Friday, September 14, 2007

The Disturbed Scientist

I am probably over reacting. Its a pretty well known fact that I tend to over react to loads of stuff. But this really disturbs me.

Its freaky that just one week after I wrote my post on using animals models to test drugs, I had to deal with one myself. I cut open a mouse. A cute little white mouse. Some guy sitting on the same lab bench as me pretty much annoyed me when he said "hey! This little fella looks like Stuart Little!". Dude! We are about to cut it open! Don't make me get attached to the poor thing! The lab is a huge one. There are about 8-10 benches in the lab and each bench has 12 students sitting in groups of 4. Every group got one white mouse (already killed) to open up and extract cells from. Thats around 30 mice! We extracted cells from the body cavity, we removed the thymus and spleen of the mouse and extracted cells from there too. We had to use iron particles to isolate the antibodies and all. We coated the slides and sat down to observe the cells. There weren't any. All we saw was iron. We turned to the lab assistant and find out that the iron particles they gave us were really old. They were no longer capable of isolating cells with antibodies. Basically it was a failed experiment. We asked what we were supposed to say in the report about the experiment, to which we were told there was no report required for that lab. We sorta realised nobody took that lab too seriously. 30 mice killed and we didn't even get to look at cells! The whole thing seemed pointless.

As fate would have it, I had another encounter with animals this week. Fish. We had to inject DNA into adult fish, just beneath the skin. For that, we needed to catch fish from a tank, put them in another tank containing stuff that pretty much knocks out the fish, take them out, put them on paper towels, inject them with DNA (that is supposed to express some protein which will make their muscles glow. Don't ask me why we injected it. Maybe they just wanted pretty fish) and put them back into a recovery tank where they would wake up. Later, we injected stuff into fish embryo. I made a huge mistake just now, lying in the dark, unable to sleep, and wondering how the fish must have felt after they woke up. I remember how painful tetanus shots (for example) were even when administered by a doctor. We are all just students in the lab who have never handled needles before. The first shot that I gave to one of the fish sort peeled off a bit of skin. In certain other groups, the fish started bleeding. I don't even want to try to imagine what it must have been like to be in the place of that fish. Some of them never woke up in the recovery tank and many, the lab assistant told us, would not survive the week, even if they did wake up in the recovery tank.

As I said before, I am probably over reacting, but I can't help but to feel disturbed and even though it was never my idea to cut open animals for lab (and I am pretty much forced to do what the lab protocols say if I want grades), I can't help but to feel guilty about hurting (or killing) animals. I mean, I know its just a learning process, but I just don't see the point! The techniques are so simple, I am sure we can learn them just when are about to embark on our proper research career. We aren't even going to use these results anywhere else! And 80% of the students there, aren't even going to pursue life sciences after leaving university! What a waste of animal life!

A fine life scientist I am going to make. I looked at zebrafish embryos. They are just tiny cells. An undifferentiated mass that can hardly constitute an "organism". But it still disturbed me to inject them. How am I going to manage stem cell research when I come across that (as I know I definitely will)? All these days I thought my stance on stem cell research was clear. It didn't matter that we use stem cells to save lives. Its not technically "killing" since they are a mass of undifferentiated cells. I thought its only when the embryo develops at a later stage that the ethical questions kick in. But handling single celled embryos (basically stem cells) sorta changed my perspective. Now I am not so sure whats "ethical" and whats not.

All I know is that I am feeling really bad that I had to do those things I did in the lab. So bad that I am not able to sleep (hence, as I always do, I am using my blog as a place to let out my guilt and frustration. Takes a load off my chest). All of a sudden, I am not so sure about where I am headed, not because of my interests and all. I still think that this area is a damn interesting one. But if it involves killing animals to develop drugs for us humans, I am not so sure I want to do this anymore.

Maybe its just a phase. Maybe I will learn later on that there is a reason for all this. "The Greater Good" or whatever. I'll most likely get over it. Maybe I'll even come to accept that animal models will help us save countless lives later. But I don't think I will ever accept the killing of so many animals for an undergraduate lab course as some "right" or "ethical" or even for the "greater good of imparting knowledge to students".


Clueless said...

I should just copy-paste my comment from the previous post. :P

Anyway, I was really surprised your post became so relevant so soon after you wrote it! I hadn't expected in my wildest dreams that they'd actually make us dissect the mice. Imagine my surprise (and disgust) when we walked into lab and the prof was talking about the best way to cut mice open. :/

This problem is just hitting way too close to home, isn't it? I still don't know what we should be doing. :/

doublehead said...

Hard learned lessons are the most useful in life. I do not believe in "End Justifies Means". But in the present I will make an exception. Life Science is not about killing animals and other living beings for the sake of learning. It is about understanding life in the larger sense. It is about saving lives at the end. Imagine you discoverning a life saving drung, imagine how many lives you would be saving. Imgine you discovering a ground breaking fact about cancer or Alzheimer that leads to a better understanding of preventing them. Stuart Little's sacrifice will be justified then. Work towards it. Don't doubt yourself until you reach there. The cute little Stuart Little and other life forms will thank you fot it. Have a clear conscience, you are not doing anything wrong, certainly no more wrong than eating a fried chicken in KFC. Just imagine what will happen to the world if everyone suddenly decides to either become a vegetarian or a nonvegetarian. It is better to leave things as it is. Move on, do not be confused.

soleil said...

Soleil does not know what to say but having read Doublehead's comment, I see what he's trying to say. Thank you Doublehead!

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

I agree that the undergrad lab should have been better designed to prevent wasteful sacrifice of 30 mice. But the bigger question, regarding using animals, and even stem cells, in research, is often times confusing and hits your sensibilities. That is but natural. It's probably a good thing that we at least feel a twang of remorse and are not brazen about all the animals we kill in the name of science. How often does the end justify the means? We cannot say -failed experiments are after all not always foreseen. But research in life-sciences just warrants some of these necessary evils. There are several unanswered mysteries and several battles to be won in understanding life, and animal research provides the best tools in that direction. When you eventually have control, you can take comfort by being critical and careful in experimental design so that you don't unnecessarily sacrifice life.

whew, long comment! :) good luck, i felt equally horrible when i killed my first mouse, and that was just a few weeks ago!

kashika said...

Hey MG

This is probably my first comment, but i really like ur blog n so i blogrolled u, hoping tht ur fine wid it :)