When Hopkins officials accepted $1 million in 1981 to establish a center dedicated to developing alternatives to animal testing, none of them realized they were about to transform a young professor of toxicology into a revolutionary.
That record-setting grant came to Hopkins after a number of cosmetics companies were publicly humiliated by animal rights activists for their use of animals in painful product safety tests. Eager to find alternative methods that would still ensure the safety of their shampoos and cosmetics, a consortium of personal care products companies approached the School of Public Health for help. Their $1 million took Alan M. Goldberg out of the laboratory and launched him on a mission: to promote humane science. Like all "missionaries," Goldberg has made some people uncomfortable along the way.
"What we found is that scientists think we're animal rights activists, and animal rights activists think we're just a front for scientists who want to use animals without being harassed. We're really neither--we're advocates of humane science, which is best for animals and for people. Sometimes what we have to say is difficult for both sides to hear, but it's based on science."
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing. Today and tomorrow, the center will mark the occasion with an international symposium in Baltimore on Advancing Humane Science that will highlight 20 years of progress.
Today, almost no one uses animals for tests on products like mascara or shampoo anymore. The list of companies that have stopped testing cosmetics on animals in the last 20 years is long and includes such major companies (and CAAT sponsors) as Avon, Mary Kay, L'Oreal, Gillette and Procter & Gamble.
Back in 1981, however, Goldberg still worked in a lab.
Goldberg had devoted his professional life to studies focused on the effects of various drugs and toxins on the nervous system, and he had used his share of laboratory animals in the process. When Goldberg decided to study a condition suffered by people who encounter certain pesticides, he was unable to produce this same condition in animals. The condition, known as delayed neuropathy, made it nearly impossible to understand the connection between dose, exposure and response.
Goldberg and his colleagues found a way to study the condition by developing tissue cultures that allowed them to administer the chemicals while closely controlling all the variables of the experiment. An elegant solution--and one that just happened to be more humane.
But when Goldberg took on the directorship of the new alternatives center, an out-of-print book by British scientists William Russell and Rex Burch cast his experimental dilemma in a new light. The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique gave Goldberg more than a blueprint for the new center, it gave him a philosophy--and a mission.
"The greatest scientific experiments have always been the most humane and the most aesthetically attractive, conveying that sense of beauty and elegance which is the essence of science at its most successful," wrote Russell and Burch.
"I knew they were right," Goldberg says. "I knew we had an unprecedented opportunity here to advance public health and make a difference for research animals."
Goldberg wasted no time establishing a grants program to support the development of in vitro methods. These efforts led naturally to an information program, as CAAT sought a way to share information with others in the growing field of alternatives.
An outreach program soon followed, as the center began organizing symposia and workshops focusing on the "3Rs philosophy" at the core of Russell and Burch's work: Replace animals when possible, and if animals are necessary, reduce their numbers to the absolute minimum and refine protocols to eliminate any pain or distress.
Much of the work of developing new alternatives and promoting their use was shouldered by governmental organizations in Europe that had both the legal mandate and the funding to promote the development of new methods. In the United States, CAAT led the way by bringing together representatives of industry, academia, government and the animal welfare community--and urging them to work with one another.
"With the Johns Hopkins name behind us, I knew I could get people to listen," Goldberg says.
But that hasn't meant people have always liked what they heard. "We have always said animals are necessary for research, and that their use is going to continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future, even with alternatives," Goldberg says. "That hasn't endeared us to activists who say all animal use must stop now. We try to set realistic goals, and achieve them."
New in vitro methods developed with CAAT funds allow scientists to use fewer animal tests in predicting which chemicals will burn your skin or sting your eyes, which ones will cause an allergic reaction, which will harm your nervous system or your unborn child. Today CAAT manages three Web sites devoted to alternative methods, including Altweb, the international clearinghouse on alternatives. CAAT's latest outreach program, TestSmart, has already helped the regulatory community identify ways of reducing animal use while protecting public health.
Goldberg's international efforts to promote the acceptance and use of alternative methods have won him numerous awards over the last 20 years from both scientists and activists, including the first Russell and Burch Award, presented by the Humane Society of the United States in 1991, and the Society of Toxicology Enhancement of Animal Welfare Award in 2001. He has been invited to participate in every U.S. government-related activity dealing with alternative methods over the last two decades. And he was instrumental in establishing a triennial World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences.
Yet 20 years of success has not erased all resistance to the concept of the 3Rs, nor has it eliminated the suspicion with which CAAT--and Goldberg--are viewed by some in the academic community.
Last year, when Hopkins decided to fight a federal decision to include rats, mice and birds in the Animal Welfare Act on the grounds that their inclusion would mean an unacceptable regulatory burden for the university, Goldberg found himself in the awkward position of disagreeing with his institution.
"I understand the concern, but I don't think their fears are justified. I also see no scientific reason for the exclusion of these animals and good reasons to include them. With the use of mice, in particular, on the rise, we need to think about refinement with these animals--approaches to minimize pain and distress."
In fact, CAAT recently announced its establishment of the first major grants program in the United States devoted to studies of pain assessment and the alleviation of pain and distress. The program will begin in 2002 with four grants of $25,000 each.
Goldberg credits much of the success of the last 20 years to education and dialogue and says he believes these will remain the key to progress in the next 20 years. For example, he says, in the Netherlands, anyone involved in the care and use of laboratory animals--from senior scientists through animal technicians--must take a three-week, five-day-per-week, eight-hour-a-day course before touching an animal. This summer, Goldberg again decided to sit in on the Hopkins course required of all investigators who submit animal protocols for review or order animals for use in their laboratories.
The class met from 4 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10. "That's far from enough," he says with a shrug. "We need to do a better job of education and training in this country, starting with our young investigators. What happens at Hopkins is typical of American universities."
Goldberg, along with his full-time staff of eight and a growing list of adjunct faculty, tries to raise awareness of these issues within the university. Last week he was pleased to hear about a new mandatory, online training course for all employees and students who work with animals.
As a leader in the alternatives field and as an integral part of the public health program at Hopkins, it makes sense for CAAT to promote education that will lead to more humane science, despite resistance among some in the academic community.
"We're sort of like broccoli," Goldberg says. "You may not like us, but we're good for you."