15 May 2008

Animals save people, and people interfere with this

Alexander Markov, Olga Orlova
Radio Liberty

Today's society reacts painfully to scientists' experiments on animals, but scientists cannot refuse to use experimental animals. Biologists are trying to make the most of computer models to replace animal experiments and painkillers in such experiments, but they cannot completely refuse simply because otherwise they will have to test new treatments directly on humans. But the arguments of scientists do not convince everyone.

Valery Shulgovsky, Doctor of Biological Sciences, Head of the Department of Higher Nervous Activity of the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University, and Olga Lopina, Doctor of Biological Sciences, leading researcher of the Department of Biochemistry of the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University, tell about why this happens.– How relevant is the problem of society's rejection of experiments with animals today, or is this problem very exaggerated and far-fetched?

Valery Shulgovsky: The problem is really both exaggerated and far-fetched.

But I came across it directly a few years ago – it was an attack on the vivarium, which is located on the territory of the department. There were animals that were constantly in our experiment, and there was no vivisection, they were not subjected to any surgical interventions – the so-called invasive methods. But there are also non-invasive methods, for example, applying an electrode to remove a cardiogram, removing an electroencephalogram. Of course, there are invasive methods – this is surgical intervention, for example, immersion of electrodes into brain tissue. Such experiments are also being conducted at our department. But in this vivarium there were animals only for non-invasive research methods. We investigated behavioral reactions, tested substances, including psychotropic substances, in particular groups of nootropics – substances that are used today to improve a person's memory and mood. We were simply defeated – and two hundred rats were pulled out.

The culprits, of course, were not found. Then there were several more attacks. The Department of Human and Animal Physiology was attacked, and all this was posted in the form of clips on the Internet. About our rats, I read it on the website, these people wrote: we took them to the edge of the forest and released them, now they will meet the sunrises, sunsets and will be happy.

– Can laboratory animals live in the wild? Valery Shulgovsky:

These animals live in an environment where temperature is controlled, food is balanced – special food in balls, where vitamins, trace elements, proteins and so on are balanced. Of course, such animals that have spent many generations in laboratories and were bred as laboratory models, they will certainly die, because they will immediately be attacked by crows, jays, magpies. Foxes, stray dogs, wolves, anyone will catch them on the ground.

– Did the people who released the lab rats just condemn them to death? Valery Shulgovsky: Of course, and very fast.

They are unlikely to last even one day.

– Olga Dmitrievna, when you started studying biology, was this problem of bioethics relevant or has it escalated recently? Olga Lopina: I first came across this when I was working in the United States – it was in the early 1990s.

I was transferring a rabbit from one vivarium to another, and I was asked to cover it up and not show it to anyone. I asked: why? I was told because someone from the animal welfare society might show up and then we would be in very big trouble. I say, but we're not doing anything wrong with this rabbit. The rabbit was immunized, he was injected with a substance that could then become a medicine. But still these people do not understand what we are doing, so it is advisable not to provoke them. It seems to me that this problem arose precisely because of a lack of understanding of what scientists are doing. For some reason, society has such an idea that scientists are engaged in some local problems of their own that are interesting only to themselves, and humanity does not need it at all.

– Why is the issue of bioethics so acute in recent years, because experiments on animals have always been carried out?

Olga Lopina: As long as there is biology, there are experiments on animals. Because it is impossible to study animals without investigating their behavior, without investigating how they are arranged. But by studying animals, we are building a fundamental science that ultimately gives humanity a lot. All modern medicines, all vaccines and serums, all testing methods and methods of treating diseases are used only because these problems were once studied in fundamental science. Then it passed into the field of applied science, then these drugs began to be produced and began to be used for the treatment of both humans and animals.

Valery Shulgovsky: One can give such an example – bioelectricity. This is a problem that arose in the XVIII century: there was a famous scientist Galvani, a doctor, now we know him by the "galvanic cell" – the name of the battery. Then there were the first attempts to register bioelectricity. In general, all the achievements of modern clinical physiology are largely based on bioelectric phenomena: the work of the heart, bowel movements, brain work, eye movement. It is according to the cardiogram that it is established whether a person has had a heart attack, whether there have been any violations in the work of the heart muscle. The same applies to the brain, in all centers that are engaged in neurosurgery, for example, at the Burdenko Institute of Neurosurgery, there is a large laboratory, which is administratively based at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity – and in all these centers electroencephalograms (EEG) – electrical impulses of the brain are studied. This is very important, because when a neurosurgeon comes to surgery, he must know exactly the boundaries and functions of the tumor. But all this would be impossible without a huge number of experiments on frogs. Galvani first discovered a drug on the legs of a frog that we know as neuromuscular. Now it is widely used.

