No I don’t. In some ways, techniques I use (MRI, computer modelling) are seen as alternatives to animal experiments. There are somethings that brain imaging can’t tell us, (for example fMRI cannot tell us what individual nerve cells do), so our understanding of the brain depends heavily on animal experiments at the moment. A an example of what will be achievable here is a video about the use of neural prosthetics in paraplegia; this work is based very heavily on research originally conducted with animals in the 1980s.
What do you think of animal experimentation – is it justified for medical research?
In my lab we use bacteria (E. coli) to make proteins so in that sense, we do use animals (the bacteria) in our experiments. E coli are good for this sort of thing because they grow rapidly (if you feed them a tasty soup) and are easy to handle.
Apart from that we sometimes use antibodies in our experiments – these are molecules taken from the blood of immunised animals (usually mice, rats or rabbits). The animal is first injected with a protein. It’s immune system responds and creates lots of antibody molecules that recognise the protein. After a few days, the animal is then killed and it’s blood extracted to obtain the antibodies.
It is a bit like food production, except that the produce is a scientific tool rather than something to eat.
Other types of work which involve experiments on live animals are more controversial for some people. Often animals are used for early drug testing, for example. These types of experiment are tightly regulated to ensure that as few animals are used as possible and that they suffer as little as possible.
A lot of people don’t like this but at present there are no workable alternatives to these types of experiment. It is not possible to create the complex environment of a living creature in a test-tube.