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When female bloggers get death threats for comparing a Batman movie to a poor business plan, and friends can have their lab fire bombed for doing plant genetics, it’s sometimes a little scary to step into the fray and take a stand on controversial issues.

But that’s the point. We have to speak out. Scary or not, unless we speak out against the animal rights terrorists who firebomb people’s homes and harass researchers, we will lose any chance to save our loved ones from diseases like cancer, HIV, Alzheimer’s, or many others.

Let’s think about just one of these.

According to an article from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,

More than 26 million people worldwide were estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006

[snip]

the global prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease will grow to more than 106 million by 2050. By that time, 43 percent of those with Alzheimer’s disease will need high-level care, equivalent to that of a nursing home.

[snip]

“We face a looming global epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease as the world’s population ages,” said the study’s lead author,Ron Brookmeyer, PhD, professor in Biostatistics and chair of the Master of Public Health Program at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “By 2050, 1 in 85 persons worldwide will have Alzheimer’s disease. However, if we can make even modest advances in preventing Alzheimer’s disease or delay its progression, we could have a huge global public health impact.”

Without animal research, and more importantly scientists conducting animal research, this is our future. A large number of us will watch our loved ones deteriorate and forget us, and fear for the same thing ourselves.

When I was in high school, I used to have this idea that animal testing was a horrible, cruel thing that was practiced largely by cosmetic companies to protect us from unsafe eyeliner. I didn’t have any objection to doing animal research, but I didn’t understand that the same people who were advocating for untested make up were also working against animal research in the lab. So, I supported groups like PAWS because I didn’t know any better. Later on, during my lab days, I worked with animals from time to time. It was a necessary part of the work. Believe me, I did not enjoy injecting rats with trypanosomes or using rabbits or mice to make antibodies. But there were no alternatives.

If I were to weigh the possibility of helping child with sleeping sickness vs. a cute white lab rat… the chance to help that child would win every time.

What can we do?
Certainly we speak out about our experiences and thoughts. Several ScienceBloggers: Janet, Wilkins, Orac, Bora, Jonah, Dr. Joan, and Mark and Chris already have written about this and continue to do so. Our newest Scibling, Matt Springer, suggests hiring security specialists and taking self-defense.

Update: I missed Greg, he posted on this topic also.

Nick Anthis reported first-hand about a counter movement by the people in Oxford, with large numbers of people marching to support biomedical research. Efforts like this are truly encouraging. We have an equivalent group in the US now, too called Speakingofresesearch.org.

I think education is one of the best things we can do. Let people know that researchers don’t use animals in a thoughtless way. Explain why animal research is necessary. Teach students about the rules that govern the use of research animals and the care that the animals receive. Explain about the three R’s – to reduce, refine, and replace.

Last, you can support the organizations that are out there working to educate the next generation of young adults. Groups like Protest are great. Other groups like the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research, and their sister organizations work on educating students about the role of animals in research. They develop curricula about biomedical ethics, and work with several classrooms to help teach science to the next generation. They need your support.

8-8-2008 Update: Abel and DrugMonkey have posted on this topic, too, and yesterday I reviewed a really good book called “The Animal Research War.”

Comments

  1. #1 Jessica
    August 6, 2008

    Apparently you don’t know much about animal research..it’s advances in science pertaining to helping cure diseases is about 1%…animal research is not the answer. There have been very little medical advances through animal research. What’d the animals ever do to you anyway? There are much more humane, effective ways of finding cures for diseases. Do your research.

  2. #2 Peggy
    August 6, 2008

    There are much more humane, effective ways of finding cures for diseases. Do your research.

    Really, like what? I’m pretty familiar with different types of experimentation in biology and I am not aware of any methodology that can completely replace animal experimentation.

    While it’s true that there a lot of research that uses animals that is not directly trying to “find a cure for diseases”, that research is trying to understand the basics of how biological systems work. We can’t begin to develop effective ways of fixing cells and organs that malfunction without understanding how they function normally. And I can’t think of a good alternative to animal experimentation. Sure, some experiments can be done in cell culture, but those cells all originally come from animals, and they can only approximate what is happening in an intact organism. And cells in culture aren’t that useful if you want to understand how organs function or how different organs and biological systems interact with each other.

    And nothing excuses terrorist activities like firebombing people’s homes or burning their labs.

  3. #3 Sandra Porter
    August 6, 2008

    Hmmm, Jessica asks:

    what have animals done to me?

    Well, they have prolonged my life by providing me with nourishment and clothing. They have given me countless hours of entertainment.

    They have helped me survive bouts of pneumonia. I probably would have died if not the antibiotics that had been tested on animals.

    They have helped me through allergy season, since I’ve been able to control my allergies partly because of drugs tested on animals.

    They have given me more time with my loved ones because my loved ones have all either been treated or vaccinated with drugs that were tested on animals.