– Which animals are most important for research? Olga Lopina: Mice, of course, because mice have a fully read genome.

When we get a protein, we can determine what kind of protein it is by establishing its structure. There are specially bred pure lines of rats and mice. For example, hypertension is being investigated on rat lines. There are such clean lines when closely related crossing is carried out and rats are obtained in which hypertension occurs in response to increased salt intake. This mimics hypertension in humans. There are some rats whose hypertension occurs in response to stress. To bring out such animals is quite a lot of work. But without such a model, it is impossible to study hypertension in humans, because we need to understand what the nature of the exchange is, what disorders there are on these models, and only then our research on people. One of my colleagues is conducting experiments on gophers. Ground squirrels hibernate – at the same time, energy consumption in all processes slows down dramatically. Gophers become cold, the body temperature drops to four degrees. They're sleeping. If we understand how hibernation works, we may be able to put people in a state of suspended animation. Distant space flights may not be possible without such achievements.

I would like to say a few more words about the diagnosis of a heart attack. When a heart attack is diagnosed, in about 80% of cases it can be diagnosed using a cardiogram. But there are some types of heart attacks that cannot be diagnosed with a cardiogram. But using such a test system: the laboratory assistant just drops a drop of blood and by the way its color changes, we can say that the person had a heart attack. But in order to produce these test systems, you need to use mice.

Of those animals that I met in the experiment, these are both fish and turtles. The turtle has a peptide that protects it from radioactive damage. In my opinion, this peptide is patented, it is used for the treatment of leukemia.

Valery Shulgovsky: I have such a line of KM rats at my department, Krushinsky-Molodkina, these rats have increased convulsive readiness, it is enough to ring the keys in front of them so that they get into a convulsive fit. This is accompanied by hemorrhages in the brain – strokes. This is a very valuable biological model, because with the help of these beauties, one of the types of epilepsy is being studied. In general, there is a whole professional expertise on the convulsive readiness of the brain, so that people with increased convulsive readiness do not get into such professions as submariners, drivers, pilots and so on. And besides these hemorrhages, which are used as a model for the preparation of drugs that would prevent these phenomena.

– People most painfully perceive news about experiments on highly developed animals. We do not sympathize as much with a cockroach, a mouse or a rat as, say, we sympathize with a cat or a dog, and most importantly with monkeys. Valery Shulgovsky: At the Institute of Biomedical Problems, with whom we often contact on scientific issues, there is a very large monkey house.

But it is a necessary object. In Soviet times, a whole series of biosatellites were launched, on which monkeys were launched: one flew in cardiology, the other in neurology. A monkey is a complete double of a person, one can say his biological model. The monkey was launched in order to explore the possibility of a coordination disorder in space – eyes, hands, a situation was investigated when a person loses the ability to see, that is, sees an object in a distorted form. Monkeys, for example, have special favial vision, like ours. That is, we have a visual fossa with very high definition, high resolution, and besides there is color, the rest of the retina we have dim vision. Monkeys have the same oculomotor system as we humans. These are the problems, they are being investigated, but only on monkeys, it cannot be investigated on other animals.

– Valery Viktorovich, if we are talking about ethics, then the following question arises in this regard. You say that such and such experiments, studies can only be carried out on monkeys, because they are close to humans. But does it not follow from this proximity of monkeys to humans that we should also extend ethical norms to them? For example, back in the XIX century, even the most civilized people believed that the Africans, the inhabitants of New Guinea, were biologically lower than the Caucasoid race. There were even such theories that the aborigines of Tasmania represent something intermediate between a monkey and a man, there were such assumptions. Maybe in those days a scientist could just as forcefully say that we should use Tasmanian aborigines for experiments, because this is the closest model to a person, because only on them we can find out such and such things about a person, since they are an inferior race, let's use them. Today it sounds wild, because we have extended the norms of humanism to all absolutely representatives of our species Homo sapiens. But why should we stop at this border, humanity is developing, humanism is developing. Let's extend this attitude to all primates. Valery Shulgovsky: I think it is necessary to spread, anthropoids – chimpanzees, gorillas and so on, they are protected by the law, you really can't do any invasive experiments on them, but you can do non–invasive experiments - without surgical intervention.

