About Transforming Medical Research and
Phoenix Zones Initiative
About the Event
On January 27, 2021, at 7 pm EST/4 pm PST, Phoenix Zones Initiative hosted a virtual, simulcast public panel and forum: Transforming Medical Research: Advancing Modern, Ethical Methods to Help People and Animals.
The event was cosponsored by
- Cambridge University Press
- the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods
- the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
- the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University
- Princeton University Press
- the Society for the Study of Ethics and Animals
- the University of Chicago Press
- the University of New Mexico School of Medicine
This event aimed to help chart a path toward more modern and more ethical research for the benefit of humans and animals.
- Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, Co-founder and CEO, Phoenix Zones Initiative, and Associate Professor of Medicine, University of New Mexico School of Medicine
- Dr. Charu Chandrasekera, Founder and Executive Director, Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods, University of Windsor, Canada
- Dr. Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University
- Dr. L. Syd M Johnson, Associate Professor and Consultant, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University
- Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel, Senior Science Advisor, Primate Experimentation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- Dr. Barbara J. King, Emerita Professor of Anthropology, William & Mary
- Dr. Jessica Pierce, Faculty Affiliate, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
- Dr. David Wendler, Senior Researcher, Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health Clinical Center
We also shared a special message at the event from Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and UN Messenger of Peace.
Panelists discussed how human research protections offer a framework toward a transformative research agenda that benefits humans and animals. Specifically, panelists examined how the principles and applications described in The Belmont Report could be extended to protect animals used in research, while accelerating advances in more ethical, patient-centered research.
The Belmont Report and Human Research Protections
In 1974, following unjust human research practices in the United States, the US Congress established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which released The Belmont Report five years later.
Despite an often unjust “science first” history plagued by racism, sexism, and ableism, human research has since become more ethical. Public outrage over human research practices—including the 40-year-long US Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee and the 14-year-long hepatitis studies at the Willowbrook State School in New York—prompted Congress to establish the Commission.
Using a broad framework of justice, the publication of The Belmont Report highlighted the importance of avoiding actual and potential harms—particularly in research involving individuals who cannot provide consent or those who could be targeted because of their vulnerabilities in society. The Belmont Report revolutionized directives related to human research, although its call for respect for autonomy and duties to justice, beneficence, and nonmaleficence (the principle of “do no harm”) have yet to be fully realized.
The Situation for Animals and Its Implications for Humans
Although multiple disciplines within science and philosophy have evolved to better understand the minds and experiences of animals, and scientists have abandoned antiquated Cartesian views of animals, nonhuman animals continue to be seriously harmed in laboratory research.
Over time, physicians and scientists have become more concerned with how the pain and distress animals experience in the laboratory may affect interpretations of data obtained through animal research, and there is widespread awareness that animal testing and research can be crude and misleading in determining human therapeutic outcomes and serious life-threatening events. Opponents of animal research and advocates for more modern and effective research methods often cite that most drugs developed in animal trials fail in human trials. Amid this awareness is an existing and ever-expanding array of reliable research methods that produce human-specific data. As a result, policy directives have repeatedly called for greater reliance on human-centered, non-animal methods.
Still, approximately half of the budget of the National Institutes of Health funds animal research. Members of the tax-paying public have scarce access to reports on how those public funds are spent, how many animals are used in research, and how research contributes to improved medical science or the prevention and eradication of major diseases and disorders.
The Need for Action
The Government Accountability Office, in its 2019 report to Congressional requests, called for greater public accountability around the use of animals in research.
The report concluded that, while federal agencies make some effort to ensure that researchers consider non-animal methods, “the committee and its member agencies have not routinely developed or reported metrics that demonstrate how their efforts to encourage the use of non-animal methods affect animal use. They have also not designated an interagency workgroup to address the challenges related to developing and reporting such metrics.”
The report went on to recommend the establishment of a workgroup to better monitor and report on progress on all agency efforts to reduce animal use. Additionally, the report stressed the need for these progress reports to be available to the public.
