human, being

Heroic glowing monkeys and the greater good
May 28, 2009, 11:20 am
Filed under: As I See It | Tags: ,

This morning on NPR, I heard a story about Japanese researchers who successfully created a transgenic monkey that has an extra gene that makes it glow, and its progeny also have the gene. This transgenic research is quite an accomplishment, because the technique can be used to create families of monkeys with genes for human diseases.

I get a squeamish stomach thinking about research animals, especially when they are something other than mice. However, since I work in a major research center, I know that we would not have medications for any diseases at all if it weren’t for research animals.  In the PR world we call them “animal models” so that the animal rights people don’t picket us or run terrorist activities against our labs.

I wish there were a better model. But there is not. Research animals allow us to have headlines like this one from last night:

US cancer deaths continue to drop: report

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The number of cancer deaths have steadily declined in the United States over the past 15 years, saving a possible 650,000 lives over that period, the American Cancer Society said Wednesday.

But 1.48 million cases will be diagnosed this year and over 562,000 people will die from cancer this year, ACS said in its annual cancer statistics report.

The cancer death rate fell by 19.2 percent for men between 1990 and 2005, mostly due to declines in deaths from lung, prostate and colorectal cancer, the group said.

Deaths from cancer, the second-biggest killer in the United States after heart disease, decreased by 11.4 percent for women over the same period, in large part due to decreases in breast and colorectal cancer.

I believe in the concept of the greater good. Research animals lead to a greater good for humans. Yep, still a bit queasy writing that, but when I dig down, I know it’s what I really believe.

I work with very bright cancer scientists who have contributed to this decline in cancer deaths because they have used animals to understand how cancer works biologically, metabolically and genomically. They have created and tested new cancer treatments, including targeted drugs that have better outcomes and fewer side effects than traditional chemo and radiation, on these animals to make sure there is some effectiveness and little toxicity before trying them out on people.

(In other words, better to kill off some mice with a new treatment than a bunch of people.)

I’ve been to our vivarium, and those little nude mice are cute. They’re very well cared for.  It’s sad to see them sacrificing their lives for ours. In their own little ways, they are heroic. I would not have survived melanoma without the help of mice way back in the day.

I don’t believe that cosmetics and household products should be tested on animals. I don’t believe that animals should be treated cruelly. I have a hard time thinking of companion animals being used for any kind of research, but the truth of the matter is that heart transplantation is possible because dogs were sacrificed.

Every year on my campus, the medical school holds a ceremony for people who have donated their bodies to science and medical education. I’d love to see some kind of ceremony for all the mice who do the same thing. As non-sentient beings (despite what Disney tells us), I recognize that they don’t have a choice in the matter. In fact, they’re bred and born to be research subjects. However, as life forces, we should honor them in some way.

Just as we need to honor the glowing monkeys in Japan, and those that follow, as heroes of human medicine.

Here’s a prayer for all creatures who play a such a critical role in solving human illnesses.


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I had no idea you worked in a research center. I think that is pretty cool. I feel exactly the same way as you do. It’s hard so hard and these poor things should at least be recognized. Great post.

Comment by jessica

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