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Monday, August 20, 2012

Animal experimentation and amblyopia: some thoughts about it

Recently there was some publicity about animal experiments performed on kittens by researchers at Cardiff University and people were asked to sign an online petition about it:

"Some kittens were raised in complete darkness while others were deprived of the sight in one eye by having their eyelids sewn shut. The kittens were then anaesthetised, artificially ventilated and paralysed with a drug to prevent eye movements. They were then subjected to highly invasive head surgery during which the skin was cut away, the skull was opened and the brain was exposed for recordings.

After various tests, all the kittens were killed and parts of their brain removed for analysis.

Sophisticated methods of studying vision and the neurologic processes underlying it in human beings already exist. Not only is this experiment inhumane, it is unnecessary for human health.

Ricky Gervais has joined the BUAV in calling for an end to these experiments: “I am appalled that kittens are being deprived of sight in one eye by having their eyelids sewn shut. I thought sickening experiments like these were a thing of the past. I support the BUAV in calling for this research to be stopped.

I am given to understand that this research at Cardiff University has been discontinued.

To explain why very young kittens have been used for research into the lazy eye condition, and why adults, whether cats or humans - cannot be used for it:

The lazy eye condition: Amblyopia, or "lazy eye", is the loss of an eye's ability to see detail. It is the most common cause of vision problems in children. If it is not tested for and treated early, say before age 5, there is likely to be permanent poor vision in the eye. 
I have amblyopia in my left eye. That eye has scarcely any usable vision and effectively sort of 'switches off' when my right eye is open, and leaves all the work to my right eye. This also means in practice that I cannot judge distance. So I've never learned to drive as I didn't feel it would be safe. 

I have been told that my amblyopia was caused by medical/nursing staff covering up that eye for some days when I was only a few days old, something to do with protecting it from a draught, or treating it for an infection - I don't know. - Anyway, the point is, that amblyopia is a developmental condition. It is caused very early in life when the messages from the eye along the optic nerve to the brain should become established and the brain trained to interpret them correctly. If the messages aren't being sent properly during that vital early developmental period then the brain learns to interpret them in a limited, muddled sort of way. I may be wrong, but I think of it as a problem of the optic nerve, rather than the eye itself. I was treated for it - the treatment was to try to force the lazy eye to work by covering up the other eye with a patch - but the treatment was too late and didn't work for me.

The research I have written about would have caused amblyopia in the kittens by preventing messages from the retina along the optic nerve to the brain in the critical period. Such research has been going on for many years. Professor Colin Blakemore, for example, spent some years on this kind of animal research into amblyopia. I don't understand why they do this animal research. To the best of my knowledge, and I stand to be corrected on this, no good ever comes of the research. Despite many years, loads of suffering, oodles of time and money, I've never heard of anything useful coming from it. Occasionally I have enquired over the years if there is any treatment now for my amblyopia, but there isn't. So who, apart from the researchers who are paid for this barbarism, benefits from it?

I have written about animal experiments before, but in relation to drug testing, which is falsely claimed to result in safer drugs to be used on people. I think that animal experimentation is rarely, if ever, of any use at all, and I'm against it, especially if it involves cruelty, as this does. A good book that gives some insight into cruel animal research is The Plague Dogs, by Richard Adams. I recommend it.