Animal Testing: Preventing a Silent World

The confusion became overwhelming for both the small child and for the doctors trying to treat her. She was but a three year old girl who was born hard of hearing and had gone profoundly deaf over the duration of two years. After having enough hearing to learn the Navajo language, the girl moved to Guam. She could no longer speak clearly or learn new words. She was unable to communicate effectively. She had to adapt by reading lips. She was even lost in Rome at the age of five and could not hear her parents call after her. Upon her return to the mainland U.S. she had a medical examination and it was proven that she had lost all traces of her hearing. The family was both panicked and devastated. How were they supposed to raise a deaf child in hearing culture? Was surgery going to be a possibility? In September 1968 she went into the hospital profoundly deaf, and came out hours later hearing. Her name is Lenore Webber, and she is my mother.

What caused this great technology that would allow a person’s life to change so drastically? Animal testing. Hearing research began on animals in the 1950's. Scientists began to understand for the first time the mechanism of hearing. After studying mammals, it was discovered humans share many of the same qualities. By understanding the way that an animal hears, we can better understand the same process in humans. In my mother’s case her Eustachian tubes lay horizontally instead of slanting down. After the studies that had been done for the 20 years prior to her deafness, doctors were able to scrape out everything that had not been draining properly. As result she gained her hearing back.

Unfortunately, the technology was not advanced enough at the time to completely prevent complications later on. The scarring in her inner ear caused infections. She also had terrible vertigo and balance issues as a result. "...semicircular canals are parts of the inner ear concerned with maintaining balance in the body. When the body moves, fluid inside these structures moves. The moving fluid bends hair-like nerve endings in much the same way that reeds are bent by a driver’s current. This action sends messages to the brain, which sets off reflex actions that affect body balance". This information would not even be known if it was not for animal testing.

Viral and fungal infections were also a major problem in Lenore’s inner ear. They got to the point that it was a miracle for her to have enough balance to walk. Doctors had not seen a case like hers ever before. They were unable to explain why she was able to lead a normal life and why she was not in excruciating pain. Again, animal testing came to the rescue. It was discovered that the scar tissue did not have the nerve endings that would cause her to suffer. The 1980's brought about anit-viral treatments. Mayo clinic was able to provide therapy and medications to help with balance and infections. New medicines are still being released and new surgeries are still being discovered. She is doing better now than she ever has before due to modern medicine.

Fifty years after initial testing began, electronic implants are being created. Now when a person is diagnosed profoundly deaf there are many more options. Animal testing has been a major factor in creating electronic devices such as the cochlear implant. These implants allow people to hear almost normally when they were previously profoundly deaf. No other time in history has this been possible.

Animal testing has benefited by mother and many others over the last 50 years. The hearing impaired have experienced improvement in their everyday lives. Parents now have the option of having a hearing child instead of a deaf one. Balance is improving in people with vertigo because of medicine and therapy. Anti-viral and antibiotic drugs now allow people to live healthier, more normal lives. Although many people are against animal testing, it does have endless benefits. It continues to improve the quality of life for millions everyday.

Internship at Barrow Neurological Institute

My internship this summer took place in a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) lab at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. The experiences I had proved to be invaluable and the knowledge I gained is going to help me far more than I could have hoped for. I spent most of my time in a lab, but I also attended two lectures a week. These lectures had topics which varied from epilepsy to brain tumors to vision. The staff was very kind. I mainly worked with four people: Dr. Shi, Mary, Susan, and Ruolan.

Dr. Shi was the head of our lab and helped me to understand its purpose. He explained the disease (MS) that we were working with. He also answered the questions I had about the antibodies that were being tested and the animals that we were working with. He and Ruolan allowed me to observe mice injections using Experimental Autoimmune Encephalitis (EAE), the rodent model of MS.

Mary taught me about flow cytometry using the fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS). We used this to sort cells and look for differences between controls and infected groups. Cells are tagged by antibodies and a laser excites the dye on the cells. Then the data goes into the computer and you can observe the cells being sorted.

I also watched several assays and helped where I could. Susan showed me that assays used to isolate RNA are much more tedious than I would have imagined them being. Later I observed Ruolan doing an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which took even longer than the RNA! It was amazing to me how much patience and concentration it takes to work in these labs. I now have a whole new perspective and a new amount of respect for people who dedicate their time to research.