Human Exceptionalism

Animal Research: Dolphins May Hold Key to Type 2 Diabetes Treatments

Once again a story breaks indicating the tremendous value that can be derived from animal research.  It turns out that dolphins contract Type 2 diabetes, and that they have the capacity to turn it on and off at will.  From the story:

Dolphins are the only animals apart from humans to develop a natural form of type 2 diabetes, according to new research. The discovery offers important insights into a disease that is linked to one in 20 deaths.

American scientists have discovered that bottlenosed dolphins show a form of insulin resistance very similar to that seen in human diabetes. Unlike patients with the condition, the marine mammals can turn this state on and off when appropriate, so it is not normally harmful. The findings indicate that dolphins could provide a valuable animal model for investigating type 2 diabetes, which promises to advance research into new therapies. If researchers can learn how the animals switch off their insulin resistance before it becomes damaging, it could be possible to develop a cure.

So, do we pursue this knowledge?  That’s an ethical issue that I think depends on what it would take to obtain it.  Ah, that has been considered already by those “heartless” scientists.

She emphasised that the research did not mean that dolphins should be used as laboratory animals, as their large brains and high intelligence would make this unethical. Studies of their genetic code and physiology, revealed by blood and urine samples, could nevertheless provide important clues to the biology of diabetes.

 That’s a classic form of animal welfare analysis of the kind I support in A Rat is a Pig, etc.  In this case, scientists will desist from an all out pursuit of knowledge for ethical reasons (as opposed to naked science without moral parameters around it).  But pursuing the research does mean using captive dolphins, which animal rights types think is intrinsicly evil.

So, is the information these dolphins can provide worth pursuing? The usual animal rights scripts says no, all animal research is wrong.  Moreover, many will argue,  because the information won’t be 100% the same as in people, it is thus of no human benefit.  But total applicability isn’t at all necessary to obtain very important and valuable information in basic biology that can then be applied in researching human disease.  I say we have a duty to those patients with diabetes (now and in the future), to obtain this information in the humane ways described.