When I hear the phrase “test subject”, the first thing I think of is a rat, and it’s true, most scientists use rats or mice for their studies, but it turns out they may have been making a mistake. Many studies involving rats and other animals have been misleading. Not only can it throw researchers off track, it has led to billions of dollars wasted, and people becoming more sick. For example, in 1993 researchers at the NIH tested a potential drug for hepatitis B called fialuridine(FIAU). It exceedingly passed animal tests and was very much encouraged to move on to a human study with 15 volunteers. Their was nothing wrong at first, but after a few months one suffered liver failure and six more followed, resulting in 5 deaths.(Pg. 71-72) This is proof that animal studies are not always the right way to go when researching.
There are many different variables that can change the results in a variety of ways. For example, Joseph Garner, who studies animal and human behavior, took part in an experiment involving six mouse labs in different parts of Europe. The mice were exactly and same age and all were female. Even though they were thought to have roughly the same results, they ended up with a widely different results in at all six locations. This is because the mice were in different environments: the mouse in handlers in Zurich didn’t wear gloves, they had the radio on in Utrecht, and many other things such as bedding, food, and lighting.(Pg. 80) This is interesting to me because I’d expect the results to be at least similar, but I was proved wrong, and so were many scientists around the world.
Gregory Petsko, from Weill Cornell Medical College, brought up an interesting point. He’s not worried about animal models being wrong, he’s worried about them being irrelevant, because wrong is something you can use but irrelevance sends you in the wrong direction. Considering this, his new hopes lie in a technology called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for short. This is when cells are taken from a patient with a certain disease and are induced in a lab to become nerve cells, so it is genetically identical to the patient’s nerve cells and now growing in the lab.(Pg. 82-83) This can now be used as a replacement for animal tests and have more accurate and successful results. A company in Boston was inspired by this and built artificial organs using clear plastic chips smaller the the size of your palm. Geraldine Hamilton, the chief scientific officer, shared one that had a flexible membrane that mimicked a lung cell. With this technology, they can produce many chips that imitate many different organs. For example, Hamilton was able to keep a miniature liver alive for more than a month, even though it was no use to someone that needed a transplant, it could be used to mimic liver biology and test drugs. This was only possible because a handful of scientists decided to not settle for what’s easiest and make a change.