It’s never easy countering activists who hate everyone and everything involved with the industry. But a new research project provides an effective antidote to their constant criticism.

Three issues favored by activists opposed to livestock production and meat-eating represent serious “soft spots” for those involved in the industry and those who are tasked with promoting its operations and its products.

One is the environmental impact of raising food animals. That’s been discussed at length in this space and certainly represents an ongoing challenge dealing with both real and perceived problems associated with animal agriculture.

Another is the steady flow of scientific studies that purport to assign various levels of health risks for the development of heart disease, cancer and diabetes to “heavy” meat eaters, versus those who eat little or no meat. The Grand Canyon-sized flaws in these types of retrospective, epidemiological studies have also been dissected at length here, although a widespread public perception remains that eating red meat is not a good idea, health-wise.

The third soft spot is animal abuse — which, as activists define it involves everything from veal stalls to canned hunting to puppy mills to what’s often rolled out as the trump card of the animal rights movement: medical research using mice, rats, cats, dogs and primates.

Few people other than wild-eyed crazies pretend that mice and rats deserve protection, although certain experiments involving monkeys and toxic materials testing on rabbits have generated serious outrage and backlash.

Which is troubling, because such opposition obscures and denigrates serious studies aimed at developing life-saving therapies, projects that require biological systems with which to identify and refine potential drug therapies. Particularly with various types of cancer, these drug therapies simply cannot be conducted with the animal rights advocated mythical “computer modeling,” which they always pretend is a perfectly suitable replacement for using lab animals.

You don’t run some computer software program projecting the effects of powerful, highly toxic pharmaceuticals on both tumor growth and on actual human beings, and then tell oncologists, “Got your treatment here, ready to go.”

It doesn’t work that way, nor would FDA ever approve such therapies as being either safe or effective.

New approach to cancer

The reality is that cancer remains a monumental medical challenge. I know that for a fact, having lost a parent, aunts, uncles and other extended family members to various forms of the disease over the years. Testing promising new anti-cancer therapies, ones that simply didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago, depends on the use of “human tumors” grown in mice. How else would you propose to experiment with drugs that, while they might halt the rapid cellular reproduction common in tumors, could literally kill the patient along with the disease?

According to a new project underway at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, when a human tumor is transplanted into a mouse, the mouse immune system must be “knocked down” so that it doesn’t react to the foreign tumor tissue, which would permit the tumor to continue growing.

As noted in the current issue of the clinical journal Oncogene, a new model called XactMice uses human blood stem cells to develop a “humanized” mouse immune system, so that the transplanted human tumor can respond to anti-cancer therapies in a bio-environment similar to real patients.

Now, with a human-like immune system interacting with a human-like tumor in this model, researchers can test anti-cancer therapies in an environment much more akin to that found in real patients. According to the study, this new model may be particularly effective in developing so-called “immunology-based therapies,” which attempt to stimulate an immune system response, rather than conventional drug therapies that target the tumor tissues.

“One of the reasons that anti-cancer immune therapies have been difficult to develop is that perhaps we haven’t had adequate models,” said Dr. Antonio Jimeno, PhD, the paper’s senior author and director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Research Program in collaboration with the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine. “Now we have a model that will enable some of those studies.”

“We essentially did a bone marrow transplant on those mice,” added Dr. Yosef Refaeli, the study’s co-author and a faculty member in the U of C Dermatology Department and the Gates Center. He explained that mice were treated with radiation to knock down their existing blood system, and then stem cells from human cord blood were introduced to regrow the blood system as a human immune system.

“After a few months, the mice became ‘chimeras’ — with human blood cells and hence, a human immune system,” Refaeli said.

The research is in its initial phases, and actual, proven clinical treatments might be years away. So why is this study important? Because it’s a rock-solid refutation of activists rhetoric pounding away against the use of animals in medical research.

Common sense would suggest even to lay people with minimal knowledge of clinical medicine that would it would be a bad idea to rely some computer program that says taking powerful drugs is fine and dandy — but it’s your loved one who’s going to be the “guinea pig.”

This is cancer we’re talking about. There’s virtually no one alive in American who doesn’t have a friend, family member or loved one who hasn’t been afflicted with this disease. Finding a cure, or at least an effective treatment, for this deadly disease is a cause that has few, if any, opponents.

Research such as Drs. Jimeno and Refaeli are conducting represents an important, urgently needed initiative in fighting a modern scourge that ruins millions of loves every year. Supporting their work, and that of many other researchers using lab animals I n similar experiments, is a two-fer: A chance to silence the critics of using animals in medicine, and an opportunity to undermine the platform that animal activists use to denigrate not just doctors, but ranchers, farmers, feeders, breeders packers, processors and everyone else involved in producing safe, wholesome, nutritious animal foods for the 95% of the public who consumes and enjoys them.

Next time someone starts in with the “horrors” of animal abuse, whether it’s factory farming or lab animals, that would be a good time to reference this new research on humanized mice that just might save the life of someone they care about as much as all those laboratory mice and rats.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator