the country could limit and contain the coronavirus epidemic. At present, at least two test trials of remdesivir are known to be underway in the South East Asian country. More recently, the drug was tested on an American patient who had contracted the disease. It was administered to him intravenously in Washington, D.C., after which his appetite improved and he no longer required supplemental oxygen. He was the very first person to be diagnosed with coronavirus in the United States and was treated with the drug under "compassionate use."
This has reignited a debate about animal testing in the field of medicine. It is estimated that 70,000 monkeys are tested on in the United States for vaccines and drugs due to their similarity to humans. As the news erupted, Twitter too was rife with debate. One user wrote, "Why when a human can be sentenced to DEATH can't those same people be sentenced to lab testing? Surely taking their lives is on par with losing human rights completely, no? Why must animals be our test subjects like they did something wrong?" Another added, "Humans are the virus. Look at us using anything and everything we feel the need to put our hands-on." While there are no clear answers to which side stands correct or ways to loosen regulation on human lab testing at present, it can only be hoped that these animals' suffering does not go to waste.