Sunday, November 2, 2014

Animals in Research.

When I first began my research project at Utah State University, I never expected the backlash I would soon receive.  As an avid animal lover, many of my former circles included like minded individuals.  We are the type of people who embrace our pets as family.  We support animal welfare causes and volunteer at humane societies.  When I chose to work in an animal research facility, I found myself in a bittersweet limelight.  I was thrilled about my new endeavor, but many of my friends were not quite so pleased.  

It was not long at all before the rumors started to emerge.  I started to receive random messages from friends inquiring “how the animal testing was going.”  I was suddenly having phone arguments with people I’ve known for a decade, about unrelated topics.  They were just so disappointed with my choice that there was nothing I could do to deflect the incessant attacks.  In their minds, I now spend my days torturing helpless animals in a dark, dingy dungeon.  All I could do is hope that with time, they will calm down and I will be able to explain what I am actually doing.  I will be able to explain why this type of work is so important, relevant, and necessary if only given the chance.  That time is now.

Animal activist groups love rallying people together with emotional photographs.  These types of photographs are intended to appeal to a wide audience.  We have all seen these types of animal testing photos.  Of course these images are upsetting; they are intended to appeal to the compassionate animal lover within most of us.  After increased awareness by activist groups like IAAPEA, PETA, and FoA, industrial testing has been greatly reduced.  It is now common to see a “not tested on animals” label on these types of products.  

Many alternatives to in vivo animal research are readily utilized.  In vitro research is performed in a controlled environment and usually pertains to cells grown in a petri dish.  Computer engineers have designed sophisticated modeling software that is used to make valid predictions.  Human volunteers are used for microdosing, neurological studies, and skinpatch testing.  We even have human simulators that are used for a variety of studies- everyone knows of the crash test dummy.

What these groups fail to share with the public, is that there are many different types of research involving animals and research alternatives do not always accurately represent the complex biological interactions in living organisms.  Basic research (e.g. physiology, embryology, and ethology) helps us understand the general structure, function, development, and behavior of biological organisms.  Applied research helps us understand the nature of disease, pharmaceuticals, transplants, and toxicology.  

Benefits of animal research are invaluable.  We perform cutting-edge surgical procedures that save lives everyday, including organ transplants, tumor removal, and emergency repair.  Advanced drug development has led to life-saving antibiotics, vaccines, anesthetics, and pharmaceuticals.  Currently we are able to prevent or treat a variety of illnesses, including: anthrax, leprosy, beriberi, pellagra, rickets, tetanus, pertussis, rheumatoid arthritis, streptomycin, diphtheria, poliomyelitis, rubella, measles, AIDS, Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, and several types of cancer (just to name a few!).  Insulin is readily available to treat diabetes, one of the most prevalent diseases in Western societies.  We have pacemakers, cancer chemotherapy, joint replacements, and treatment for psychological conditions!  Thanks to animal research, smallpox has been eradicated worldwide for over 37 years!  Thanks to animal research, activists will be able to protest for 20.8 years longer!

This necessary research continues to benefit humans and other animals.  We have advanced care for rehabilitating injured animals.  We have developed improved nutrition and enrichment for animals living in captivity.  Those of us with cats and dogs annually vaccinate and protects our pets from diseases that are otherwise lethal: rabies, parvo, heartworm, distemper, rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, Chlamydophila, canine Adenovirus, Bordetella, lyme disease, and feline leukemia (just to name a few!).  We have made substantial advances in agriculture, including reducing stress during transport.  Pets, livestock, and animals in zoos live longer, more comfortable, and healthier lives as a result of animal research.

The mice in my study live in a temperature, humidity, and light cycle controlled facility that is designed to model an optimal native environment.  They have unlimited access to food and fresh water; cages are changed weekly and fresh corn cob bedding is supplied; nesting squares and bedding huts to provide enrichment.  Full time staff check on my mice several times a day (so do I) and we have immediate access to expert veterinary care, whenever needed.  We handle them gently and with care, in a way that minimizes stress.  To put it bluntly- my mice are living better than most people’s pets!  If you still aren't convinced, check out these 40 reasons why we need animals in research.  

