Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food For Thought

How do we get the message out that animals are important in biomedical research? There are so many things about normal cells and organs that we do not understand, and only through observing and testing in mice, rats, and other animals can we learn new things that can drive new treatments. A lot of animal testing could be redundant, and we can learn many things using cell and tissue cultures; however, on the sharp, cutting edge of science, interactions of various systems in a living organism are still necessary.

A while back when I was in medical school, physiologists studying animals could tell that some signal transmitted from the heart caused the kidneys to excrete sodium. My faculty were betting on some sort of neural signal. Instead, some investigators tried injected extract of heart into rodents and found that the atria of the heart produce a hormone that induces sodium excretion (see Experientia. 1982 Sep 15;38(9):1071-3). Eventually the secretory granules were identified, the protein was purified and named (atrial natriuretic peptide), the protein and gene were sequenced, and antibodies were made. We now know that other organs make these proteins (like brain), and we use them for diagnosis of heart problems (by measuring blood levels) and therapeutically (infusion of BNP can improve salt and water output in patients with congestive heart failure). It took about 20 years from initial discovery to clinical use, but this discovery has helped a lot of people and animals.

What other undiscovered systems lie in the living body? Computer models require that we know everything about a system so that we can predict its actions and reactions. I know we aren’t there yet. Culture studies cannot replicate complete living systems where multiple organs, tissues, and cells interact with each other. And we can’t examine some of these systems in humans because we do not have the technology to test them… yet.

Here is a video from the Foundation for Biomedical Research:

This short video tells a compelling story of living with a disease on all levels personal and professional; I am not certain it conveys how essential these rodents are to medical progress.

FBR has other stories planned. We will have to wait and see if the overall effect is what we need.

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