Animal research necessary to medical breakthroughs

By Baxter Black: Humor Columnist

There are people who are ennobled by their service to mankind. We think of soldiers, nurses, teachers or ministers whose contributions are recognized daily. Others are national leaders, inventors, Olympic athletes or philanthropists. Their achievements attract laudatory headlines and press.

But there are many who toil beneath the radar, who persevere and over a lifetime of service produce profound long-lasting benefits to the world.

One example is a research scientist. I think of research scientists as the really smart people in my physiological chemistry classes who now work in bat caves chasing cures for the physical maladies of mankind.

I have a friend who is over 80 years old and has developed Parkinson’s disease. Before he got his Schedule D prescription drug plan he was paying $800 a month for pills.

Sometimes the high price of his medicine drove him to complain. Then he reminded himself what his life would be like without those pills. It is unthinkable. His ability to walk around and have a fairly normal life exists because of the work of thousands of research scientists who toil like miners in lab coats in pursuit of the causes of body malfunctions.

They use whatever tools are necessary and ethical in their quest. Issues like use of stem cells, cloning and laboratory animals keep popping up in the news. That is because these subjects stimulate a public reaction. In reality they are but a small rainsquall on the surface of an ocean of scientific endeavor. But most reporters and readers have neither the knowledge nor the interest to dig deeper.

Much of our knowledge about the human body has come from studying animals. From Sir Alexander Fleming’s mouse to Dr. Debakey’s heart transplant calf, from NASA’s monkey to Dolly the cloned sheep, animals have been used to discover and unlock the secrets of disease and initiate their cures.

Is it worth it? Ask my friend with Parkinson’s. Ask his family.

Sir Fleming discovered Penicillin in 1929. The average lifespan of a 29-year-old person that year in the U.S. was 49 years. In 2006 the average lifespan of a 29-year-old person is 72.

If you want to thank somebody for this gift of life you personally have received, seek them out in a bat cave at some university or pharmaceutical company or research hospital. You’ll find them in the basement hard at work on something that might add 10 years to the life of your grandchild. Oh, and don’t forget to thank the mice for their sacrifice.