Welcome to the NAVS Science Corner. Here you will find regular updates on the latest advancements in science that do not rely on animals. We’ve made it easy for you to stay on top of current issues surrounding the use of animals in research – the pros and the cons. Come back often and stay informed. Most importantly, if you have any questions you would like to see answered, please send your questions to email@example.com.
We would like to kick off the Science Corner by discussing two questions that have been frequently asked of our new Director of Science Programs,Pam Osenkowski, PhD.
What made you decide to work for NAVS?
The mission of NAVS has always been near and dear to my heart. As a student in high school and college, I became more familiar with the topic of animal experimentation because it was a subject I often chose when writing papers for class. I always knew I wanted a career in science and wanted to better educate myself on both sides of the issue. From the literature reviews I conducted, I learned that much insight could be gained from experimental model systems other than the animal model and that animal models were not very predictive of what happened in human beings. When I pursued my career as a research scientist, I avoided animal models and used in vitro approaches to address my scientific questions. Using these approaches, I was able to learn a lot about my research topic, while contributing knowledge to my field by publishing the data in scientific journals. I learned that much scientific progress could be made without harming animals and encouraged fellow researchers to think of ways to address their own scientific questions without using animal models.
While I didn’t use animal models directly, I was aware of many experiments that were being conducted in my research facility that did use animal models. I spent over a decade working in research laboratories and got a very clear picture of how animals were used in experiments. What I learned is that scientists rely on the animal model as a crutch, even though other models existed to answer the scientific questions at hand. Often times, the studies using animal models did not add much to the scientific story that was already built on compelling in vitro data, but were only done as a “validation” of the in vitro information. I was also aware of animals being killed because they didn’t possess the genetic mutation that would have made them “useful” in a research study, or they were just “accidentally” overbred. The reality is that my time as a researcher has only increased the issues and concerns I have with the use of animal models in scientific research. I am optimistic that my position as the Director of Scientific Programs at NAVS will give me the platform to bring these issues to light in the public eye, so that we can work together to implement change and advocate for making scientific progress without the use of animals.
What does personalized medicine mean? Are doctors already applying this concept in the clinic today?
“Personalized medicine” is the notion that healthcare can be customized based on a more thorough understanding of our own individual genetic makeup. Because we know that a person’s genetic makeup is unique, the “one size fits all” approach that is currently used in the healthcare system may not be the most effective way to manage patient care. The thought is that if researchers have a clear understanding of what our DNA encodes for, how it is regulated, and which changes in DNA sequences or expression are correlated with specific medical scenarios (disease states, rate of drug metabolism, etc.), we could then look at the genetic variability of each individual person and use that information to customize preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic interventions to optimize their heath care.
Research in the area of personalized medicine is occurring at a fast pace. While personalized medicine is not a routine part of clinical medicine at this time, we do have evidence that customizing a patient’s treatment based on their genetic information can be beneficial to them. We are really starting to see the benefit of personalized medicine in the field of cancer, where research is showing that patients with targeted therapies (based on their specific genetic alterations) have better outcomes than patients who did not receive targeted therapies. Also, another application of personalized medicine is in the area of drug dosing. It is known that genetic variants of genes involved in drug metabolism lead to differences in patient responses to drugs. For instance, it is known that establishing a therapeutic dose of the anti-coagulation drug Coumadin is complicated by genetic factors. Research has revealed that understanding the genetic variability that exists at two specific genes can help guide dosing of Coumadin and may help physicians reduce the amount of time it takes to determine a stable dosing regimen.
What we do have to keep in mind is that the field of personalized medicine is in its early stages, and that science moves incrementally. Advances in technology have made it possible to identify genetic variants associated with disease risk, but we also have to bear in mind that we still have a lot to learn about the interactions of multiple genes as well as the contributions of nongenetic factors. However, there is great promise that increasing our knowledge in these areas will allow us to make greater contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Pam Osenkowski, PhD, Director of Science Programs, NAVS, Instructor of Biology at Loyola University-Chicago