Much of what we know today about the human immune system has been learned through research conducted using animals—primarily, mammals—as models. Besides research, mammals are also used for the production of most of the antibodies and other immune system components needed for immunodiagnostics. Vaccines, diagnostics, therapies, and translational medicine, in general, have all been developed through research with animal models.Consider some of the common uses of laboratory animals for producing immune system components. Guinea pigs are used as a source of complement, and mice are the primary source of cells for making mAbs. These mAbs can be used in research and for therapeutic purposes. Antisera are raised in a variety of species, including horses, sheep, goats, and rabbits. When producing an antiserum, the animal will usually be injected at least twice, and adjuvants may be used to boost the antibody response. The larger animals used for making antisera will have blood harvested repeatedly over long periods of time, with little harm to the animals, but that is not usually the case for rabbits. Although we can obtain a few milliliters of blood from the ear veins of rabbits, we usually need larger volumes, which results in the deaths of the animals.We also use animals for the study of disease. The only way to grow Treponema pallidum for the study of syphilis is in living animals. Many viruses can be grown in cell culture, but growth in cell culture tells us very little about how the immune system will respond to the virus. When working on a newly discovered disease, we still employ Koch’s postulates, which require causing disease in lab animals using pathogens from pure culture as a crucial step in proving that a particular microorganism is the cause of a disease. Studying the proliferation of bacteria and viruses in animal hosts, and how the host immune system responds, has been central to microbiological research for well over 100 years.While the practice of using laboratory animals is essential to scientific research and medical diagnostics, many people strongly object to the exploitation of animals for human benefit. This ethical argument is not a new one—indeed, one of Charles Darwin’s daughters was an active antivivisectionist (vivisection is the practice of cutting or dissecting a live animal to study it). Most scientists acknowledge that there should be limits on the extent to which animals can be exploited for research purposes. Ethical considerations have led the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop strict regulations on the types of research that may be performed. These regulations also include guidelines for the humane treatment of lab animals, setting standards for their housing, care, and euthanization. The NIH document “Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals” makes it clear that the use of animals in research is a privilege granted by society to researchers.The NIH guidelines are based on the principle of the three R’s: replace, refine, and reduce. Researchers should strive to replace animal models with nonliving models, replace vertebrates with invertebrates whenever possible, or use computer models when applicable. They should refine husbandry and experimental procedures to reduce pain and suffering, and use experimental designs and procedures that reduce the number of animals needed to obtain the desired information. To obtain funding, researchers must satisfy NIH reviewers that the research justifies the use of animals and that their use is in accordance with the guidelines.At the local level, any facility that uses animals and receives federal funding must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) that ensures that the NIH guidelines are being followed. The IACUC must include researchers, administrators, a veterinarian, and at least one person with no ties to the institution, that is, a concerned citizen. This committee also performs inspections of laboratories and protocols. For research involving human subjects, an Institutional Review Board (IRB) ensures that proper guidelines are followed.If you are in favor, why? If you are opposed, what alternatives are viable models?
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