But these experiments are also very interesting, this is a whole trend in world science. This is a conversation with animals. Such experiments are going on, in particular, at my department. We call these experiments "behavioral". But no biologist, I think, would think of torturing an animal in the sense that an ordinary person understands it. If we have a need for some invasive methods, they are always clearly regulated and justified.

– How does the law regulate the activities of a scientist? With regard to each study, with regard to each animal, it is clearly known what can and cannot be done? Valery Shulgovsky: In principle, yes.

Now domestic science has begun to live according to the laws of Western science, that is, we also have grant science. Grant science assumes that your project, which you submit to the appropriate scientific foundation, is subjected to a thorough examination. Goals, the setting of the experiment, the expected results to be obtained. In addition, we have a bioethics committee at the university, which is also obliged to monitor this - this is its responsibility. I know that the Institute of Biomedical Problems also has a special ethical commission, the content of its work can be viewed on the website of this institute.

– Are there any precedents when the examination notices violations of the rules of bioethics? How conscientious are scientists in this sense, how law-abiding are they? Olga Lopina: I personally do not know such scientists who would try to break the law for the sake of their experiments.

Biologists become biologists because they love animals. In most cases, these experiments are done in order for humanity to benefit from them. Since the middle of the last century, since 1940, life expectancy in developed countries has almost doubled. This would not be possible if there were no vaccines, serums, medicines, in particular, the use of antibiotics, the use of many other drugs. For example, it is now very easy to treat a stomach ulcer. In Europe, an extremely small number of people suffer from this disease, and we are also trying to get rid of it.

And all drugs are first tested on animals, and it is impossible to do otherwise. There are, however, such systems – this is called tissue culture. These tissue cultures are usually cancer cells. Because it is they, these animal and human cells that can live for a long time in an artificial environment. Ordinary non-cancerous cells die very quickly. And to have the material, usually use such cancer cell lines. And everything that can be done is done on them. True, it often costs more than animal experiments, but still, when we have studied something on a cancer cell, we have to see how it will be on a normal cell, otherwise it will be impossible to move on.

Moreover, all medicines that are on sale should be tested on a large number of animals in order to avoid losses among people and avoid losses among animals that will be treated with these medicines. Unfortunately, humanity has not learned to work without it yet. Maybe in the future we will reach a state where we can test something without using animals. So far, unfortunately, in order to treat people and ensure a normal, painless, trouble-free existence, we are forced to use animals for this.

If humanity is ready to go back to the state it was in at the beginning of the XIX century: colossal infant mortality, huge mortality among women in labor, death from infectious diseases, then scientists will probably say: "Yes, we will agree with the will of humanity," although not everyone will agree, I think. But while humanity considers it necessary to use modern medicines for treatment, everyone who uses these drugs will have to put up with animal experiments.

– If almost all medicines are tested on animals, and the number of these drugs increases every year, does this mean that the number of animals used in testing has increased during this time? Olga Lopina: Apparently, yes.

But I think it's still incomparable with the number of animals that people use for food, that people use to get skin, that they use to get dressed, put shoes on. I think it's incomparably less. If we compare how much fish, poultry and meat are eaten in restaurants, how much meat is sold in stores, and how many animals are used for scientific purposes, it is simply incomparable. Although this is a significant amount compared to what it was when the pharmaceutical industry was not developed. If we have defeated smallpox and now we do not vaccinate against smallpox, only because experiments were once conducted on animals, with the help of these experiments, a smallpox vaccination system was created. If we want to defeat other infectious diseases, we have to go this way.

– How do you feel about the fact that organizations that protect animal rights strongly recommend scientists to use as many substitute models as possible: dummy models, computer models? Where can this be done, in what areas? Valery Shulgovsky: My opinion: it can be done for educational purposes.

I was recently at the dental university, and my colleague, we have known each other for a very long time, showed his practice for dentists. It is made entirely on computers. There is a computer and, say, the work of the heart is modeled there, the whole cardiogram is laid out, the student can stimulate nerves separately in a computer program, a neuromuscular drug, thermoregulation, in general, the whole workshop, which we usually call small, it is made in this way. But this, mind you, is for dentists who should not be able to work in laboratories with these animals. We have a much deeper workshop. Unfortunately, I can't imagine how our biologists and physiologists can be trained on such computer models. He must personally make the drug, personally plant a mouse and make a cardiogram or stimulate the vagus nerve, see how it acts on the heart. And where it is possible, believe me, none of the heads of institutions will complicate their lives, keep a vivarium, animals, feed, take care of. Our employees do not have holidays, you eat every day, animals too, and these are small animals with a very rapid exchange, mice, rats – they need to be fed and cleaned all the time, otherwise there will be trouble. That is, the head of the department where it is possible to minimally introduce computer models, believe me, he will do it immediately. But where it is impossible, where we train students to work in real science, where a student must be able to do everything himself, what is the point of a dummy?

