It’s stating the obvious around here to say that animal testing sucks, but even when you put aside the whole “you’re torturing every other species for the benefit of our species” problem, medical research could be doing a lot better. The results of animal testing often fail to predict what will happen in humans, which is not only bad for the animals, but it doesn’t get medicine any closer to stuff like curing cancer.
So when I first heard about stem cell research, my first thought was, This is how we’re going to end animal testing. What if researchers could study diseases or test new medications on our own living cells? Now it looks like that’s finally becoming a reality (emphasis mine):
Human embryonic stem cells (HES cells) are collected from unused embryos created by in-vitro fertilization. About two years ago, scientists figured out a way to turn ordinary skin cells into stem cells. This was a huge deal. These cells—called “induced pluripotents stem cells” (IPS cells)—are not identical to HES cells and may not be quite as nimble in morphing into other cells. But they are electrifying the field because diseases can now be studied outside the body—in a petrie dish.
For example, researchers have taken skin from patients with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), turned them into stem cells, then turned the stem cells into the kind of nerve cells (motor neurons) damaged in the disease. Now—for the first time—they can study living nerves from somebody with ALS and see how they differ from normal nerves.
People are open to all sorts of lifestyle changes, like skipping the meat and eating tofu one more day a week. But as soon as a cute kid shows up in a cancer research ad, even the best-intentioned animal lovers in the crowd will start demanding the heads of sacrificial bunnies. More progress like this, and we’ll soon be able to put the false choice between animal life and human life to rest.
∞ posted at 08:01 by stevesimitzis