Culture & Ethics
We Need the Grim Good of Animal Research
Animal research is under continuous assault by animal-rights activists. Researchers are castigated as torturers and have been subjected to terroristic threat. Occasionally, they have suffered violent attack. Unfortunately, even a few conservatives argue that the animal-research enterprise is akin to torture.
So, every once in a while, I feel the need to remind us all why animal research is crucial — vital — to scientific advancement and finding new cures for the worst human afflictions. Here’s an example. Scientists researching gene therapy as a potential future therapy have succeeded in restoring feeling to paralyzed rats. From the BBC News story:
The team at King’s College London used gene therapy to repair damage in the spinal cord of rats…The researchers were trying to dissolve components of the scar tissue in the rats’ spinal cord. They needed to give cells in the cord a new set of genetic instructions – a gene – for breaking down the scar.
The instructions they gave were for an enzyme called chondroitinase. And they used a virus to deliver them. Finally, a drug was used to activate the instructions. The animals regained use of their front paws after the gene therapy had been switched on for two months.
Think about this. These rats were bred for research. They were paralyzed surgically for the experiments. They were undoubtedly euthanized.
How awful! No. How potentially beneficial to us!
We often hear from the anti-researchers that such experiments aren’t necessary anymore. Computer programs, cell lines, and other alternatives can be used in preliminary investigations before experimenting on human subjects. True, they should be deployed when possible, but sometimes they are inadequate to the task at hand.
Such as this experiment. No computer program could determine whether the gene therapy under investigation would actual work in a living organism. Cell lines wouldn’t work because that approach would be unable to test actual restoration of function.
And surely, no one would support such tests on human beings at this early stage. After all, they could be lethal — as an early gene-therapy experiment was to Jesse Gelsinger, who was subjected to a safety test despite earlier monkey tests having proved lethal.
So the next time animal-rights zealots mischaracterize animal research as gratuitously cruel, remember these rats and the dead monkeys that should have saved Gelsinger from death at age 18.
And think about the future humans who could, one day, receive tremendous benefit from these tests if this approach eventually bears fruit — just as a similar monkey experiment in Silver Spring, Maryland, disrupted by animal-rights zealots from PETA, ultimately resulted in a wonderful rehabilitation therapy for paralyzed victims of stroke in use today around the world.
Photo: Lab rats, by Jason Snyder from Washington, DC, United States [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Cross-posted at The Corner.