This is the second of a two-part blog post that shares the journey of someone who, from heartache, found her purpose and passion for laboratory animal care and research.
As I shared on my last blog post, my path to finding a career, and my passion in animal research was unexpected. But now that I’m here, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I’m currently a Senior Departmental Trainer which means that I am responsible for taking the new hires and teaching them the ropes of working in the lab. We work on basic husbandry, including transferring animals to clean housing, measuring food consumption (measuring the amount of food an animal has eaten over a given time period), and proper animal handling. I show new staff how to check body weights of the animals, the frequency that we need to do it for each species, and evaluate when to submit requests for veterinary consults. Teaching how medications are administered is also an important part of the training. I teach dietary administration, as well as small animal eye exams, receipt and acclimation of new animals arriving into the facility, and urine collections.
I love what I do every day – I love working with the staff and the animals. But what I enjoy most about working in biomedical research in general, is knowing that we are saving lives, and helping people live longer, happier, and healthier. We are helping in the mission to find cures for many different diseases, for both humans and animals. Knowing that we are helping someone’s child, mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa is what motivates me. Every day is a new adventure!
A part of my company that I absolutely enjoy and am extremely happy to be engaged in, is the fantastic adoption program. Technicians or other people interested in giving animals a home outside of the lab are able to apply to adopt the animals. Everyone interested in adoption is required to complete an application that is first sent to an adoption committee before moving forward. Once approval has been given by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and after a brief interview process has taken place, they are able to take home their new adoptee. It is not uncommon for many laboratory researchers and technicians to become adoptive pet owners because we work with the animals on a daily basis and develop strong bonds with them.
In the five years I’ve been with my company, I’ve been able to work with a wide variety of species such as dogs, pigs, primates, cows, and for the last two years I’ve been working with small animals like rats and mice.
Benefiting humans and animals
Before I started working in biomedical research I did not know that animals and people could get many of the same illnesses. Working with animals in research is extremely important since different species of animals share many similarities with humans. Thanks to animal research, mainly with mice, cancer survival rates have continued to rise. Almost every major medical breakthrough is due to animal research. Animal research has helped develop modern vaccines against polio, tuberculosis, meningitis and the human papilloma virus (HPV) which has been linked to cervical cancer in women. Animal research is also responsible for the development of asthma inhalers. The animals we work with every day not only contribute to the health of humans, but they’re also helping find cures and treatments for other animals.
There have been several times that friends and family have told me we shouldn’t be doing research on animals. The conversation usually goes like this. “Have you taken any medication today?” “Yes?” “Okay, that drug was tested with a rat or a dog, perhaps a mouse or a monkey before it ever hit the pharmacy! Why? Because these drugs need to be tested for safety reasons before they are prescribed to you, your child, or even your dog. Would you feel safe taking a drug without knowing the side effects it could cause your family or pets?” When I ask them those questions, it usually appears as if a lightbulb turns on.
It is important to test new drugs and medical procedures to make sure that they are safe for humans, and without animals, that would be impossible to do. The thorough testing that current medications and procedures go through before they are made available to humans and pets. This is what makes it possible for people and animals to have medicines and treatments available when encountering illnesses and diseases.
I can pretty much guarantee that most, if not all of my colleagues feel the same way I do. I honestly don’t know anyone I work with who doesn’t believe that the humane use of animal models in biomedical research is extremely important. We all believe very strongly in the work that we do and know that we are contributing to research that will improve the quality of life for countless people, and animals too.
~by Heather Barnett, Laboratory Animal Researcher