Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Live and Let Die?

Ok, so I borrowed the title from the James Bond movie. But I couldn't think of anything else.

Modern science... more specifically, modern medicine that is born out of modern science is simply mind blowing, don't you think? I mean, stuff that we thought was impossible before is happening now! Take the most popular example, diabetes. Getting Insulin outside our bodies is not too hard anymore. We routinely express the gene in different expression systems. And now we talk of cord cells (cells from the umbilical cord). You can pay a huge sum and store your baby's umbilical cord (which contains stem cells, for those who didn't know) and later in the baby's life, if there is some medical problem, just take the stem cells from the cord preserved ages ago and grow the required organ or tissue or whatever. No problems of rejection by the immune system since its your own set of stem cells (oh, and no legal or ethical issues either!)

Our minds interpret data given to it depending on the way the data is being sent in. Take the popular show Heroes for example. You could watch it episode after episode as and when it is being aired on a weekly basis or catch one of the marathons that Star World has whenever a season is done. The way you look at the episodes and the show itself will change! If you watch week after week, your mind has 7 whole days to process the information (whether useful or not is debatable!) gathered in the episode. Before the next episode is aired, everything would have settled down. But you watch episode after episode continuously in a marathon, even before the first episode has sunk in, the second one would have started, then the third and the fourth! Everything remains floating around! Its during such a case when you begin to detect patterns, when everything is floating around rather than everything has been buried under a hectic week's schedule.

What's the point of saying all this? Well, today I realised something during a regular weekly lecture. Its a fact that I have come across time and time again. But at long intervals. For the past 3 weeks, I've been reading about the very same facts because my past 3 lectures covered this topic. So this is sorta like the Heroes scenario. Info that used to have time to sink in previously before the next lecture is now left floating around as week after week I attend classes..

Today's (and last week's) lecture was on transgenic animals, stem cells and their applications. All very interesting stuff... the way they manipulate systems to generate a product that could potentially save a life.

And this nasty habit of playing God with regards to "lower organisms"

It was only today in the lecture that I realised a huge number of mice, rats, monkeys, sheep etc were "created" only to be "put to sleep" later on by the "creators". All in the name of science and medicine. For us. Don't laugh or scorn! I know that without such sacrifices, modern medicine won't get anywhere. But it feels wrong to take some other creature's life in your own hand just because you can and the poor animal can't defend itself or say anything against you. I don't quite know how to express myself here (no pun intended!). But you get the general idea. I feel it is wrong to "create" or "rear" animals for the purpose of manipulating their life, their health etc. I can't believe that there are labs which study the effects of pain by inducing pain in mice or grow transgenic mice till they express the gene and then kill them to harvest the gene. You might have created them, and they might be "lower" organisms. But they also have a life!

Don't ask what the whole point of this post is. I don't know myself. I'm not protesting in the traditional sense. I guess I am just expressing my point of view. I know I can't do anything about the poor lab animals. There is a good chance that I will grow up to be a scientist who harvests products from the animals. I don't know... depends on which field I take I suppose. I know that all these sacrifices can save countless lives. I am quite happy, thrilled in fact, that we are making such advances in science and medicine. I want to be a part of this advancement! Just wish it didn't come with such a price. One can't help but wonder...

Just because we grow animals specifically for a purpose (like research or even eating!), once they are born and alive, living their life, do we have a right to take it away just like that? We know we have no right over the life of a fellow human being. Doesn't the same apply to all living beings in the world?


double head said...

let me be the first to respond. Nice blog. Thought provoking topic, look at nature and learn from it, always. Nature is right, always!! No exceptions. More on the chat, just want to comment first before the VEENA master does it.

Clueless said...

Nooo, dammit! Unfair! If I hadn't been at class, I would've commented earlier. Cheating, double head! :P

Anyway, comment proper. I've always thought about this stuff whenever we come across anything that has to do with lab animals. Still not sure as to where I stand on the issue, though. I know experimentation is a very important part of science, but I just don't know whether I'm ok with the idea of using other living creatures to further the cause. Then the question of using other living things (like plants, for example) comes along, and I just can't decide where we should draw the line. It's similar to vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism in a sense - is there a right answer? A correct solution? I don't think we'll ever know.

Thenraj said...

Ya u r right modern science and medicins are truely our live savers..

As u said all the new technology in the medical field are tested with animals and we dont have right to do that...but how else we can test those medicines?? Home many humans vlunteer themselves for the testing purpose...dont they dont have right to live when something happens during testing...

If we have to arguive we can do it for hours and hours..we have to see the end result not the intermediate ones..

Anyway nice thinking in the posts as well as the title..

shubhada said...

The dilemma you have is faced by almost all the scientists when they work on animals. I myself have sacrificed many rats and hated doing it every time. As clueless said it is very difficult to draw a line. Plants also do have life and we can not stop eating because we are taking away a life or hurting a plant. It is part of the cycle of life.

Many people do feel it is wrong to use animals for research or drug testing. And therefore nowadays the regulatory agencies are very strict about allowing the use of animals. You have to take special permission of an ethical committee before using an animal for research and convince them it is absolutely necessary. Many tests and preliminary toxicology stuides are done on cell culture nowadays to reduce the use of animals. You should also make sure you use an animal for research when it is absolutely necessary. You can always help to find out an alternative such as developing a cell line or different assay for the required work.

As far as using human beings, they are used in clinical trials as guinea pigs. Before a new drug comes in market it undergoes clinical trials. In the first phase the adverse effects are tested on healthy human beings. These are very often students from colleges. Of course it is done with their consent. So human guinea pigs are commonly used. Similarly patients are used in the second and third phase of clinical trials. Almost every drug in use has some toxic side effects. In such cases the benefit of good effects (e.g.whether it is life saving) is weighed against its side effects and it is decided if the drug should be given to the patients or not. Similarly I guess we have to wiegh the good and bad outcome of using animals for research.

soleil said...

It's a real dilemma isn't it? We learn that we should be kind to animals and yet we do all these things to them. Argh. After the whole mouse incident in lab that day, I don't know what to think *cringe*