Question: Do you use animals in your work ?
Mariam Orme answered on 12 Jun 2010:
Yes, I use fruit flies.
Whenever possible, scientists try to find ways of doing experiments without using animals. But for some questions, you really have to use animals to understand how things work in real life, rather than in a dish of cells. Work done with animals is crucial for understanding human diseases like cancer.
There are very strict rules about working with animals, to make sure that they don’t ever suffer; but personally I’m a bit of a softy and I don’t want to work with ‘cute’ animals myself. So I’ve chosen to work on flies as a compromise – obviously they’re not as closely related to humans as rodents are, but they can still give us valuable information that couldn’t be obtained without using animals.
What are your views on animal research?
Leo Garcia answered on 12 Jun 2010:
Well, when I started my PhD, I had already made my mind up that whilst I was OK with animal research for medical reasons (that is, I do not agree with testing on animals for cosmetics – the alternatives, I think, are just as good), I didn’t want to do it myself. Which is reasonably hypocritical when I am OK with other people doing it. But then, what are people if not a few kilograms of walking contradictions?
I suppose a parallel is this: Do you eat meat? Do you kill and prepare the animal yourself? And, the most important question, COULD you kill and prepare it yourself? I think with animal work, I’m still not 100 % sure that I could do it myself. Now, that doesn’t mean I think it is wrong (I don’t – I think that without animal research we would be at a big disadvantage in our ability to find new things out and save people’s lives), or that I think that the people who DO do it are wrong (I don’t – if you can do it, then do it) – it’s just not for me.
Now, with regards to the more general question of ‘Do people use animals in cancer research?’, the answer is yes. Animals such as mice or rats are not very distantly related to us, and so have genetics similar enough to allow us to study how cancers form and how their bodies deal with them. In fact, most animals used for research are mice (http://bit.ly/c3dr10).
It’s important to remember that our regulations regarding animal testing are, in some ways, more strict with respect to animal welfare than our regulations covering animals that we eat. All people who conduct animal research must get this license from the Home Office (http://bit.ly/cXYyLo), and undergo training. Now, having this license doesn’t mean you can just go out and buy a rat and give it loads of ibuprofen to see what happens. No – the process is significantly longer, more difficult and much more expensive than this. Also, you can’t even apply for a license until an ethics council has reviewed the case you are making for the use of animals in your experiments, and checked that there is no alternative to achieving it without animals (http://bit.ly/aIsXDd).
And once you have actually completed this process and obtained animals to work with, there are an enormous number of regulations governing how they are looked after before, during, and after any experiments you do on them, and how their suffering is limited during experimentation (http://bit.ly/b8HyTY).
Animal testing is an enormously emotional issue – and emotional issues can sometimes lead to irrational trains of thought. The main problem, I would think, that people have with animal testing is this: animals cannot give consent (in other words, we can’t ask them if they are OK with us testing on them, unlike asking a volunteer human) and so is it right for us to make the decision for them, whatever we think their answer would be? Balanced against this is the benefit to humans, which genuinely must be measured on the scale of millions of lives saved and improved.
It’s not an easy question to answer, and it must be answered calmly and with logic and reason. To do that, you have to be informed. Read up about opinions on both sides of the argument and make your own mind up. There’s no ‘right’ answer. If you are against animal research then undoubtedly you will find yourself limited in some regions of science research: clearly more of the biosciences than, say, astronomy. A science career without animal testing is possible. But advanced scientific understanding of diseases like cancer, and how to cure them, is hard to imagine without the scientific tool of animal research.
Medical Research Council page on animal testing:
And here’s some ‘anti’ websites, because you should understand both sides of the argument:
Gioia Cherubini answered on 14 Jun 2010:
Personally I don’t, but it is a necessary part of the research. I am studying the effect of this virus that could potentially kill pancreatic cancer on cells in a petri dish, so before we can give it to patients, we need to know if it works and it is safe in animal first. In the lab where I work, there are people that have the licence to work with animals (all the work with animals is tightly regulated), so they are the ones testing the virus on animals
Joanna Watson answered on 14 Jun 2010:
No. I don’t use any animals in my work – unless you count humans 😉
I use data from large groups of people to try to work out why some of them get cancer and others don’t.
Iain Moal answered on 23 Jun 2010:
No, I don’t use animal at all in my work. Other scientists do, but there are very strict rules govening the use and welfare of animals in scientific research.