A word about animal research and animal rights

Animal research is a controversial topic in some circles.

ucla-van-on-fireAs some of you may know already, a UCLA group has recently banded together to counter-protest the fear-mongering tactics used by animal rights activists. Before UCLA Pro-Test became a reality, researchers on campus would hide away when on campus demonstration came our way. No more.

Dr. David Jentsch, who was one of my UCLA advisors, had his car burned and his work, and life, threatened by one of the more extreme, terrorist, animal-rights groups. I’m all for debate, but blowing up cars makes you lose your place at the table as far as I’m concerned.

So what are the animal-rights arguments?

Animal rights groups claim that animal research is simply sadistic and that it does not benefit us at all.

The notion that animal researchers enjoy hurting animals is so wrong as to be insulting. I’ve conducted animal research myself and know dozens of others who have. Not one of us enjoys hurting animals and we do our best to conduct everything in ways that minimize any discomfort to the animals. Additionally, government regulations regarding animal welfare in research are very strict and highly regulated. Research involving animals is always done while considering its necessity and weighing alternative options (like using cells, tissue, computer models, etc.).

The thought that animal research doesn’t benefit us is naive at best, but more likely purposefully misleading. Here’s a small, partial, list of advances that were made possible through animal research:

  1. Penicillin (mice)
  2. Insulin (dogs, mice, rabbits)
  3. Anesthetics (rats, rabbits, dogs)
  4. Polio Vaccine (mice, monkeys)
  5. Heart transplants (dogs)
  6. Meningitis Vaccine (mice)
  7. Cervical Cancer Vaccine (rabbits, cancer)
  8. Gene therapy for Muscular Dystrophy and Cystic Fibrosis (mice).
  9. Techniques such as bypass surgery, joint replacement, carcinogen screening & blood transfusions have all been developed & improved using animals

Now if anyone wants to claim that none of the above have significantly improved, or indeed saved, human lives, I’m ready for the debate.

2 responses to “A word about animal research and animal rights”

  1. Whereas you present a reasonably compelling case for the continuation of animal research, I would be considerably more comfortable using a drug or product that has actually been thoroughly tested on humans. Clinical trials are a joke. The FDA gets a significant percentage of its funding from drug companies, and despite all this testing, we still find the need to recall drugs several years after they have been released.

    In addition, the practice of embedding electrodes and the like in to the brains of cats, injecting shampoo in to the eyes of rabbits, and forcing dogs and monkeys to smoke, is barbaric. How do you justify that? How will mankind benefit?

    • Hi Michael and thank you for reading and commenting.
      First of all, clinical trials are far from a joke – There’s so much work that goes into these things, including three stages in humans after all the animal work that takes years to complete, that calling them a joke shows little understanding of the actual process.
      Secondly, the FDA being a government agency, they get their money from the federal budget, so unless I’m misunderstanding something, there’s little corporate involvement there (though I could be wrong, I’m not on the ways and means committee).
      When it comes to funding, drug companies, and even cigarette manufacturers, do fund research, but the latter are forced to do it (after losing the capitol-hill legal fight) and the former count on it for drug development. My dissertation research is actually funded but a cigarette company and I can tell you that NO ONE from the company has EVER gotten involved by so much as a phone call in what I do with their money. And my research is showing why nicotine is addictive so you can BET they’d love to stop it.
      The FDA is there to place checks on companies that put out products that can affect our health. Of course those checks aren’t perfect, but what else would you suggest, NOT having a body that checks for valid evidence and letting the drug companies put out whatever they want using whatever claims? I think not.
      The notion of starting trials with humans seems unlikely since some compounds end up proving very toxic and I, for one, would rather find that out on an animal. Although I’m not in the cosmetics industry, even there I’d rather find out on animals although as far as I and my wife are concerned, we know enough now for us to buy products that aren’t tested on animals. The only reason that’s possible is because of all the past testing though and I’m fully aware of that.

      Some of my colleagues embed electrodes in rats (though I don’t know anyone doing research in cats) and they’re studying schizophrenia, so I think that’s worth it, especially since the implications could carry to other forms of dementia. In my research, we give rats nicotine, no by smoking, but through IV. I think my research can help us figure out one of the mechanisms through which nicotine, and possibly opiates, become addictive. With 30 million addicts in the U.S. alone, I think that warrants research with a few dozen rats. But that’s just me, and I’m willing to be wrong.

      There are techniques available to minimize animals research, some of which involve computer modeling and others involve synthetic lab work. Still, for behavioral research, we’re a long way from being able to put aside actual live-animal work. Trust me, I can’t wait for that day to come. I don’t enjoy animal suffering and try to minimize it as much as possible (we consult with vets constantly).

      My dollar’s worth.

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