THE ECONOMIST Story Also Reveals the Need for Animal Research
While reading the story in The Economist
about the neural stem cell
research success, which I just blogged, I also noticed this important description of the research process, which, notwithstanding the assertions of animal liberationist ideologues, illustrates the acute need to use animals, including primates, in medical experiments:"First, Dr Zhu tried it out on mice (the mice in question had had their immune systems turned off, so that they would not reject the transplanted cells). He injected stem cells he had cultured from his patients into mouse brains and found that they successfully differentiated into the various cell types found in the nervous system. Just as importantly, the resulting nerve cells were able to conduct electrical impulses and could form the specialised junctions called synapses, by means of which nerve cells talk to each other.
"Having shown that the stem cells worked in healthy mouse brains, Dr Zhu tried them out on injured mouse brains. Another common property of stem cells is to accumulate at sites of injury, where their services are obviously needed. In order to track the movements of the cells, his team attached tiny magnetic particles to them before they transplanted them, and also injected them with a dye. They found that cells implanted into healthy brains stayed put, whereas those implanted into damaged brains moved towards the injured area.
"The final animal trial was a safety test using monkeys. It was designed to look for cancer, and for signs that the cells had wandered from the brain to other organs such as the heart and the liver, where they might have caused trouble. No such signs were seen."
Sometimes cell lines and computer models will suffice instead of animals. In such cases, by all means, use those alternative means. But medical progress often requires that experiments be tested in living organisms. Unless we want to agree with Peter Singer and state that we use cognitively disabled people instead of animals in some cases, experiments like this will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future.