Saturday, November 03, 2007

Using animals in research

Mark wants to know:

If you do science and use animals in research explain on your blog and link back here.
Alrighty. Mark has already emphasized my main point—antibodies. We cannot make synthetic antibodies. We cannot model an antibody on a computer, push a button, and get a gallon of monoclonal antibodies to HIV-1 Subtype B gp120 out the end of a garden hose. We have to use mice, rats, rabbits, goats, donkeys, etc to generate antibodies. We have to.

But we have figured out ways to limit the mice we need to kill for antibodies. For instance, rather than keeping warehouses of mice to generate your antibody, you can stretch the good you get from one mouse’s sacrifice by creating ‘hybridomas.’ If you fuse a cell from a mouse spleen with a cell from an immortal cell line, you can create a cell line to make antibodies for you! Just grow the cells in a flask, collect the supernatant, and purify the antibodies! I use an OKT3 cell line all the time for anti-CD3 antibodies! You can even freeze some cells, FedEx em to a friend, and they can grow the EXACT antibody youve been using in your experiments! You know, Im saying this, assuming that animal rights fundamentalists are like anti-abortion advocates, and don’t give a crap about me killing cells…

Personally, antibodies are my main use of animals in my research thus far.

If we win a grant Bossman is submitting, we are going to be using mice to study the epigenetic control of endogenous retroviruses. We’re not just jumping into killing mice. We first just did some basic experiments using cell lines. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, radio labeling proteins, mutating stuff and trying the experiments again, etc. We got really good data. So we need to use mice to figure out how what we see in cell lines translates to physiology. We think disregulation of ERVs causes or perpetuates cancer.

“OMG U R SO DUMB!” an animal rights fundie might scream. “MICE IZ R NOT PEOPLZ!”

Yup, mice iz r not peoplz. Sometimes this is worse for the research than with others (ie infecting mice with HIV-1? have to take your results with BIG grains of salt), but luckily I think findings we make with our particular project will be very applicable in humans. And, we can do things with mice we cannot do with people. For instance, it is unethical to create an experimental group of people, whom we deprive of a particular nutrient connected with this epigenetic system to see if they get cancer. We cannot deprive groups of cancer patients of this nutrient to see if they metastasize more frequently or die faster. We cannot deprive pregnant mothers of this nutrient to see if they abort their babies, or if the babies live, to see what kind of mental/physical deformities they have. We cant take children away from their mothers and give them breast milk from different mothers that have been deprived of this nutrient. We cant use clonal colonies of people, nor can we sequence the entire genome of every human in our trials to make sure everyone has the same ERVs in the same locations.

We can do all of these things with mice. Im going to do my best to make sure not one mouse dies in vain. That I learn something from every mouse I have to kill, and that all the mice I kill die painlessly.

“BUT IZ NOT WURTH IT!” says the animal rights fundie.

What we’re hoping to find with our research: evidence that a new kind of epigenetic modification is important for controlling the activity of endogenous retroviruses, and can be studied to improve the lifespan and quality of life of everyone on this planet.

I think iz wurth it.


Dustin said...

Yeah, you linked to this post. Now you're going to have people over here using words like "paradigm", "reductionist science" and, best of all, "speciesist".

I do not envy you.

Art said...

Sometimes drowning people, in ignorant panic, fight those who try to save them. This only gives me more respect for the lifeguards. Lifeguards learn to expect this. Against dangers like HIV, we need all the good lifeguards we can get. Thanks for being on duty.

-- HalfMooner

Annyday said...

I've killed more rats for no good reason than you will ever kill in the name of science.

Take THAT.

Fred Ross said...

Good heavens, if that causes the animal rights people to go after you, what would they do to us? Infect eighty mice at a go with tuberculosis, kill enough at each time point to get decent statistics, cut out their lungs, grind them up, spread the homogenate on plates and see how many colonies you get.

Mice may not be humans, but M. tuberculosis is an equal opportunity pathogen. The data's generally quite relevant, and we can't genetically remove pieces of humans' immune systems to see how it affects them.

Mike O'Risal said...

I use animals in my research, but the animal rights people don't care about them because they're not cuddly. After all, nobody particularly wants to "save" Coleoptera, not even the hard-core "animal rights" types as far as I can tell.

Dustin said...

And the final insult is that animal rights activists don't seem to have the faintest idea of what happens to the animals they "liberate".

Tyler DiPietro said...

And the final insult is that animal rights activists don't seem to have the faintest idea of what happens to the animals they "liberate".

Spoiler alert: I eat them.

Torbjörn Larsson said...

You can even freeze some cells, FedEx em to a friend, and they can grow the EXACT antibody youve been using in your experiments!

That is in fact another great way to save animals, probably a lot of them. I worked for an instrument manufacturer that used antibodies to detect explosives, drugs and infectious agents. Divvying up hybridomas among different safe keeper and production sites ensured the safety from a standpoint of economy and politics. (Since means for fighting terrorists must be terrorist safe.)

Mark and the rest did a great job on explaining why animal research will stay with us, probably indefinitely. Though I find that I don't agree with all of his points in the comments. I do think that there are practical benefits from acknowledging that we have practical, moral and ethical concerns for other organisms, and in that sense codify some as regulations. (Rather than vacuous and hard to manage "rights", I think.) In fact, we already do. "Welfare" doesn't quite cover that aspect.

But there isn't any sense that other species will necessarily be considered having equal rights, for obvious reasons.

Zhaphod said...

I don't get this. Now is it OK to kill millions of cows and pigs for pork and beef and not OK to kill may be thousands of mice, dogs, etc to find cures for human disease?

Annyday said...

Test animals die of horrible diseases. Food animals merely get their throats slit.

Also, it's transparently futile and stupid to bomb meat packing plants, and you're bombing working people that way.

But if you bomb and protest research labs, well, that's just a bunch of eggheads and it feels more like striking against a conspiracy. Also, it's mildly more effective, while the meat-packing industry will just laugh at you.

S_A_Wells said...

Re. activists potentially attacking meat-packing plants: I'm visualising an angry gang of slaughterhouse workers surrounding a worried group of PETA people, followed by a new advertising campaign: "Soylent Green. It's made of animal rights activists."