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The unsung heroes of science

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Written by   201
5 months ago

The progress of science has been phenomenal in the last 100 years and we are enjoying the fruits of those scientific development. But it is a matter to ponder that we often overlook an important point and that is the use of animals in scientific research. The first thing that comes to our mind is the use of animals in the research and development of medicine. But first let us look at why there is a requirement of animals for this purpose.

The primary use of animals in medical research is to understand the health problems animals and humans have, in many cases the health problems are quite identical. On the basis of this it is important to assure ourselves that the new medical treatment is safe for humans. For this, testing them on living organisms is required to understand how it reacts to a new medicine or treatment.

Animals are favored because there are many similarities with the human genes. Another factor is that the animals have shorter life cycle so it becomes possible to study the effect in the whole life cycle of an animal and even generations. It is also easy to keep animals in a controlled environment of diet, light, routine etc which is difficult with humans. And the most important being that, humans being the dominant species have the ability to use animals without putting themselves in risk. Scientists may create new drugs without the use of animals but to understand its effect it has to be researched on animals. Only after this if the results seem promising then trials on human volunteers are done.

A few examples of this are the herceptin, which is used to treat breast cancer. 50 years ago the survival rate of breast cancer patients was 50 percent but now with the use of this medicine it is 80 percent. It was tested on mice, rats, monkeys before human trial. In fact it is based on antibody created in mice. Treatment of leukemia is also partially attributed to animal research. Similarly the Ebola vaccine was tested on primates first.

Now a day’s government have made strict guidelines on the use of animals in scientific research. But we are not in a stage till now to completely stop animal trials. As any promising research has to be tested on the whole body system so the requirement of animals will be there. We don’t have the ability to create artificial animals or a computer code to do away with the requirement of live animals. Again new treatments have to be tested to find out the effective dose and whether it is to be used orally or injected. Only when its effect, side effect and efficacy have been studied in animals will it be tested on humans. But in this process thousands of animals have been sacrificed in the name of science.

Another field where animals took precedence before humans is the field of space exploration. Except for the few successful ones like the Laika dog or the Ham the chimpanzee or the Albert II and Albert VI monkeys, we are hardly aware of the use of animals in space exploration. It is mostly because these are kept under wraps as most of them end in failure in space or the species dying shortly after landing back to earth.

The first species that were sent to space was the common fruit flies send on a American V2 rocket in 1947. A monkey was sent 2 years later as it was important to study the effect of gravity or lack of it on vertebrate animal. In fact 6 monkeys were sent in between 1948 to 1951 named sequentially Albert I to Albert VI. Out of these 6 monkeys, Albert II was the first to make it to space (though he died there) and Albert VI successfully returned to earth but died shortly after. Most of these animals either died during takeoff as the rocket malfunctioned or died in space.

In july 1951 USSR sent two dogs to space at a 101 km orbit, out of these 1 dog lived 7 days after retuning and the second one lived 10 more years. Laika a stray dog was sent by the Russians to orbit the earth for the first time. But it died in the 7th orbit but the space craft continued for 200 orbits before burning up in space. People were told as if it was still alive. Numerous animals were sent by America and Russia but most of them ended in disaster and did not make any news because such information was kept secret from the public.

In 1961 man took the first risk by sending Yuri Gagarin to space. But even after these, animals were continuously used in space exploration and research. A variety of animals like tortoise, jellyfish, cat, frog, spider, amoeba etc were sent to space. In fact turtles were among the first ones to go around the moon.

These animals were the first astronauts to explore the space and open up the possibility of human space exploration but they have been relegated to obscurity by the brilliance of human endeavor.

Animals being at a lower position in the evolutionary chart and being similar to humans has to pay the price. In most cases these animals suffered a painful and tragic death in the name of science. Man’s justification is that it is acceptable to exploit and torture animals as it makes our lives better. Though the 5 sensory perceptions may be the same but the inability to express it fully as we do has given us the power to be the lord of their destiny.

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5 months ago
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Thank you Telesfor sir.

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4 months ago

Thanks for this revealing article. As you say, science has bequeathed us amazing applications that improve our lives. But the cost of animal suffering undermines much of our moral condition.

Man is called to care for creation, and not to abuse it. The consequences may not please us in the future.

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5 months ago

Thank you very much.

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5 months ago