London – The PETA International Science Consortium is funding ground-breaking research that will spare thousands of Indian horses who are currently being forced to produce antitoxins for diphtheria, a serious illness that can cause difficulty breathing and severe damage to the kidneys, nervous system, and heart.
In addition to addressing the ethical concerns of producing antitoxins in horses, the development of this and other recombinant human antitoxins is critical to avoiding the serum sickness that horse-derived antitoxins can cause in humans, as well as to mitigating the global shortage of diphtheria antitoxin.
The Consortium is providing 134,000 Euros to the Institute of Biochemistry, Biotechnology, and Bioinformatics at the Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany because of lead researcher Prof Michael Hust's expertise in the development of human antitoxins.
Each year, thousands of horses are used as living factories to produce antitoxins. These antitoxins are isolated from horses' blood after repeatedly injecting them with toxins, such as diphtheria toxin. Many of the horses are kept on farms in India, where recent Animal Welfare Board of India–authorised inspections by veterinary and other experts, including from PETA India, uncovered rampant negligence and inadequate veterinary care.
Disturbing video footage from numerous facilities that use horses and other equines for antitoxin production in India can be found here and photos can be downloaded from here, along with a detailed Animal Welfare Board of India–authorised inspection report which is available here.
Horses and other equines used in India showed signs of lameness, anaemia, diseased hooves, eye abnormalities, and malnutrition. Seriously ill and elderly horses were kept in close contact with other animals and left to die without the humane option of euthanasia. Antitoxins made from the blood of horses on these farms are exported from India and used worldwide.
This research will lead to the development of recombinant human antibodies that can block the illness-causing diphtheria toxin and also be produced in the laboratory without horses.
"This project is a much-needed step towards replacing the use of animals with non-animal technologies that can produce safer and more effective human medicines", says molecular biologist and Consortium Associate Director Dr Amy Clippinger. Prof Stefan Dübel, head of the Biotechnology Department, adds, "We are happy not only that we can help to tackle a serious health problem but also that our longstanding commitment to developing a method which makes animal experiments obsolete for antibody generation is now rewarded by international recognition".
PETA India has urged the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change to ensure the suffering equines receive the veterinary and rehabilitative care they need, yet no action has been taken so far to provide them with relief. PETA India also urges the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health &Family Welfare to commit to supporting the development of additional non-animal antitoxins and antivenins and to stop relying on the abuse and neglect of thousands of equines each year.
According to Dr Rohit Bhatia, science policy adviser for PETA India, "The PETA International Science Consortium has taken the lead by funding ground-breaking research that will spare thousands of horses prolonged suffering, and now the Indian government, too, must act by focusing on the adoption and development of modern non-animal methods of producing antitoxins and antivenins."