Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Oh Nooooooooooooooo

Despite the fact that I spent my graduate school years studying a pathogen, I never participated in any animal work. For the most part this is because my lab did not house animals since the type of work we did really didn't warrant animal work until very far down the line. When the time did come, a collaborator would swoop in and handle the animal experiments for us. However, toward the end graduate school, the lab needed to do more and more work with animals and eventually got set up to perform the experiments "in-house." Fortunately for me, I never got involved.
My post-doc lab also studies pathogens and some of the researchers use an experimental animal model. I knew going into this job that there was a decent chance that I would get involved with animal work, but I decided I would deal with the possibility when it crossed my path.
Unfortunately, It crossed my path last week.
I do NOT want to do this. Not one tiny bit.
I am not against the use of animals, and I feel like the lab I am in uses them responsibly, but I just don't want to infect cute little mice with deadly bacteria and I don't want to sacrifice them.
Let me use a personal story to illustrate why I think this is going to be a nightmare from hell.
When grad. school lab decided to start using mice, I enrolled in the animal handling class. The class was fine and I learned how to handle the mice perform some injections. Things continued to go well until the woman helping me told me that all of the mice I injected with ketamine (I think that was the drug) were going to get euthanized after the class. Things went down hill pretty fast after that. I told the woman that I was comfortable with everything I learned and she let me leave. I barely made it out of the room before I burst into tears. I hurried to the nearest bathroom (thanking my lucky stars that I was no where near my department) and I tried to pull myself together. I thought all my emotions were under control until people in the lab started asking me about the class and I got upset again. IN THE FUCKING LAB. IN FRONT OF CO-WORKERS.
Now I am confronted with actually infecting and sacrificing animals myself. I don't know how I am going to pull myself together and do these experiments. I WILL find a way and I WILL do it. I just don't know how yet. I do know one thing though; I will not return to the lab afterward for fear of crying in front of a whole new set of people.


Thomas Joseph said...

Fun stuff. My first job as a technician involved sacrificing mice. This was a "few" years back and I was given three choices of *ahem* "incapacitating" the mice. The first was by breaking their neck (cervical dislocation), the second was by guillotine, the third was by asphyxiation with chloroform. After the incapacitation I needed to do a heart stick and get out the mL of blood I needed for my studies.

The first two were the preferred and suggested routes. Of course the guillotine ran the risk of them pulling their heads back and me cutting off their face and having to do it again. Plus I didn't relish having to squeeze them to get all the blood out. I couldn't bring myself to do the cervical dislocations, watching them pull on the cloth while I yanked on their tail. I tried, but couldn't do it.

So ... I gassed them. Probably cut a few years off my life as well I suppose. Serves me right.

I'm sure this helped you out a bunch. I hope you learn how to do cervical dislocations because I don't think they really allow you to use chloroform any longer. Do they let you do carbon dioxide asphyxiation?

Found The mouse in biomedical research by James G. Fox in Google books. Unfortunately only part of the section on euthanasia of mice is readable. I see they mention CO2, CD and guillotine (which they politely refer to as "decapitation").

microbiologist xx said...

Man, that sounds fucking awful. I've heard quite a few horror stories about decapitating mice with the guillotine. This is not a method used in this lab and I am very glad that I won't have do it.
The protocol is to use CO2 to kill them and then a secondary method to ensure that the mice are dead. CD was listed as an acceptable secondary method. Compared to your descriptions, this doesn't sound too bad.

ScientistMother said...

My first experience with animal research was on 10 day old rabbits.they are damn cute and cried so much when I first started, it was hard. then i reminded myself that I was trying to save a childs life by using this animal. It is normal to react like you did, and it will get easier.

Anonymous said...

Cool stuff...
The mice are cute, but only until you get bitten. After that, no mercy.
I don't know exactly what kind of work you're doing, but these would be my advice:
1) Wear wire-mesh gloves - at least until you're comfortable handling the animals.
2) If you're using an asphyxiation cage, make sure you fill it up with CO2 before you stick the animals in. Otherwise, it takes longer for them to die and they suffer needlessly.
3) Make sure you have plenty of CO2 in the tank before you start your experiment. I can't tell you the number of times I've started an experiment and then realized that I was out of CO2. I had to resort to cervical dislocation on live animals, which is no fun.

Animal work can be upsetting initially, but I think over the long haul, the bigger issue is becoming desensitized to the suffering. You don't treat the mice or rats cruelly, but callously. After five years of animal work for my PhD, it was not much more different than running a gel.

Cheer up. You're getting out of your comfort zone. You're learning new things, new techniques, new approaches. This is what a postdoc is for. You shouldn't be just doing the same shit you were as a grad student. And animal work is important. It'll open up new approaches to tackling problems. It'll make you more marketable in the long run...

Thomas Joseph said...

Oh hell, this reminds me ... you want to complain about mice? One of my first PhD projects revolved around piglets. Yep, we had to sacrifice cute baby pigs ... chop off their noses and blend them up.

Talk about traumatic.

