I thought one of the most interesting medical breakthroughs on the timeline was the first successful transplant of a cornea in a human patient. I thought this was interesting because it showed that without animals being used in the research, this would not be possible. I would assume that anything having to do with surgery would first have to be conducted in animals, lest risk possibly horrific effects for human patients.
Another interesting breakthrough was the development of the vaccine. I have researched the development of vaccines by Edward Jenner in the past and found that this was a collaborative effort between Jenner and West African slaves who had developed the practice for possibly a century or more prior to the Americans discovery of it. The fact that humans were able to discover this amazing mechanism of the immune system is astonishing enough regardless of who thought of it first. Interestingly, Jenner did not necessarily have to do animal experiments with this because hundreds of West African slaves in the area were already doing it on humans and he was aware of this. As a side note, this history is not written about in academia. The vaccine story is not complete without telling the story of where Jenner got the idea because it was not his original idea. Most historians today attribute the vaccine to Onesimus, a West African.
One of the most astonishing discoveries of the 20th century was penicillin for medicinal purposes. Sir Alexander Fleming would not have been able to do research without rabbits and mice. I find this to be interesting because penicillin is a mold. I find it very interesting that a mold can be injected into tissues and it can work to fight bacteria. I'm sure the biological mechanisms underlying this are very complex and fascinating.
Animals are used to examine diseases because it is a way to protect against risky experiments done first on humans. If one is interested in a mechanism of the human body or a disease, first scientists need to develop a hypothesis and then need to test it. Researchers choose the type of animal used in a study depending on which questions they are trying to answer and how they feel the biology of that animal would support examining findings.
Many different types of animals are used in research including rats, mice, rabbits, macaque monkeys, other types of primates, dogs, pigs, fruit flies and other insects, zebrafish, and more. Surprisingly, rats share up to 80% of DNA with humans.
Different animals are used in research depending on the question scientists are trying to answer as well as the biological and genetic makeup of the animal. Specific species of animals have certain biological and physiological characteristics which makes one more supportive of a certain type of research over another. For example, rabbits were used in corneal transplant research because of their large and easily accessible eyes, as well as being small, domesticated, non-aggressive, and easy to care for in a lab.
Some cell lines are used in research instead of animals if the underlying mechanisms are thought to be cellular in origin and if the scientists believe that looking at something on a microscopic level would be more conducive to answering the hypothesis. One advantage of using animal models as opposed to computer or cell models is that a system-wide understanding must be obtained. Dr. L. Burnett mentioned that cellular metabolism is not the same as a whole-animal metabolism. Also, in order to create a computer model of an animal model, the animal model must be understood first.
Some of the pros of using inference animal models is that one could potentially conduct magnitudes of research with very small animals such as rodents instead of humans. In other words, you can repeat experiments and conduct many more experiments using animals rather than humans. Rodents can be kept indefinitely in a lab, humans cannot. Some of the cons is that we may be assuming certain behaviors to reflect the inner feelings of animals that turn out to be incorrect. For example, it may be hard to detect if an animal is grooming itself because it feels safe or if it is because it feels anxiety. The scientist in the video said that grooming behavior in mice is indicative of anxiety, but I have two cats and I know that they groom themselves when they feel safe. When my cats do not feel safe they hide and do not exhibit grooming behavior.
Although I wish we lived in a world where animal research was not done at all, I can clearly see the benefits of it. I don't believe there is a human being on the planet that has not benefited from the sacrifice that animals have made to medical science. A thought leader and humanitarian that I follow named Sadhguru once said that the entire planet is suffering for the benefit of human beings and that we do not realize it or appreciate it. This could not be more true than in the case of using animals for research purposes.
My issues really come from when enough is enough yet we continue unnecessary experiments just for the sake of itself. For example, we all recently hopefully saw the news headlines of the NIH being responsible for conducting research in Africa using beagles that would not be acceptable United States. Upon seeing the pictures of the beagles being used in the research and strongly believe that the central tenants of what is considered humane research were being broken. One of the tenants of ethical animal research includes not putting the animal through extreme torture. I would consider the NIH funding of this research to be on the far outside of what would be considered ethical.
I also believe that many research questions are questions that simply do not need to be answered. Another saying that I live by is “just because you can doesn't mean you should.” There should always be a specific disease needing to be cured in order for animals to be used. Just because scientists have a question doesn't mean it has to be answered. Another example of research that I do not believe needed to be conducted was what happened with the gain of function research at the Wuhan lab in China in 2019 and prior. I have read extensively about the gain of function research and it is still unclear why that research needed to be conducted. For example, why would you want to see if a deadly virus could be manipulated by humans into becoming more deadly? Was there a specific disease that the scientist had in mind that they thought they were curing? No. I believe the gain of function research was conducted in order to try to develop biological weapons, and this is not at all what science should be doing. The song “Instant Karma” by John Lennon could not have been more true for humans in this case.
brainfacts.org. (2022). Understanding animal research. http://www.brainfacts.org/in-the-lab/animals-in-research/2013/understanding-animal-research
Dinallo, J. (2022). Types of animal models. Retrieved from Canvas.
Understanding animal research. (2022). https://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/why/health-timeline/