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December 1, 2011

Of Mice and Men


Exploitation and the misuse of information is something that the media coincides with inexplicably. It should be no surprise that there is a great disconnect between scientific organizations and the general public for these very reasons. One organization in particular is trying to bridge this widening gap in order to prepare our society with implications of certain scientific methods in the future as our technological advances continue to advance. The UK's newly formed Academy of Medical Science is working to discuss the "scientific, ethical, and regulatory ramifications" of working with ACHM. ACHM's are animals containing human material. These animals are a result of scientists adding a small number of human genes into mice. This organization is working in order to create a set of limitations and rules for what types of experiments can be done in the future using this type of animal model. Although none of the procedures done so far reached outside of these limitations, they still felt it was important to lay the ground rules going into the future. They wanted these rules to be a reflection of the publics needs as well as the needs of the medical implications these studies lead to.

Perhaps more imperative to present day, is the other function of the group. The Academy of Medical Science feels that it is also necessary to openly discuss these processes and regulations with the public to stop the bad publicity that these ACHM models are creating. Due to constant speculation, the media and politicians are misinforming the public about what is really going on. Generally, scientists can be hesitant to go public with their procedures because it can often be misinterpreted. The creation of a negative perception can hurt the funding for these projects that really have good intentions that the public just cannot see.

The public seems rather obsessed with the idea of the 'mad scientists' who create animal-man hybrids in their laboratories just because they want to, and because they can. It is widely thought that these ACHM models are a used to create animal hybrids, and that stem cell research is done in order to create a cloned human race. While Hollywood may further push this idea from seemingly scientific movies and TV shows, people can interpret them as being based off of real evidence. In fact, these very viewpoints are the reason why this organization wants to openly discuss the benefits, as well as the setbacks, of performing such studies. They want to address not only the emotional and ethical rational behind their experiments, but also would like to argue the medical reasoning and justifications.

The article used the example of US Senate Candidate Christine O'Donnell speech against human-animal hybrids to show how misinformed or misjudged information can be misleading when it is not fully understood. O'Donnell was quoted saying that "scientists were cross breeding humans and animals". She further said that this led to functioning human brains within the mice. While there is obviously not factual evidence to support her claim, this publically stated accusation led to an increasingly negative viewpoint from animal rights activists and anti-genetic engineering supporters.

The main reason this type of animal model is used is to study different aspects of varying diseases in specific biological situations. They are not creating mice with the exact replica of the human form of the disease, and are really only altering a few genes, if that. Eventually there will technological advances that will allow new and improved studies to be done. It is very important that they let the public know now, ahead of time, what exactly they are planning to study and learn from present and future experiments. This will not only increase funding (because there will be more understanding and support towards their studies), but it will also reduce the bad publicity that emerging scientific field has to deal with.

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n12/full/nn1211-1489.html
Posted by      Amber S. at 1:47 PM MST

Comments:

  Christina U.  says:
Do you read the Wall Street Journal? There was a piece about "Citizen Scientists" that gets to your point about the misuse of information.

If not, here is the article:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204621904577014330551132036.html
Posted on Sun, 4 Dec 2011 4:39 PM MST by Christina U.
  Amber S.  says:
I have not, sounds interesting! I'll check it out, thanks!
Posted on Sun, 4 Dec 2011 10:37 PM MST by Amber S.

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