Tag Archives: Drosophila

Another year of medical achievements thanks to animal research

A look back by EARA at some of the important discoveries in recent times

The last year has once again seen an impressive list of medical achievements globally, as scientists find better treatments for devastating diseases.

Among the breakthroughs reported are:

  • Human trials are now closer for an Ebola vaccine with a team at UW–Madison School of Veterinary aiming to produce an experimental vaccine (March 2018) that has already been proven to work safely in monkeys.
  • Researchers at University College London have announced (Dec 2017) that there is now hope for a way to stop Huntington’s disease, described as the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases in 50 years.
  • 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded with help of fruit fly (drosophila) study. The discoveries of the group of scientists who worked on the project show how plants, animals and humans co-ordinate their biological rhythms with the Earth’s daily cycle.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “There is no doubt that we would not see the remarkable advances in biomedical research that have occurred recently, without the use of animals.

“While alternative methods to animal research, such as computer models and cell cultures are important, testing using animals remains the safest and most effective way to produce drugs and treatments for us all.”

Animal research is integral to ongoing research in areas such as spinal cord repair, stem cell treatments (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), gene therapy (muscular dystrophy, diabetes) and molecularly targeted cancer medicines.

Historically, animal research has also led to new diagnostic tests for early treatment (cancer, heart disease); and effective treatments for serious illnesses (diabetes, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease).

The same research often helps humans and animals (treatments for arthritis, neurological disorders, organ transplants, cancer therapies) and contributes to farm animal welfare and techniques to save endangered species.

End

Opinion: Making sense of sentience

With a draft UK Animal Welfare Bill looking to put the concept of ‘animal sentience”directly into law and an ongoing debate about the levels of pain different species might experience, psychologist Stuart Derbyshire asks if we are really observing pain in some animals or some other reaction.

Recently, the government of Switzerland ordered that lobsters should no longer be dropped alive into boiling water in case the lobster feels pain. Much of the evidence that lobsters might feel pain is extrapolated from observations of other crustaceans, such as hermit crabs, which avoid areas where they previously received electrical shocks, and will leave a protective, sheltered, area when shocked. It is also noted that lobsters and other crustaceans will move away from intense heat.

Still, how much of a ‘pain’ experience can we expect a lobster to have with such a sparse nervous system?  The avoidant behaviour of crustaceans is certainly consistent with an experience of pain. Locusts, for example, have been observed to continue munching on vegetation even while they are themselves being eaten, which is much less consistent with pain experience. Avoidant behaviour, however, is far from demonstrating an experience of pain. Even the humble fruit fly drosophila (otherwise known as a maggot) will bend and roll away if you light a naked flame next to it. Continue reading