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ehinchcl's picture

a lot to talk about...

There is such a wide variety of topics/thoughts to respond to above, that I wanted to pick just a few to touch on that I found most interesting.

First, i wanted to respond to some of the questions posed to those of us who work with animals for our senior research. For context, I work in an Immunology lab that uses mice (we use primary thymocytes for our experiments). On average I would say I use about 2 mice per experiment, though sometimes lysates can be used for multiple blots. This works out to be actually a lot of animals when all is said and done. (Side note: one interesting thing that I thought about when we were doing this is the idea of maturity of the animal-- I dont have as much of a moral issue with using frog embryos but do have to carefully consider my use of grown (young) mice.)

A question posed was: Given your research project, have you honestly as a researcher considered an alternate model? And the answer is yes, I have tried experiments using a non-primary cell type (DO11.10 for those who may be interested). Unfortunately, as is often the case, these cells are just not able to tell us as much as the primary cells can... they don't stain for IMF as well, they dont always react in the same ways that primary thymocytes do, etc. Its frusterating because to have a cell model would be great; it would really relieve the pressure to make sure that everything works, not just for experiments sake but for the sake of sparing more mice.

Another question was: Did you think about the limits of your model before this conversation? I have to admit that yes, this has come up a bit. Ian brought up the environment, and i have to say I hadn't really ever thought about the actual lab setting having an effect. I guess its slightly different for immunology-- to some extent I would almost hypothesize that a lab mouse would be a better model than a wild one simply because our society has become so "germ-free" recently and therefore more lab like for humans. (a stretch I know, but something I hadn't considered). As for other limits, I think whats really important here is not hte limits of our model but how much it can tell us... if we are still learning things about the model-- whether exactly applicable to humans or not-- it means we are still learning things about the system in general. and for me, learning makes it worth it. even if what I learn about murine thymocytes doesn't exactly correlate to humans i think its still valuable because then it gives an interesting comparison-- we could learn all sorts of things about evolution, system interactions in organisms, etc etc.

Another thing of interest that no one has brought up but that I think is really relevant here is the whole idea of knockouts. These are animals that we genetically engineer... often so that they are sick. I often think about this and am pretty conflicted-- I think knockout mice can tell us SO much and have been invaluable for their research contributions. however, isn't this a form of cruelty like we've been talking about? yes these mice may be housed and fed but we are intentionally causing them all sorts of harm in the form of severe illness and function. That doesn't exactly seem like something anyone (anything?) would give their informed consent to... I don't really have an answer. I feel like I couldn't give up knockouts, because they are so useful, but I really don't think that they fit under the "treat animals as best we can" idea. I'd love to hear what others have to say...

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