I recently attended my first Humane Canada National Animal Welfare Conference in Calgary. To say it was an unforgettable, life-changing experience would be a major understatement.
Over two days, I listened to presenters from around the world share accounts of all the issues facing animals from the hoarding and neglect of cats to puppy mills. From farm animals stuck on freezing or sweltering transport trucks for days without food or water to marine mammals in captivity. From abused bears and elephants used for entertainment to beagles and monkeys who undergo painful laboratory experiments. I was exposed to eye opening, critical information about the realities of animal welfare here in Canada and abroad.
I also learned how much is being done to address these issues. Each presenter shared powerful stories of hope and liberation. The work that is being done to improve the lives of companion animals, livestock, wildlife and research animals is incredible – and so inspiring.
As an animal lover working in the cosmetics industry, animal testing in particular is an issue near and dear to my heart. At the conference, I primarily attended the presentations dealing with animals in scientific research, and I wanted to recount one of the most moving presentations I went to: Beyond Animal Testing: A Canadian Vision toward Replacement by Dr. Charu Chandrasekera.
BEYOND ANIMAL TESTING
Dr. Chandrasekera holds a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Calgary, and she pursued a career in biomedical research that was primarily focused on heart failure and diabetes. In her research, she used rats and mice and indicated she felt emotionally removed from her ‘subjects’. What she began to notice however – and what was echoed by all the other scientists and researchers at the conference – was that “95% of drugs tested to be safe and effective in animals, failed in human clinical trials.” She also commented that there are most likely thousands of drugs that never progress to human trials because “they had no efficacy or showed irrelevant side effects in animals.”
Moreover, many discoveries made in animal research do not often apply to human diseases. This struck a personal chord for Dr. Chandrasekera after her father suffered a heart attack. She was working in a heart failure animal research laboratory at the time, trying to understand specific biochemical pathways activated in the heart following heart attacks in mice – research that her professor had pursued for more than two decades. But when she questioned the applicability of that research to human heart disease, she realized that her mouse work did not inform what happens in humans, and researchers had not even bothered to test those effects in human heart tissue.
Physiologically, humans vary drastically from animals, and no amount of genetic or molecular modifications can accurately mimic disease biology or how a drug or chemical will react in a human being. This realization caused Dr. Chandrasekera to leave traditional animal-based research to begin exploring and promoting alternative methods, like ‘Disease-in-a-Dish’ and ‘Toxicity-on-a-Chip’, which can more accurately predict drug and chemical effectiveness and risks in humans.
It was also around this time that Dr. Chandrasekera adopted a cat named Mowgley, who made such an emotional impact on her that she could no longer justify using animals in her research and her life. She explained how looking into the eyes of this being with a unique personality allowed her to connect with her lab animals. She began to see “the innocence and purity in her cat’s eyes in all of their eyes”. The realization that animals are “individuals” and not objects inspired her to become vegan, and it changed the course of her career. She says that the drastic change in focus was “fuelled by the scientific failures of animal research.”
According to Dr. Chandrasekera, “Canada alone uses over 4 million animals for experimentation, over 60% of which are used for biomedical research and the rest for education and toxicity testing” – and this does not include all animals used for classroom dissection or testing within private industry. Humanity has progressed in so many ways over the last century, yet we still rely on outdated and ineffective animal testing methods. But Dr. Chandrasekera is determined to change that.
CANADIAN CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVES TO ANIMAL METHODS
Dr. Chandrasekera recently founded the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods (CCAAM) “from a back-of-the-napkin idea to reality” and launched it at the University of Windsor in October of 2017. From Brazil to China, many countries across the globe have already established centres for alternatives, but Canada was lagging behind. This is the first research centre of its kind in Canada. Eliminating all animal testing is still far off but, like the abolishment of slavery or granting women the right to vote, she understands that this is a goal worth working towards. Her centre’s vision is to “replace animals in Canadian biomedical research, education and chemical safety testing, hopefully by 2050” – an inspiring ambition, that I for one support wholeheartedly. And I hope you do, too.
THREE WAYS YOU CAN HELP
Reach out to Dr. Chandrasekera
If you’d like to be part of helping the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods, please get in touch with Dr. Chandrasekera directly: firstname.lastname@example.org / Phone: 519-253-3000, Ext 3086
Take action to end cosmetic animal testing in Canada
Support Humane Canada's work to pass Senate Bill S-214, The Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act. S-214 is now in its third and final stage in the Canadian Senate. Help to ensure it passes by telling Senators that it’s Canada’s turn to ban cosmetic testing, and the time to act is now: www.humanecanada.ca/end_testing
Become a Woman for Humane Canada
Do you want to elevate animal welfare in Canada and help to advance our work at the national level on issues like animal testing? Both myself and Dr. Chandrasekera are members of Women for Humane Canada because it allows us to be the change we want to see! Click here to find out more.
Spread the word, share the message.