Today, many animal protection organizations target one problematic experiment or one group of experiments at a time. Other animal welfare organizations work to reform or enforce laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which still doesn’t cover most animals used in research. The AWA also doesn’t reconcile the fundamental ethical problems with animal research.
At the Transforming Medical Research event, panelists discussed the general underlying moral and scientific problems with laboratory animal research.
Panelists went beyond existing the “3 Rs” framework, which guides national and international guidelines and emphasizes
- the replacement of sentient animals with “less sentient” animals or nonanimal methods;
- a reduction in the numbers of animals used in research protocols; and
- the refinement of the pain and distress animals experience during research.
Researchers, reviewers, and oversight bodies continue to rely on this framework more than 60 years after its original publication in 1959.
Panelists described how extending The Belmont Report principles to animals could set the stage for a more just and anti-maleficent research agenda. They will discuss how a basic framework for a Belmont Report for animals already exists, and what its merits are, as outlined in a 2020 article, “A Belmont Report for Animals?”, published by Drs. Ferdowsian and Johnson and their colleagues in the Cambridge Quarterly for Healthcare Ethics.
In the same issue of the journal, Dr. Fuentes, Dr. Jones-Engel, and Dr. Wendler discussed its potential ethical and practical applications. Prior to its publication, Dr. Ferdowsian led two National Science Foundation grants to explore support for the issue among medical professionals, scientists, and ethicists.
Today, Drs. Ferdowsian, Fuentes, Johnson, King, and Pierce lead an active working group to advance the project, and their paper, “Toward an Anti-Maleficent Research Agenda,” will be published in the Cambridge Quarterly for Healthcare Ethics in January 2022.
Panelists explored how to concretize these goals.
The event highlighted existing legislation to transform medical research and gaps that could be addressed through further policy changes, including:
1. Increased transparency and reporting of all taxpayer-funded research.
2. Establishment of a minimal risk threshold to be applied to all decisions about the use of nonhuman animals in research, much like the standard that is used in pediatric and other research involving subjects who cannot provide informed consent.
3. Preferential funding for ethical, innovative, patient-centered, non-animal methods.
4. The coordinated creation of a roadmap toward a more ethical research agenda in accordance with the principles established in The Belmont Report.
Efforts such as the Toxicology in the 21st Century (Tox21) Consortium, a federal collaboration between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), may serve as an example.
About Phoenix Zones Initiative
A physician-led initiative, Phoenix Zones Initiative (PZI) advances the interdependent rights, health, and well-being of people, animals, and the planet through visionary leadership, strong partnerships, and tangible steps forward. PZI’s programs center on education, research, and advocacy.
We break down silos, working across disciplines and embracing the nexus between human, animal, and planetary health and wellbeing.
Because all of our world’s economic, health, and environmental crises are connected, our strategic education and outreach, research and analysis, and global advocacy programs all serve to build unique bridges across various sectors to address urgent problems such as the climate emergency, air and water pollution, communicable and non-communicable diseases, pandemics, violence, and other threats to people, animals, and the planet.
Phoenix Zones Initiative has an evidence-based 10-year strategic plan, and a monitoring and evaluation plan, with specific, measurable benchmarks.
Phoenix Zones Initiative is a member of the Harvard FXB Health and Human Rights Consortium, and the organization has built alliances with other individuals and organizations, including local, national, and international organizations that further human rights, animal protection, and environmental conservation.
Over the past two years, Phoenix Zones Initiative has built bridges between individuals and organizations in medicine, public health, the sciences, ethics, law, media, advocacy, and government affairs. The organization has hosted international events to inform and engage professionals and advocates, and it has published or been featured in various influential articles, editorials, and webinars.
Working across six continents and over twenty years, physicians Hope Ferdowsian and Nik Kulkarni witnessed the global impact of climate change, hunger, disease, violence, and conflict.
They also witnessed the incredible promise of resilience—how people and animals can heal in healthy environments. Hope wrote about this phenomenon in her book, Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives.
Through a commitment to kindness, dignity, liberty, and justice, Phoenix Zones nurture what’s known in medical circles as the Phoenix Effect—wherein individuals and society can rise from the proverbial ashes and thrive.