Nothing sends a chill down the spine faster than hearing the word “vivisection”. Vivus, meaning “alive” and section, meaning “cutting”. The term vivisection is used to denote the practice of human experimentation and study using LIVE animal subjects. It conjures images of draconian mad scientists and hidden torture chambers that cause profound suffering to helpless animals.
It’s about time that someone finally decided to put all of our technology to work to help the world’s most oppressed creatures – the laboratory test subject. SynDaver Labs is doing just that. They have developed revolutionary, realistic, synthetic, human, and canine test models that mimic the varied properties of living subjects.
Why have we as a society agreed that experiments on non-human animals is “okay”? Is it okay because it is for the greater good, because it is necessary … or because we don’t actually know what it entails?
I know what you’re thinking; “I haven’t agreed to animal experiments”. Well the hard truth is that by buying products tested on animals you are not only agreeing with the practice, but you are funding it too. Whether it’s cosmetics, toiletries, household products or medication, you are voting with your pound.
The Human Brain Project. Sounds like something from a dystopian future novel, right? Well you wouldn’t be far wrong, except it isn’t fiction and it is taking place right now.
The eleven-year scientific research project (2013-2024), currently four years underway in Geneva, Switzerland, ‘aims to build a collaborative ICT-based scientific research infrastructure to allow researchers across the globe to advance knowledge in the fields of neuroscience, computing, and brain-related medicine.’ In other words, its overly ambitious goal is to apply the latest knowledge of the human brain (and its diseases) to a computerized simulation…of the brain. Mind-blowing stuff when you start to dig deep and discover more about this, might I add, largely EU-funded (€1.2bn to be precise) project.
Yet early in, the HBP found itself at the end of many-a-pointed finger. Criticism came from more than 100 leading researchers who threatened to boycott the effort amid accusations of mismanagement and fears that it was doomed to fail, at a great cost. Yes, it does sound extremely costly, and dare I say, nonsense? Perhaps the human brain isn’t actually anything like a supercomputer and it is indeed, an organic entity with around 86 billion nerve cells and 100 trillion synapses? Sure, mathematical patterns can be replicated, but can a robot ever mimic our grasp of language, cognitive intelligence, emotion and conscience? And if it can, is that good?
There is lots to be read about the attempts, goals, failures, funding and the people behind the HBP, widely available online. Yet what isn’t widely discussed is how exactly their research, or what the general public merely know to be ‘basic research’, is conducted. A significant amount of resources behind the HBP are dedicated to the study of the mouse brain.
Is it wise to extract data from a project costing billions, based upon the brain of a mouse weighing half a gram?
Surely it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to say ‘hmm, the mouse brain and the human brain are quite different, starting at a basic gene level and 70 million years of evolution’? Apparently that isn’t an issue. The now deposed executive lead neuroscientist behind the HBP, Henry Markram, became the first scientist to ‘patch’ two living neurons simultaneously- to apply microscopic pipettes to freshly harvested rat neurons to measure the electrical signals fired between them.
Today Markram’s extensive research means that the HBP team mutate mice whose brains are half human. At risk of sounding like a philistine, for me this conjures images of mental-looking professors with spirals of ear-hair and demented expressions injecting defenseless tiny rodents. In the head.
The altered mice still have mouse neurons, the ‘thinking’ cells, but practically all the glial cells in their brains, the ones that support the neurons, are human. “It’s still a mouse brain, not a human brain,” claimed Steve Goldman of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. “But all the non-neuronal cells are human.” As a result, the animals are smarter than their siblings (they had an increased ability to remember a sound associated with a mild electric shock) and supposedly we advance our understanding of human brain diseases by studying them in whole mouse brains rather than in dishes.
To put it quite frankly, the HBP team extracted immature glial cells from donated human fetuses and then injected them into mouse pups where they developed into astrocytes, a star-shaped type of glial cell.
There is no denying that findings have been fascinating and unexpected, but is it helpful and is it necessary for such vast sums of money to be spent on ‘interesting’ research while human patients in Europe suffer as a result of budget shortages? Even if is helpful, does it make it OK to tamper with a mammal’s brain and torment it for a reaction? At one point there was discussion of transferring human brain cells into monkeys. This was over-ruled because of ‘ethical’ issues.
So, yes, to confirm, to mutate a baby monkey (with a central nervous system) is wrong. Mutating a baby mouse (with a central nervous system) is OK because obviously they don’t resemble humans so they don’t feel pain. Wrong. Mice have maternal instincts, form relationships and have even been proven to show empathy towards each other. Probably more empathy than any of the acclaimed geniuses working on the Human Brain Project.
So something that has been playing on my mind for a very long time; have you ever stopped to take a look around your local supermarket and ever think to yourself enough is enough. Every aisle you walk through, pretty much, contains products that have animals in or that are tested on animals, all for your personal gain.
Let me begin by introducing myself: I am a Vegan. My friend Kevin still thinks a Vegan is an alien visiting from outer space. He could be right. That look of sheer confusion on the faces of unsuspecting co-workers when someone offers to make a hot drink in the office canteen and you say“Uh, yeah – coffee for me but no milk, thanks… I’m Vegan.” It plays out like a scene from Mel Gibson’s Signs.
I heard about ‘Pig Save’ through a friend who posted about it on social media. Intrigued, I wanted to know more. On the event I found on Facebook, it immediately drew me in. The idea was to go to slaughterhouses, hopefully stop the vans for a few minutes, provide comfort to the pigs either by giving water or/and a little love, but also to document what the reality really looks like by capturing them on film and photos which can then be shared widely to try to spread awareness.
Sitting at your dressing table, picking up your brush and your foundation. Do you ever stop to think how it’s made or how its tested? Or do you ignore the thought of it?
Well .. don’t!
In the beauty industry, animals are looked upon as prey. How a fox would see a rabbit, if you like. But the fox is actually a huge beauty product company that wants to test and sell to the masses their ‘revolutionary’ products.
We marched through Birmingham town centre stopping at British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Skanska.
We joined with activists from all over the UK to show that we are strong in numbers and we will continue our fight to end animal experiments.
Today, 24 April 2017, on World Day for Animals in Laboratories, Animal Justice Project Science Advisor has penned an Open Letter to Dr Hudson, Chief Executive, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).