One of the most difficult topics to discuss with non-scientists is animal research. On the surface it seems like a simple topic; animals can feel pain and therefore we shouldn’t do anything to hurt them. However, the issue goes much deeper than that. We can’t treat human pain without animal research. Animals are a key component to most neuroscientists. To help discuss this sensitive topic, I enrolled the help of my favorite animal in the world, Lion 2.0. With Lion 2.0’s assistance and the help of several enthusiastic vendors, he has so much to teach others about the importance of animal in neuroscience.
Lion 2.0 first learned about cell culture. It is important to remember that whenever possible, researchers use cells instead of animals. However, cells are just small units of a whole organism and can only answer questions on a small scale. It should also be noted that several common cells come initially from animals.
He then went to microscopes. The mouse brain is about 1/1000 the size of a human brain. We can use this simpler system to learn about the complex human brain. Microscopes allow us to see and study cells from animals. For instance, we can add a drug to mouse brain cells under a microscope and see if it alters how active the cell is or if a particular protein is released. Otherwise, we would have to blindly give that treatment to a human not knowing what would happen.
Sometimes the tests we use on animals can look scarier than they are. Lion 2.0 tried on an electrode to show animals don’t mind them. While seeing a wire coming out of an animal’s head looks intense, remember that the animal was asleep when this was inserted, given proper pain medication, and closely monitored to make sure they experienced little to no pain. These electrodes can allow us to visualize or activate cells in awake animals. This technology has shown us how certain types of neurons make people motivated, sad, social, and more.
Lion 2.0 needed a snack and stopped by to get some lab diet. The vendors then discussed with him how animals are treated when they are not actively being studied. Most animals are born and raised in laboratories, not taken away from the wild. Animals large and small are given clean homes, proper diets, “housemates”, and “entertainment” according to IACUC (an animal care committee) guidelines. Entertainment can range from cloth being given to mice to play with to movies for monkeys to watch according to each species needs. And Lion 2.0 said the food is delicious.
It is through animal research that we can understand causes of disease and develop treatments and cures. It is because of animal research we first had insulin to give to diabetics. Animals allowed us to discover treatments for depression. In fact, according to the California Biomedical Research Association, nearly every medical breakthrough in the last 100 years has resulted directly from research using animals.
If Lion 2.0 still hasn’t convinced you that animal research helps everyone who is sick, then consider using these resources. The National Primate Research Center (shown left) wants to promote the use of animals for “Discovering Cause, Preventions, Treatments, and Cures.” The Animal Research Consortium (shown right) would like to remind everyone about the impact animal research has had on providing safe drugs for FDA testing.
Finally, please consider advocating for laws that support animal research. Lion 2.0 did his part to promote this idea. Unfortunately lions can’t vote, so it is up to you to call your Congressmen. Visit SfN’s advocacy website for updated information.