This past summer, I worked in my father’s cancer research laboratory as a laboratory technician. My favorite part of this job was learning to work with the colony of mice we maintained to study the way different receptors inside cells impact cancer growth. This singular part of working in a laboratory required many hours of training, briefing on protocols and approval clearances. It gave me a deeper understanding of what exactly happens when scientists use animals for research, and I think that the media has skewed the reality of this practice.
I fully support the use of animals to test products, chemicals and drugs before they are released and used in our everyday lives, now more than ever. I have hands-on experience with this field, and I support this practice as it ensures the safety of products that are used by humans. That said, I do not devalue the life of an animal and neither do researchers.
One of the most unrecognized aspects of animal testing is understanding how much monitoring occurs and how much researchers care for the animals used for their studies. I spent many hours learning in intricate detail how to correctly house, feed and care for the mice used to study cancer. After hours of training, I also had to be approved by a university committee to be added to two different Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) protocols. All of this was required before I was even allowed to even step foot into the mouse room.
Inside the mouse room, there are outstanding veterinary technicians on staff who check all the animals daily to make sure they are being housed and cared for properly. Everything from diets to cage air flow and even ambient temperature in the room is monitored to ensure the maximum comfort for every mouse. Researchers are provided with notices if any of the animals exhibit any signs listed in the IACUC-approved protocol suggesting discomfort. They must respond immediately to correct any problem.
For example, male mice can be aggressive towards other male mice. This can result in fighting, and that can hurt the mice involved. If male mice begin fighting, the IACUC protocols indicate that the mice must not be housed together. Thus, when veterinary technicians, researchers or lab technicians see this behavior, the mice are promptly separated. If the mice sustain injuries from fighting or other behaviors, they are prescribed ointments and medications to treat these conditions. It is against IACUC policies to not follow the details listed in each protocol and failing to act accordingly can cause researchers to lose all funding for their projects.
None of the animals used for research are allowed to suffer. Anything that causes pain is prescribed medication. If they are too sick and will die, the IACUC and federal government require that such mice be euthanized before the end of the study. I think euthanasia is a sad process, but the reality of the matter is that mice who die in labs pass more peacefully than most in the wild. In nature, mice are hunted, mauled and eaten alive by numerous predators such as owls or hawks. IACUC protocols specifically outline the procedure used to euthanize mice for research, and the researchers are required to use IACUC approved methods that reduce the stresses of dying. No mouse is killed just for the sake of killing; justification must always be provided and the approach has to be approved by an IACUC before the study can begin.
Nothing about the process of using animals in experiments is excessive or intentionally painful. Mouse lives do matter, and they are not taken for granted. The abuse and unethical treatments that the media spin around this practice does not take into account the way it is supposed to be done. In every field, there are people who do not follow the rules. But for the majority, it is unfair to judge based on limited knowledge and biased information. Animal testing is a highly regulated practice and is a necessary factor of modern science. There may be a time when it is phased out, but until then, it must be known that the evils animal testing is demonized for are simply false.