Also, a surgeon cannot be learned on dummies. Will you come to such a surgeon? I don't think anyone would dare to go to a surgeon trained on computer models and on dummies. A lot of practice is needed here.

– You have already talked about the use of animals in pharmacology, in space research, in medicine. In what other areas should animals be used? Olga Lopina: In cosmetology, for example.

Any cream that you will apply to the skin should be safe, because the skin is the same part of the body as any other organ. If we put something on the skin that will be poisonous or harm us, it will end badly, it will lead to illness and may end in the death of a person. So, of course, I saw a cream that said "not tested on animals", but from my point of view, it can only be a mixture, not a new product. This, apparently, is taken from a combination of what has already been previously tested and then it is probably not necessary to test specifically. Although I'm not an expert in this and I can't say for sure. Otherwise, I can't imagine how it is possible to recommend, for example, oil for newborns with some additives, if it is not previously tested on animals.

Valery Shulgovsky: There is a large area that we have not touched upon and where we cannot do without animal experiments – this is physiology. Because in order to study the work of any organ, I specialize in the physiology of the brain, then all the recent discoveries that have been made in this area, we now know how the cerebral cortex works, which, say, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov had no idea about. He imagined it as a telephone exchange where individual subscribers are connected. The huge structure of the brain, the so-called striatum, striped bodies, he imagined as the nearest subcortex. It was quite recently - it was the 30s of the last century. And now we know how such sections of the brain as the limbic system, which is responsible for our motivations, emotions, and so on, work, how the articular structures of the brain, which are responsible for our consciousness, wakefulness, sleep, work. We know how the whole hypothalamus system works, how the limbic system exits, with the help of hormones the brain communicates with the whole body.

– Maybe now people can say: well, there was such a bloody period when experiments on animals were needed, but now it's all open, medicines have been invented, non-invasive methods have been developed, let's stop all experiments on animals now. Olga Lopina: But it's not like that, if you look at how many sick people we have.

After all, we have increased life expectancy very significantly due to the fight against certain types of diseases, which mostly mowed people down at a young age, let's say. And as for the diseases that have arisen now – Alzheimer's disease, cancer, hypertension, atherosclerosis – all these are diseases caused by a violation of regulatory mechanisms, genetic defects that manifest in the body with age. In principle, we can live longer and more fully without suffering from a lot of ailments that appear at the age of 40-50 years. And if we study these problems, we will be able to overcome these diseases. That is, in principle, we are going to make a person long-lived and healthy, such a task is facing us. And we use animals in experiments precisely for this purpose, to give a person the opportunity to live long and well, happily.

Valery Shulgovsky: We insist on biological models. If there is a successful well-chosen biological model, we can fight the disease. This also applies to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Now a drug has been found that selectively destroys only the "black substance" in monkeys, the cause of these diseases. But the other signs of this disease are poorly modeled. Therefore, we cannot find any medications or early diagnosis in any way. Or studying the structure of the brain, for example. Everything that we have discovered now on the structure of the neuron, synoptic transmission, mediator pathways, we have obtained all this by experiment. The human brain is inaccessible, except for neurosurgical operations. By the way, this is also a whole section – neuropsychology – this science deals with brain injuries and the assessment of mental functions in these injuries. This direction arose thanks to the work of our great psychologist Alexander Romanovich Luria, a professor at Moscow University. But when did it arise? During the First and Second World War, when there was a flow of wounded, these were actually models on which it was possible to study the brain. Alexander Romanovich mainly worked during the Second World War. He described all the main syndromes that we now know, in the clinic they are used to describe the disease. And we know the structures that suffer at the same time. Brain injury is the only thing that is permissible in human research. And on animals, we can afford some more general experiments with certain restrictions imposed very rigidly, maybe.

– You are convinced that the use of animals in experiments is a necessary part of the profession of physiologists, pharmacologists, physicians, biologists. Olga Lopina:

This is a necessary part of the development of civilization. We cannot stop the development of science, especially biological science, and we cannot deprive millions of people of scientific achievements just because we think we care about animals. We have to take care of a person, too, and of those animals that will then get sick. I emphasize all the time when they say – you are torturing animals, they are not being tortured - they are being studied. And this is done in order to alleviate the suffering of both people and animals.

