The banner flying over downtown April 25 was there to grab some walker's attention. Trailing from an airplane, it read: "March of Dimes, Stop Animal Experiments." It was part of a protest by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) against funding from the March of Dimes for medical animal experiments.
"The March of Dimes is spending large amounts of money toward animal testing, which is not relevant," said Andy Breslin, PCRM research and charities campaign coordinator.
Breslin said the March of Dimes is funding experiments that include giving alcohol, nicotine and cocaine to pregnant animals.
"This research has already been done," Breslin said. "It has been well-documented that those substances cause damage. But another statistic shows that 25 percent of expectant mothers continue to smoke during pregnancy. Maybe the March of Dimes could spend its money on interventionary programs instead of animal experiments."
Breslin said PCRM has targeted the March of Dimes because of its commitment to supporting "unnecessary" animal testing.
He would not say whether PCRM thinks all medical research using animal experiments was unnecessary.
"We don't make broad sweeping statements like that," he said.
Breslin said the March of Dimes spends an estimated $1 million on animal research each year.
Suzanne Young, March of Dimes national director of chapter communications, said it is impossible that PCRM could know how much it spent on animal testing.
"They have no way of knowing that information because we don't even know how many of our research projects involve animal projects," Young said. "We care very much whether research is rendering results and want to spend our precious dollars on finding treatment and prevention."
Lisa Makupson, director of communications for the March of Dimes Southwestern Ohio chapter, said the organization conducted research using substances such as alcohol to find out whether and in what way such substances caused birth defects.
"There is no duplication of funding research," she said. "We have funded research to study why the effects happen, but without the how, we cannot find treatments."
Breslin said PCRM also was concerned with the lack of alternatives the March of Dimes used in conducting medical research. There are many such alternative methods, he said.
"We strongly advocate for alternative methods," he said. "Medical progress is not dependent on animal experiments. That is just the easy way that doesn't involve shifting the focus or implementing new strategies."
Observing human populations has proven to be a better research method because animals are very different from humans, he said. "Such studies established the link between folic acid deficiency and neural tube defects, and recently showed that magnesium sulfate could prevent two-thirds of cerebral palsy and half of mental redardation cases in very low-birth-weight babies," according to PCRM.
For example, Breslin said that when studying pregnant animals the research might not be relevant because a human has a nine-month gestation period while a mouse only has a 19-day gestation period.
"There are limited resources for research, and we are looking at what's the most effective approach," Breslin said. "In some cases studying animals can give false assurances that a similar action or drug will be safe on a human."
Makupson said the March of Dimes does conduct alternatives to animal research such as human tissue cultures and human observation.
"Our mission is to improve the health of babies," she said. "March of Dimes supports the use of medical research to investigate the causes and prevention of birth defects and infant mortality including, where necessary, the use of animals."
Makupson also said that the PCRM protest would not interfere with the WalkAmerica event.
"We respect that people will have different opinions about animal testing," she said. "But we plan to have a very successful event."
PCRM conducted similar protests in more than 100 cities nationwide including Dallas and Baltimore. ©