Research: Just Because You Can, Does It Mean You Should?

You recently asked me a question: ” A question for the MouseDoctor, don’t you think sewing mice together is unethical?”

This question was based on Prof G’s post about results from a Parabiosis, experiment. This is the surgical act of artificially creating conjoined twin (Siamese twins for the un-PC ones) of two organisms. These experiments often create animals that are living from one circulation to see how internal bodily secretions (such as hormones) affect the function of the partner, who gets a new blood circulation. So imagine two animals and one heart.

Based on several comments in relation to posts it seems that you, or at least some of you, aren’t interested in the woolly science about facts on MS (I don’t agree with you… the more we know, the better we understand and knowledge is power for change – However, Let’s have no posts on this particular comment, as it will mask the issue posed by the question) and just want action at preventing progression and reversing the deficits of MS. This type of study is used to try and address the very issues that you want addressing!

To answer your question directly– “Although I often defend experiments on animals, I must admit that these particular types of experiments leave a nasty taste in my mouth. This procedure will probably be very stressful to the animals involved and it is something that I would not personally contemplate doing………at present”.

“Parabiosis experiments are typically performed in the USA, where ethical sensitivities to performing animal experiments are, let’s say, different from those in the UK. I am not so sure to what extent this approach would fly here, but it may… long as it can be properly justified. The person wanting to do such a thing would have to make a just case to both their Independent Ethical Review Committee (who assess the impact of the work from the animal’s prospective) and also to the UK (Government) Home Office Inspectorate, before such work could be done.”

However, the information provided from the above experiments do move progress forward.

As the recent posts have been showing, we know that young animals deal with and repair nerve damage better than old animals. This is probably the same with humans also. The study by Villeda and Colleagues showed that there was a blood protein particularly present in young blood that influence whether nerves would make new connections (plasticity) and repair.

OK, so now I put it back to you.
Another similar experimental approach to create these mice can be undertaken. This will determine, whether having a young circulation allows old oligodendrocyte precursors (who change into oligodendrocytes to make new myelin) to behave like young oligodendrocyte precursors (who repair well) or whether there is an inherent problem in old oligodendrocytes that means they may not be “switched-on” to repair. If the former occurs, you have the real belief that it should be possible to promote myelin repair, which we think will curtail progression. Furthermore by determining the factors that make this switch possible, you may have the opportunity to repair lesions in MS.

Do you want to know whether blood or plasma from young animals can stimulate faster remyelination in older animals using the parabiosis experiment?

(a) Yes, the “means justify the ends”.
(b) Yes, even though it may be unethical to do these experiments.
(c) No, it is unethical to do these experiments.
(d) I am not sure.

N.B. If you follow your courage of conviction that the approach is not valid then you must accept that you will not know the answer and progress will be slowed, until an alternative approach is found, so I am looking for an (a) or (c) answer.

So use the new rapid 3-day poll on the left to vote about whether it is an experiment too far or we carry on Gung-Ho?

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  • On the question of ethics concerning using the parabiosis experiment in researching treatments to cure MS progression: seriously MouseDoctor, I'll go far as saying that even if you have to adopt a sinister Burke & Hare policy of offing real humans in order to remedy prog MS, then I think I'm willing to turn a blind eye to that.

    I think we all just want a break through, and fast.

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