Sumira Phatak


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    1. I understand that it is very confusing issue to put standards for. We love animals and nature and we are supposed, as homosapien the wise man, to protect and take responsibility to save other species. However, sometimes sacrifices have to be done for the benefit and survival for all. It is very hard to use a drug for human consumption before extensive testing in animals. This does not sound good for animal right, it is less bad than using it on human. I think everything should be in moderation. If I am going to do an experiment that involve using animals to test my hypothesis , I should try to do it with less number possible of animals. When I look back to the history and see how we treated animals before and even human, I feel very sad. For me it seems much better now, as modern human, and at least we have appreciable value for being humane.

  2. I have seen firsthand the controversy within this topic, and I'm glad you're taking a stand to defend animal research. The reason there are so many people who are determined to eradicate animal researching is because the few people who are against it for "the rights of animals," recruit people to their same mindset. PETA, for instance, is a very well-known advocate for animal rights. Little do they (and people they influence due to their vocal messages) know, but animals used in animal research are taken excellent care of. I'm glad you mention the benefits your mice are experiencing, because it's true: animal researchers make it a priority to ensure all animals are in comfortable - sometimes paradise-like - environments and enclosures. Without the animal research that has been conducted and continues on, the world would be a completely different place filled with illness, disease, and death.

  3. When I was at NIH for an externship, I was housed with several students doing graduate research there. It was a great opportunity to interact with some highly intellectually individuals that were horribly stuck in their ways in there early 20s, sadly. The discussion came down to animal models in research. All of these individuals were performing highly successful pharmacology research utilizing in vitro models, and failed to recognize the importance of in vivo models. Statements like "we can't control in vivo models as tightly" and "how can you prevent this cytokine activation?" came up. And that was my point exactly. Humans (and animals) aren't in vitro models. We're complex and dynamic creatures. What happens when a drug works great in vitro, but then is introduced to an actually functioning physiologic being, with dynamic flows of cytokines and cells? We don't know the cellular function of all cells yet. We don't know cytokine interactions of every possible permutation. That's why we're still doing research! Until we've studied every possible physiologic mechanism known & yet unknown to man kind, we're going to need animal models to understand even the basics of these very complex interactions.

  4. I really like what chad said about in-vitro vs. in-vivo models. I think a lot of times of as scientists we get so sucked into our own little specific universe of specific molecules and functions. It is the biggest test to be able to put these specific ideas into a full body system, and it is a really important one. A lot of our research is meant to be applicable to people, so it requires a good understanding of how specific models interact with other systems in the body. Before medications or treatments are utilized for human disease, it is absolutely vital to see how they work in a animal as a whole model. I think a lot of people may not understand how important that step is in research, and how stringent the rules are on exactly how we use those animals in our experiments. This misunderstanding also leads to confusion between animal testing and animal research.
    -Jocelyn Cuthbert

  5. This blog post sounds like a very controversial topic with how animals are treated and the welfare of animals in general. It’s very important that animals are treated with care because they are living beings too and should be cared for accordingly. Too much animal cruelty occurs in the world. In general it is necessary to some tests on animals in order for scientific research to advance and for new discoveries to be made. So a balance has to be found in order to be kind to all living creatures, while still allowing for science to make important advances in research.
    -Jason Phelps


    I thought you may enjoy this article about how other Universities have responded to attacks on their animal research programs. I thought they did a great job of calmly and factually rebutting the criticism they were receiving.
    -Jocelyn Cuthbert

  7. Thanks for sharing the article, Jocelyn. I agree that the University of Wisconsin at Madison made an excellent decision by issuing a well written response. I also googled Dr. Ruth Decker to find out that she was joined by other clinicians in this petition. I find it really interesting that they provided misinformation and erroneous facts to the public. I also found the Facebook share that was posted by and of course the headline photo displays a rhesus monkey that appears to be extremely stressed.

  8. For some people who eat meats everyday and criticize with use of research animal. I don't understand those people's point view. They don't know how important the researches of animal are to the human being. It is just as same as using animal as food resources. From the experience I learned during school and research, I am sure those research animal have been nicely treated. No researchers will torture their researching objects because the results rely on those animals! Moreover, animal use for research has been strictly controlled. Nobody is playing them. And please don't put your personal feelings or emotions on them because they do not feel or behave the way you think they do.