I know this is a bit of a stray from my usual jovial posts. No doubt at some point in our career as scientists we will have to consider the consequences of our actions, particularly with animals. The best demonstration of this is through Pinky and Brain. Two lab rats of opposite personalities, who respond differently to situations.
According to the Foundation of Biomedical Research, 95% of lab animals consist of mice and rats. The benefit of using mice as subjects for medical research are that mice and rats reproduce quickly, are smaller and easily maintained, and adapt well to different environments. Furthermore they are inexpensive and interbreeding results in little genetic variation, allowing larger sample spaces and trials. Finally the biological systems within the rodents are similar to humans, which makes them ideal for medical research.
With these conveniences that come from working with animals, there come strict laws. The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes outlines the rules and regulations concerning the welfare and testing done to subjects, such as reducing or minimising harm to the animals during testing, high standards of scientific integrity, support of the animals wellbeing, and only using them when it is justified. The methods that we plan to use are subject to ethical review before the research takes place. These rules apply throughout the life time of the animal.
These laws are not only put in place to protect the animal, it is also there to prevent institutions from exploiting resources and animals for unnecessary causes. Fortunately enough cosmetic testing on animals has been banned, I need not elaborate on the unnecessary harm inflicted for unscientific purposes.
The problem with this fundamentally is that these animals are not human, though their organs might serve the same functions, the degree at which the organs work are different. The nervous system of a rat would differ to that of a human to the function and size difference that influence each subjects respective systems. Thus the diseases that affect humans do not necessarily affect the rodents. So infecting them with diseases they do not have natural antibodies for would be useless and thus wasting a life, which is unethical. There is no decisive way of deciding or predicting the benefit of the research modelled on these animals. The gamble on their lives is much greater than the gamble of money from funding.
Pinky and Brain won an award for the episode “Inherit the Wheeze,” Brain suffers the side effects of smoking working as the lab rat for a tobacco company. Pinky and Brain were presented with a PRISM Award for its accurate depiction of the dangers of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. The dangers of substance abuse was observed and tested in rats to establish our knowledge of the effects of substances.
If we really thought about the circumstances of Pinky and Brain, we’d come to a rather bleak conclusion. Brain is supposed to be incredibly smart, he even proposes complex solutions to simple questions where a simple answer is needed. If that is indeed the case, then that would mean brain is fully aware of what is being done around him and even to him. That’s probably the reason why he plans to take over the world everyday!
I know the show had not intended for you and I to think too much into this, but seeing the perspective of the protagonists does open our minds a little to what we consume and do to our bodies, and who had to through all that trouble to give as an extra 40 years of life expectancy.
Australian Code For The Care And Use Of Animals For Scientific Purposes 8Th Edition (2013) | National Health And Medical Research Council”. Nhmrc.gov.au. N.p., 2014. Web. 7 May 2016
Television | Prism Awards”. Prismawards.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 7 May 2016
Animal Experimentation Fact Sheet”. Animalsaustralia.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 7 May 2016.
Animal Testing Facts | Foundation For Biomedical Research”. Foundation for Biomedical Research. N.p., 2016. Web. 7 May 2016.