So Long Lab Rat

Have you ever pondered how science tests anti-depressants? For starters, an extremely forlorn test rat is required – hey, I have an idea, we’ll hang it by the tail until utter despair renders lab rat catatonic. In the interest of science, patiently monitor despondent rat for a few more days – lab rat mustn’t exhibit signs of hope or salvation. Cheer up suicidal rat – science deems you clinically depressed, and help is on the way. Sorry about your impalement, on the bright side take this shot of anti-depressant, if all goes well you’ll see the upside of your predicament.

Animal testing is hardly new, Greeks and Romans performed dissections on living animals to study circulatory systems. Ancient physicians practiced on animal subjects before applying techniques to human patients, Insulin was a direct result of Frederick Banning tying off the pancreatic glands dogs in 1921. Of the 98 Nobel Prizes awarded for physiology and medicine, 75 were direct results of research based on animal testing and experimentation. In 1981, Roger W Sperry, David H Hubel and Torsten N Wiesel were awarded the prize for brain function research using chimpanzees. By severing nerves between the left and right sides of the brain, they proved each side continued to learn, however sharing information between sides was impossible. Unfortunate Chimps (with almost 98% of their DNA matching humans)had no say in the matter.

In 1937, a American pharmaceutical company made a drug to treat strep infections, the manufacturing process required the use of a solvent at one stage – unknowingly using a substance poisonous to humans – over 100 people died, forcing creation of the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act – mandatory testing on animals became law.

I don’t have the stomach to parade a string of horror stories or post images of lab animals having a real bad day. Any reasonable person surely understands life isn’t always fair or pretty, animal testing is a complicated issue, certainly not one you can dismiss with black or white points of view. Questions of ethics and morality v. benefits and advancement, never reside outside contentious clouds of gray. I abhor the thought of animal cruelty. Like anything, there are genuine researchers with codes of conduct to match, and profit driven renegades with unscrupulous disregard for anything other than their own interests.

Lets ponder something less depressing – researchers at Kings College London have grown human skin from stem cells.  Unlike previous test tube epidermis – grown from cells removed in biopsies – Kings created “reprogrammed” cells – a process allowing unlimited production of epidermis. Infinite production of second rate skin wouldn’t do, these researchers figured out you needed to grow skin in low humidity, a genius tweak resulting in skin with a moisture barrier. I won’t  pretend to understand the science, but understand the magnitude of test tube skin with a moisture barrier behaving precisely as human skin.

Claiming an end to lab rats is a bit premature – applauding an innovation poised to eradicate millions of dead animals every year from cosmetic testing alone – that’s a step in the right direction.


4 thoughts on “So Long Lab Rat

  1. Here’s hoping. We have the capacity to grow organs now, so there is a serious chance all animal testing will become unnecessary in our lifetime. I’m certainly hoping for it.

    • I firmly believe it will be a reality in our lifetime 🙂

      On another note – allowed myself to be sucked into watching 20 minutes or so of Conspiracy Theory with Jessie Ventura on History Channel. Oh man! He was tracking down the truth behind “Humanzees” – the modern version of Stalin’s ape army debacle – organs, yes – ape/men, no 🙂

  2. My father did a lot of experimentation on animals during his drug development career. The logic was: testing on animals or testing on humans. He did the latter too, on himself. Occasionally he would check into hospital to take his onw new medication to make sure it was save before starting with clinical tests.

    A complex issue, I agree. A lot of medication we take for granted and that makes our lives better followed that same route. On the other hand, rubbing mascara in puppies eyes doesn’t quite meet the purpose of necessity, one would think.

    A friend of mine in the pharmaceutical business explained that his company had developed new testing protocols that inject substances to be tested into just a full skin cells of any healthy person. The immune system will flush out any problem but not before the cell has shown the researcher what they are trying to find out. Teh end of lab rats is fortunately nigh!

    As by-product of my father’s animal testing experience, at the end of his career he became member of a national ethical committee that determined improved standards for the treatment of animals in any industry, including pharma, cosmetics and food production. Lab rats, battery chickens and caged cows live better now.

    As is often the case, the people in white coats have the best intentions. It’s the consumers screaming for new and cheap products that drives the economy of human failure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s