Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Dark Side of Science (From a Scientist and an Animal Lover)

I have three dogs. These adorable, goofy, loyal, sweet, trouble-making, unpredictable, intelligent, heart-warming little critters aren't pets to me, they're my family. Family made all the more precious by their devastatingly short lifespans and the knowledge that one day, far too soon, they won't be with me any longer. So as a scientist, it kills me to see things like this, and be reminded of the dark side of what it is we do. Watch the below video, and when you're done bawling your eyes out (I know I did) please read the comments below.



The plea at the end of the video asks us to only buy "cruelty-free" products. I wish it were that simple. Things that were tested on beagles include not only your mascara, but also your heart medication. Are you willing to die so that these dogs may live? Honest answer, please.

I don't have a simple solution. Actually, I do. It's in The Death Row Complex, the forthcoming prequel to The Vesuvius Isotope. But Congress doesn't seem to think much of it. Meanwhile, we still make medicines with animal research.

For the record, it's almost always mice and rats we work on. (And by "we," I mean everyone who works in biotechnology or the pharmaceutical business.) This doesn't bring me any comfort, personally, because I also happen to think mice and rats are adorable and I have owned several as pets. Which actually means family members, as noted above. So I don't feel great knowing that it's mostly mice and rats that are used for animal research. But it gets worse.

Most therapeutics don't make it to market without also going through at least some work in non-human primates as well. That means at least a few monkeys have been killed for every antibiotic, every headache remedy, and every birth control pill or erectile disfunction pill you take in your lifetime. Not to mention the ones you may need for diabetes, for cancer, for cardiovascular disease.

Which brings me back to the dogs. A dog's heart is remarkably similar to a person's. That is why heart research is frequently done in dogs. Beagles are the species for this, every time. A long time ago, I was offered a job in heart research. I even got a fellowship from the American Heart Association. I turned it down when I saw my first (and last) open heart surgery being performed on a captive beagle that would be euthanized shortly thereafter. Choke...

But what's the alternative? As a scientist, I say, there isn't one. As the Mom of three dogs, I would cast my vote for just about anything.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Death Row Complex, the second Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Death Row Complex in print or ebook.

An anonymous warning is sent to the White House, and a genetically engineered biological weapon is released in a California prison. The unpublished data of biologist Katrina Stone may hold the key to harnessing the lethal bacterium--and to its creation within the desperate world from which biotechnology is born.



Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

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