– Animal rights defenders, as a rule, do not turn to space explorers and many of them simply do not know that the famous Belka and Strelka just burned down. But maybe, on the contrary, space exploration is quite closed to information and we know about them only what we are allowed to know. NASA also publishes only what it considers necessary to publish. Do you think maybe, on the contrary, scientists need to talk less and explain and tell less? Olga Lopina: It seems to me that this is wrong, because people should know what scientists are doing.

What we do, we do not do for ourselves, but we do for humanity. And this attitude of the layman, an ordinary citizen, to professors who sit at universities and it is not known what they are doing, it is wrong. Because everything that is done at universities comes into our lives after a while. If something hadn't been created at universities, progress in science hadn't taken place, we wouldn't have phones or medicines now, we wouldn't be flying into space now, we wouldn't have radio, television, no household appliances, because scientists were also engaged in this.

Valery Shulgovsky: It is very difficult to close research from public view, it is impossible in universities. The university is a completely open organization. We can't control every student. Probably, these same students are destroying our vivariums.

Olga Lopina: Hardly, I don't think they are our students.

Valery Shulgovsky: I don't know. It's hard to believe that our students, because our students still understand what we are doing, but we have had such cases at the faculty. The students don't support us. I was taking a course, I was reading to about two hundred students. And one of the students hung a leaflet on my classroom door - down with the fascists. I had to devote a few minutes after the break to this problem. I've told you everything. You know, these people who were sitting in front of me, they completely understood me.

– Why is there such a dislike for scientists? Why is there no opposition, for example, to hunters who kill animals for their own pleasure? Olga Lopina: Because scientists don't resist.

We hide nothing from anyone, we don't say that we won't show it, that you won't see it. We are open. But our openness and lack of understanding of what we are doing just create such a problem. Because it's quite difficult to get into NASA, and it's quite possible to defeat the university vivarium. After all, they won't let you into the meat processing plant either. I go there regularly, but to get there, you need to call in advance, write out a pass, come, you will be checked. Then you will be allowed in only when the slaughter of animals begins. We take, for example, pig kidneys in order for students to work with them, get certain proteins, and study them. But getting there is not so easy, and there the guard will not stand on ceremony with those who will come and protest. There are such dogs running around the perimeter that no one will get through without a pass.

– As a specialist in higher nervous activity, you can surely competently answer the question to what extent the sympathy that people, especially citizens, feel for animals is justified. It seems to people that animals experience the same emotions, the same feelings as humans. Everyone understands, everyone feels. When a rat, in order to investigate what happens in its brain when it becomes an alcoholic, has its skull opened, electrodes inserted, how much does it suffer? Does she suffer at all in the human sense?

Valery Shulgovsky: I think that in a social sense, rats, since they are an asocial animal, they do not suffer. A significant part of our suffering is connected with our society, we are in it, we are so merged with it that we often do not even distinguish the boundaries between us and our environment, our loved ones, relatives, friends. Animals don't have this, this component, except maybe anthropoids. But with anthropoids, the same rules apply as with human work. Of course, a dog is a very highly organized animal. I had a dog and I watched her professionally for 15 years. The situation in the family is clearly monitored and understood adequately. Therefore, I can say quite clearly that, of course, animals experience all emotions, pain. Suffering only in the sense of suffering from pain, suffering is what we call stress. For example, a very strong stress restriction of animals. But if you restrict a rat in a narrow space, clamp it – this is a very strong stress. They are really suffering, I am absolutely convinced of this.

– Have you ever felt guilty about an animal yourself? Valery Shulgovsky:

I had to do an acute experiment when the dose of anesthesia was poorly calculated, and the animal began to wake up during the experiment. And then, of course, I felt guilty because of this mistake. Whose fault is here, it is difficult to understand, because each organism has its own peculiarities of attitude to anesthesia.

– Doctors have a kind of unspoken agreement that if a doctor is very sympathetic to his patient and is very worried, then this is a sign of unprofessionalism. Because if he enters into such a close emotional relationship, it destroys him and he simply will not be able to work as a doctor. Do biologists have similar problems? Valery Shulgovsky: When we operate, the animal is clamped according to special coordinates in the device, clips are inserted into the ears, of course, under anesthesia.

But if anesthesia is not calculated, other medications are not calculated, then when an animal in this completely immobilized, helpless state begins to wake up or even show signs of waking up, it is very difficult.

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