    Animals, human and otherwise, have done many things for me and I’m grateful.

    My experience supports the Peggy’s comment. Humans are more complex than cells in culture and that’s saying a lot.

  4. #4 baryogenesis
    August 6, 2008

    “Its advances in science pertaining to helping cure disease is about 1%..” Hmmm. I’m not in this field of study and am but an interested layman keeping up with science as much as possible, but this statement seems as whacked as ..”you don’t know much about animal research”. A quick Google brings up many sites if one actually desired to do the research (eg,http://www.rds-online.org.uk/pages/page.asp?i_PageID=2096&i_ToolbarID=2).In other matters, the animals have helped me in providing a nice warm leather jacket and shoes to get through the extreme cold weather, often on my bike, when cotton just doesn’t do it.

  5. #5 Elf Eye
    August 6, 2008

    Just watched a show on PBS about efforts to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s. Scientists developed a chemical that would bind to amyloid plaques so that the plaques would show up during scans. This development will allow scientists to determine whether proposed treatments do or do not break up the plaques. Before they tried the chemical on humans, though, they tried it on rats in order to establish both that it was safe and that it worked. Call it speciesism if you want, but I’d rather the chemical were tried on rats than my 85-yr-old mother.

  6. #6 Pierce R. Butler
    August 7, 2008

    Nothing in the 2nd linked article explains why those zealots torched the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. Is there a Plant Liberation Front lurking in the shadows now too?

  7. #7 Sandra Porter
    August 7, 2008

    Baryogenesis and Elf – i agree.

    Pierce: The UW torching was carried out by anti-GMO activists. The lab didn’t work on engineering plants, but I don’t think this group knew the difference. Even Gregor Mendel would been trouble in their eyes.

  8. #8 Jacquie Calnan
    August 7, 2008

    In addition to Pro-Test in the UK, there is Speaking of Research in the US – Tom Holder, one of the original organizers of Pro-Test is now in the States to build public support on this critical issue. See http://www.speakingofresearch.org

    Tom is in California this week and will be speaking at the Primate Center at UC Davis Friday – See the above website for details.

    Cheers,
    Jacquie
    Americans for Medical Progress http://www.amprogress.org

  9. #9 Paul
    August 8, 2008

    Elf eye, a recent Speaking of Research blog post (look under science news) actually covers several of the recent exciting results from trails on new Alzheimer’s drugs. Animal research is certainly playing an important role in figuring out what is going on in Alzheimer’s disease.

    Another way that scientists can help is by registering with the new animalresearch.info website http://www.animalresearch.info/

    This resource allows scientists to submit information to improve existing topics and add new topics. So if you think that the public has not been adequately informed of the value of animal research to your field, or even simply that the information out there is out of date, a good place to start is by making a submission to animalresearch.info.

  10. #10 Alyssa Royse
    August 8, 2008

    The shame, in my mind, is that so many times these “protests” stop dialog and progress altogether. By insisting on on black / white, good / bad diatribes, we never make it out of the dark ages in which we just bombed people for thinking differently. Necessity has always been the mother of invention, disagreement has always fostered conversation and is ultimately the only place that people can come to a new understanding together. The “simple” ability to discuss things we don’t agree on can leave to the discovery of a new way. I’ve never been opposed to animal research, and can’t imagine that I ever will be, but I would love to see earnest and real conversations between the two “sides.” It is impossible to find absolute truths in a diverse world. And since we value the diversity of our population, we’ll have to value the diversity of opinions as well.

  11. #11 Sandra Porter
    August 8, 2008

    I agree. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s difficult to have a conversation with people who think firebombing is acceptable.

  12. #12 Tarun Gupta
    August 8, 2008

    I am a Graduate student in biology. While, I appreciate the contributions made to our scientific understanding by in vivo studies on various animal models, I hold a view that I have no right to take anyone’s life. So, I am open to learning animal handling and doing in vivo experiments as long as they don’t require me to sacrifice animals.

    I agree that there are ethical committees and regulations in place and animal research within those regulations while following 3 R’s is completely acceptable. However, I am also personally aware of many undergrad and grad students who do not practice the good books, for instance, some people dissect mice just for isolating macrophages when they can be isolated just by injecting few ml PBS in peritoneal cavity and sucking it out again, without dissecting! I have seen some PhD fellows in some very respcted labs performing dissections without giving anaesthesia!

    So, we have to follow ethical ways and practice them at every level in the scientific hierarchy. Only then we can have a meaningful constructive dialogue with those morons who bomb our labs!

    -Tarun Gupta

  13. #13 Sandra Porter
    August 8, 2008

    Tarun: You bring up an important point.

    I wonder if there’s something that you could have done, or someone you could have talked to, when you saw others behaving in a disrespectful manner.

    It’s up to us as researchers to find a way to use peer pressure and ensure that other scientists also place a high priority on treating animals with kindness and respect.