When I was an undergrad, I swore that I would never work with animals. A few years later, and I am working with mice almost daily. Although I never planned on working with mic, I’m glad that I chose to join a lab that does some behavioral experiments.
How do you know working with animals is right for you?
You kind of don’t know until you are exposed to it. My first exposure to mice was during a summer research program. I was told that the mice were easy to handle, and that over time I would get used to it. That was definitely not the case.
I was really nervous, and the mice fed off my anxiety. I couldn’t scruff them correctly, and they kept biting me. Even more importantly, I wasn’t comfortable sacrificing them, and collecting tissue from them terrified me. Honestly, it felt wrong to manipulate a living being’s short life just for a data point.
Honestly, I still feel that way. I believe that it is wrong to order a bunch of animals to run unnecessary tests. Not only is it morally irresponsible, but it’s also not the best way to do science. I began to feel more comfortable handling animals once I realized that my work was translational, meaning it could affect human medicine one day.
Behavioral work can lead to key biochemical discoveries.
Behavioral changes can lead to really cool biochemical discoveries, which could affect drug discovery. Within my own work, I see that some proteins and genes change once an animal is in chronic pain. I also see biochemical changes after I give a pain-relieving drug. Knowing which molecules are important is key to developing better, safer drugs. And knowing the translational impact my work has on a future pain-free patients is encouraging.
Most importantly, animal work is right for you if you can accept that it has limitations. A lot of drugs that work in rodents may not work in humans, unfortunately. A lot of this can be due to not spending enough time developing the right model for a disease. Or maybe it is due to the push for publishing new data, instead of understanding the science behind it. I think it is a bit of both, and that’s why animal work should always be coupled with biochemical analyses.