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When I was around the age of 10, my parents thought it best for me to have a tiny little animal, besides my dog, to take care of and nurture. They took me to the pet store to pick out an animal that I thought was the best choice. I chose a guinea pig, and named him Rodney. It turned out that Rodney was actually a female guinea pig that was pregnant with 3 babies. When they were born, the first two were perfectly healthy, and feeding. However, Rodney had stepped on the last guinea pig we later named Penny, because of her copper coat. Penny had a severe spinal arthritis that stopped the use of her hind legs. The choice was to either put her to sleep, or give her medication. We tried the medication in hopes of saving her life, and it worked. Within a week of using the drug Prednisone, Penny’s back legs had started to function once again, and she was able to move about her cage just like her siblings. But guinea pigs aren’t the only animals able to take it, so are humans, and it has effective results for certain diseases.
Prednisone is a synthetic hormone commonly referred to as a cortical steroid, usually given to treat severe allergies, arthritis, asthma and skin conditions, but may also be used to treat other conditions determined by a doctor. It works as an immunosuppressant. The immune system protects you against foreign bacteria and viruses attacking your body. In some illnesses the immune system may become overactive and cause undesirable effects. An illness like this is referred to as an autoimmune disease. Prednisone suppresses the production of antibodies. However, this can make fighting an infection much harder, but will stabilize the immune system if it is overactive. Prednisone also acts as an inflammatory reducing substance similar to cortisone, which is a common hormone the body naturally produces.
When my dad had a brain tumor on his pituitary gland, the gland that regulates light and cycles dealing with light, they decided to make the malignant mass out by drilling up through his nasal bone. After his entire pituitary gland was take out plus another quarter of his brain, they reconstructed his nose and sealed his skull. The procedure was flawless except the area became very inflamed and presented a new danger to my dad. They put him on the life saving drug Prednisone to reduce the swelling. Had the drug not been tested on animals to find the contributing factors that make this drug work, my dad may have not have lived to see me or my brother grow up, or been with my mom to keep her company throughout the years.
Prednisone however, is a drug that has a high adverse effect list. Side effects include insomnia, violent mood changes, and susceptibility to infections, hypertension, and skin changes such as more bruising or longer healing rate, osteoporosis, cataracts, and severe mental depression. Luckily my dad only had high blood pressure known as hypertension as a side effect.
Some say that animal testing is a sin among the medical world, but medicines have been made with the help of animals testing them to benefit people like my dad, who’s life was spread with the help of this animal tested drug. An interesting fact is that during a 70-year normal human life cycle, 600 chickens, 5 cows, 30 sheep, and 30 pigs represent the number of animals a thin person will eat. That during our lifetime, only 3 mice and 1 rat will be used on our behalf to create and test a new medicine. And other animals used in testing will only amount to a tiny fraction of human who takes the tested drug. We can contrast this with the fact that during our 70-year life, pest control will kill 8 rats and 8 mice using poison.
Because of biomedical research using animals, my dad and my pet guinea pig named Penny benefited from the drug Prednisone, and have lived beyond what most doctors and veterinarians said they would. Using animals in a way that isn’t going to be an experiment, but a way to find cures for diseases that may take away someone’s father, mother, or beloved pet are worth the casualties of a laboratory animal.
Over this summer, I had the pleasure of working in the lab of Dr. Gail Burd in the molecular and cellular biology department. I watched and worked with Ellen, the lab senior research specialist, and Andrew, the lab technician, do their experiments and then was able to do the same kind on my own. This method is known as "see one, do one, teach one" method. I was able to cut DNA plasmids by using restriction enzymes to linearize the fragment of DNA we needed to isolate. I then took the linearized DNA and transcribed it into antisense DIG labeled RNA probes which we used to do whole mount in situ hybridization onXenopus laevis (frog) embryos. The final staining patterns showed what cells were actively expressed in that gene.
My special project was N-CAM, which I saw all the way through from cultivating bacteria with a plasmid containing the gene placed in them, to linearizing it, to making RNA probes used for the whole mount in situ of an embryo. N-CAM is a gene that affects the neural tissue in certain parts of the brain. When N-CAM is over-expressed, more neural tissue forms, and when under-expressed, less neural tissue is found. I was given some reading to do in the beginning of my internship which helped me understand what over and under-expressing a gene can do.
I also worked with Lauren, last year’s SwAEBR contest winner, on many projects and she showed me how to do some things around the lab. I was even able to help and teach Susan, another high school student who came to work at the lab, the same methods I was taught.
I am very grateful to Dr. Burd, Ellen and Andrew for taking the time to show me what lab research is out to do; to make the world a better place by understanding the genome and making the process of lab work fun and exciting. I had a wonderful time in the lab, and this experience will ultimately stay with me for the rest of my life.