A Memory, a Gift for Life

At the time of my birth, only one of my grandparents was still living. Although my Nana lived in another state and I only got to see her a few times, I still am so very grateful. Back when my mom was still in high-school, Nana was diagnosed with breast cancer. The fact that she was not only able to live long enough to finish raising her own children, but to also meet all of her grandchildren, is mostly due to the great advances in research as well as her incredible constitution to live. Progress that would never have been possible if not for the testing of medication on animals, this is why I support the practice of vivisection. I have been raised as an only child, and my cat Edwina, has been like the same-aged sibling I always longed for as well as my best childhood-friend. I make this statement to ensure that my views are not misconstrued as someone who does not love nor appreciate animals.

Thirty-five years ago only about seventy-five percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer survived their disease at least five years and Tamoxifen, an effective anti-cancer medication was yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Today, only ten percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer will receive a prognosis of less than 5 years left to live, and Tamoxifen has been long since approved and endorsed as instrumental in treating women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. Thanks to the use of animal testing, receiving a diagnosis of cancer is no longer synonymous with a death warrant.

Taber’s Dictionary defines vivisection as the cutting of or operation upon a living animal for physiological investigation and the study of disease. In the early 1900's, animal testing started and a big emphasis was testing the effects of caffeine on animals. An exact cure for cancer is yet to discovered, yet thanks to the discoveries made possible by using animal testing, and patients are afforded a better quality of life along with more promising outcomes.

Supporters on both sides are passionate about their view and substantiation on the pros and cons of using animals for testing to further advance medicine. I personally feel that although this method of medical research is not perfect, it is very justified and I would like to take this opportunity to plea my case to people who condemn this practice. One of the most vocalized arguments against using animals in this manner is the fact that it is considered to be cruel and unjust punishment. In response to this concern, The Animal Welfare Act was passed and serves to regulate the use of many animals including but not limited to dogs and cats. Furthermore, it stands to reason that much of the human diseases/conditions that are in need of research are the same diseases/conditions that often afflict animals as well. This practice that is often criticized, actually has a duo purpose and no matter how it is argued, both populations benefit. The only way to truly gauge the outcome a medication will have on a human is to be able to test it on a living organism. In some instances human subjects can be utilized for the purpose of research, but depending on the unknown adverse effects, it is not always ethical to expose a human subject to a potentially life-threatening result. Yet the focus remains on how animal-testing is cruel and unjust and how this population is sacrificed solely for the betterment of the human population. Nothing could be further from the truth; both species stand to gain from this type of research.

Evidence gathered by scientists show that cell growth technology is a cheap way of cultivating cells for research, therefore, reducing the dependency on animal testing. Until this alternative testing is refined and sufficient to meet the needs to continue advancing and surpassing medical milestones, we have to continue to rely on what we have. My only remembrance of Nana is her making me oatmeal one time, this is a memory I will forever cherish in my heart. An opportunity I owe to the many sacrifices, whether perfect or flawed, that have helped provide hope for many, in a time of desperation.

University of Arizona, Down Syndrome Research Group

SwAEBR provided me with invaluable experience this summer.  It was my pleasure to be accepted as a research assistant by the Down Syndrome Research Group (DSRG), at the University of Arizona.    This organization is committed to furthering the understanding of cognitive challenges faced by persons afflicted with Down syndrome (DS).  Heading the program is Regents Professor, Dr. Lynn Nadel, who is world renowned for his expertise regarding cognition in persons with DS.  This program at University of Arizona, works in conjunction with other research centers including programs at Johns Hopkins and Emory University.  Some of the pursuits taking place at this time are variability in cognitive function in children with DS, the development of Alzheimer’s disease in patients with DS, the early development of language skill in children with DS as well as the effect of sleep problems on cognitive outcomes of patients with DS.

Dr. Jaime Edgin, Principle Investigator, has served as my main mentor during my internship.  She earned her PhD in 2003 from the University of Denver, and has an extensive background in working with children diagnosed with DS, Autism, as well as children born prematurely.  In addition, Dr. Edgin was honored as the 2008 recipient of National Down Syndrome Society Charles Epstein Award for research. 

I would also like to acknowledge Jenne Breslin, M. A. and Gina Mason, undergraduate student for guiding me and supporting me during my time at DSRG. 

Some of the assignments I have been given include learning to administer cognitive exams, learning about various methods of behavioral management as well as subject recruiting.  Thanks to DSRG, I even got to attend my first medical conference this summer.  In addition to my summer experience, I plan to do my Honor’s Internship with DSRG.  Dr. Edgin has done an excellent job of setting up a structured path of experiences for me, that will be helpful for my future career. 

I would like to thank SwAEBR for this incredible honor.  There is no doubt in my mind that the entries were impressive and the decision was tough, thank you for choosing mine. 

Finally, Dr. Edgin, thank you for believing in me and to all of the incredible staff at DSRG, for accepting me and contributing to my professional and academic growth.