Rights: The University of Waikato Published 20 November 2007 Download

Why do scientists like Dr Love sometimes need to use animals in their research? Dr Don Love from Auckland University is investigating diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Here, he explains why he uses zebrafish in his research.


Don Love (Auckland University)

our premise is that I can understand a lot more in terms of biology of a disease, let’s imagine, or behaviour or what not, by using a whole animal. But there will be a welfare cost associated with that. It could be a low degree of suffering, medium, or high degree.

The value of the outcome would have to be compatible with the degrees of suffering. So if you were to say there is a high degree of suffering involved in this, then scientific justification would have to be compatible with that. It’s no use having a very modest scientific outcome with a high degree of suffering - it would just not work at all. And why are you using insults [manipulations] that would lead to a high degree of suffering?

In fact, the committee interrogate every application equally, and low impact or high impact are treated exactly the same. What is your justification? What is the degree of suffering? What are you going to do about it in terms of the suffering outcomes? Scientifically it makes no sense whatsoever to treat an animal where the animal is seriously compromised in terms of its health and welfare. You want a healthy animal. You want to look after that animal. It’s no use saying I’ve done my operation, now the animal is crook, and that was successful. That is a complete disaster. So I have to look after the animal every step of the way.

You might not like the way we do things, but we do it for a reason. And scientifically it’s justified, and in terms of welfare – yes, there is a welfare cost associated with this research.

I need to look at complex gene expression programming which, to my mind with the work we do, requires a complex gene expression programme which for us is a vertebrate. So that’s it. If I study this [complex gene expression], I need that [a complex gene expression system], or something pretty close. It can’t be all cell culture for me.

It could be that in the next few hundred years as we gain so much knowledge that we don’t need to impose insults on animals. Lovely! Brilliant! That is where I want to be as well. That is, I know everything there is to know. We would be lucky! So now I can model everything mathematically. I know the process intimately, so any perturbation [disturbance] I can predict. So mathematical modelling will lead you to predictive outcomes. That is where I want to be as well. So it’s a two-way street. I have to do things this way right now in order to gain information that I can avoid doing this ever again.