I believe it is ethical to use animal studies to improve our understanding of human brain function and disorders to a certain extent. It is easy to say, as many extremists have, that animal researchers simply abuse animals and experiment on them in any way they choose. However, the NIH, federal and state regulators, and a university committee have to all approve of an investigator’s use of animals in their lab before they can even begin their work. The U.S. truly has some of the strictest policies on animal research. This is just one of the many reasons why we shouldn’t look at animals in a negative light as helpless creatures being subjected to cruelty.
There are so many advancements in medicine that have been possible solely or primarily because of the existence of animal research. For example, consider how much cancer survival rates have risen because of ongoing research on mice. On a global scale, diseases like smallpox have left the earth because of research on animals. I can only imagine what the effects would be if animal research was banned altogether. Moreover, it is possible to analyze the dramatic improvements made to human health specifically when it comes to the mind and brain. Drug therapies that have been first experimented and tested on animals have made significant advances in the treatment of mental health issues over this past decade. One such example of this is the drug Chloropromazine, which was developed in the 1950’s. In more general terms, drugs have been proven effective in treating diseases such as schizophrenia and anxiety/panic attacks.
There are several benefits for using animal studies, and one specific example as pointed out in the readings was that it could help us perfect the surgical procedures needed to help cure epileptic patients. Another important point to consider is the ethical dilemmas with conducting these experiments on human subjects. Unfortunately the human psyche is very fragile and there are severe consequences to damaging it. Medical researchers are not simply a bunch of lunatics. Instead, they are required to make every effort possible to minimize suffering.
Another reason why it is favorable to use animals for studies of the human brain is because they are very similar to human beings in many ways. While chimpanzees share 99% of their DNA with humans, it is said that mice are 98% genetically similar to humans. All mammals, including humans, descended from common ancestors and have organs with very similar functions even when it comes to the mind and brain. As a result of this and the huge biological similarities between them, most animals are susceptible to many of the same conditions and illnesses and brain diseases are just one part of them. Moreover, rats in specific also socialize in much of the same way as humans do. They play and live together and interact. Therefore, analyzing them can really help us provide clues for understanding the human brain in its true colors and at the same time give us insight into what terms such as empathy mean for them in their behavioral development.
The only time I would say no to research on animals is when it is easy to use MRI to assess the topic being studied. These are in very rare cases however and for brain research I don’t believe that is possible as stated above.
Now let’s turn to the other side of this story are really focus on why so many people are against researching on animals and what they believe is a good alternative. According to one article, extremists on the opposite end tend to argue that FMRI and the new development of computer simulations are so effective that there is practically no need for animal research now. The primary issue with this argument is that FMRI is very limited in how much of the brain it can analyze and is a very indirect method conducting brain research. It measures indirect changes in blood flow and doesn’t guarantee a full understanding of neural activity as a result. Researchers need to be able to more effective study how neurons directly communicate with each other and that is why it is so essential to conduct research on animals instead. Finally, the last major point against FMRI’s is that there is no doubt that FMRI signals are very slow. On the contrary, neurons work much faster and there is no way that the two of them can come at the same level in helping understand human brain function.
Another reason why it is favorable to use animals for studies of the human brain is because it does help in creating drug therapies. One of the main points that many extremists against animal research continue to make is that due to physiological differences, human reactions to drugs are nowhere close to those of animals such as rodents. I believe that this statement may have some truth to it but the main point here is that they still help us get clues as to how disease spread and general as well as how neuron pathways work. Over time, the evidence comes together and slowly even the hardest illnesses such as cancer start being reduced because of the development of new drugs in the long-term.
All in all, animal research is crucial when it comes to enhancing our understanding of human brain function. This is not to say that another path won’t be formed in the future but for now animal research is the best hope we have for long-term purposes. There are so many different that incurable disease that shatter lives. If we are to have any hope of treating such conditions, medical research and doctors need every tool at its disposal. Animal research must be a part of this as it has shown to be effective in the long term, works more efficiently than FMRI’s and has led towards the creation of new and effective drug therapies. Although there will always be critics against animal research, it is also vital to note how many people have stayed silent towards this issue. I believe that part of the plan should be making sure there are more voices and educational support for youth and adults so that the vitality of animal research is fully understood.