And then boy could I tell you stories about the work we did with baboons ... no sympathy for those creatures though. They were nasty, mean, big fuckers. We didn't sacrifice them, but we did try to infect them (unsuccessfully).

Heh, here I was thinking that I never really did much work with animals yet I've worked with quite a few ... go figure.

post-doc said...

In the first year of my post-doc, I began working with animals and while I thought it was very important - and continue to do so - I realized I just couldn't do it. I struggled with it for quite some time - I'm sure I could find multiple blog posts on the matter - but finally decided that it wasn't a skill I wanted to develop.

I agree with the above comments - I've known several people who have adjusted and conducted amazing research while treating mice as well as possible. And it is a very marketable skill. But there are other projects to occupy your time if you find this too difficult. I do hope all goes well.

Mad Hatter said...

My PhD, postdoc, and current labs all do lots of animal work with mice and honestly, I've lost count of how many mice I've sacrificed by now. No one I know enjoys doing it, but animal models are sometimes the only way to study something.

Having said that, there are certain procedures I absolutely will not do because they make me feel ill. I've usually managed to get a labmate who isn't as upset by it to do that procedure for me in return for me helping them out with something else, or baking them tasty treats. Perhaps that's something you can try.

Incidentally, cervical dislocation as the primary method of euthanasia is no longer allowed at a lot of institutions. Which is just as well because it's much more difficult to learn and, I find, much more disturbing than using CO2.

EthidiumBromide said...

Somehow, everyone I've worked with seems to get through it. Please don't think I'm sick and twisted (I swear, I'm not), but I really miss doing the animal work. Not the sacrifice, but I'd take being down in the animal facility and dosing the animals any day over day in and day out watching my $@#*ing protein precipitate again and again and again no matter what I do....

I mean, at least I could get some data out of the animal work...

Hermitage said...

Hmm, wiser people than I have already left a lot of tips. But I'd just like to point out if you're sacrificing a litter, please, please, put mom out of the line of sight. 1) They notice and know what's going on when you sit there and kill and dissect their litters and 2) It delays the inevitable ptsd where mom finally goes freaking nuts and kills everything in sight. The only day I came close to crying was when I saw a breeder who would automatically round up all her litter, stick them in one corner of the cage, and then go hide in the opposite corner Every Time her cage was moved. *shudder*

Dr. A said...

Although I specifically said I did not want to do this during my interview, I ended up having to do animal work during my PhD. It was devastating to me each time, and never got easier.

I would have to psych myself up for each experiment and it would take me days to recover. I am so happy I don't have to do this anymore and hopefully never will.

Sorry I can't help or give you a pep talk but I think you and I are a lot a like when it comes to this. And truly, I don't think it *should* be easy. And I definitely would not be proud of being desensitized to animal work.

Luckily, your institution sounds like it has good regulations, I have witnessed some atrocities at certain labs. I am sure you will be as humane as possible, just try to keep in mind the greater good but don't let it become as second nature as running a gel!!

microbiologist xx said...

SM - Awww. 10 wk old mice. That would be hard. I will try to keep the overall goal in mind.

TR - Thanks for the tips. I certainly do NOT want to cause any needless suffering. That will just make it worse. Also, I totally agree, I should be learning new things and out of my comfort zone, and yes, a new skill set never hurt anyone. I am going to give it a shot and see how it goes. That's all I can really do.

TJ - Piglets...ok, but freaking BABOONS! Why baboons?

post-doc - I hope I can make the adjustment. I don't mind feeling bad about it, in fact, I think I should feel bad about it, but I do hope I can refrain from crying.

MH - I am not sure what I can bargain with at this point, but it is something I am going to keep in mind. So far none of the procedures seem too horrible, but I may feel completely different about it when I am doing it.
I am surprised about the comments regarding CD. I've always been told that it is quick and easy, but that certainly doesn't seem to be the consensus in these comments. I guess if it were quick and easy, it would still be a preferred method.

EtBr - I don't think you are sick or twisted. :) I am glad to hear that so many people you know have managed to move past this. I am glad to hear it.

Hermitage - OMG! That is so sad. I got a little teary just reading your comment. That was actually something that was covered in the training, but it was discussed more in terms of not letting the mice that were going to be sacrificed see you sacrificing the mice before them. I had not considered the breeder. Thanks for pointing it out.

Dr. A - I am pretty sure this is going to be difficult for me and I think it will take a long time to adjust. Also, I completely agree. While my goal is to control my emotions and do these experiments, I do not want to become completely desensitized to it. I think killing anything, no matter how "good" the reason, should make you feel bad, but I can also see how people might want to shut themselves off from those emotions. I will certainly keep an eye on humane treatment. I think that being as humane as possible will make the experience more tolerable.

Mad Hatter said...

Oops...I think I may have accidentally closed the browser tab before publishing my comment. Anyway, here it is again:

CD is quick and easy...once you've learned how to do it correctly. Problem is, you can't learn it by watching someone--you have to actually try it and practice it. Most people I know have to do it many times before they get it right, and unfortunately, when it's not done right, it can be very, very bad. You really don't want to know all the different ways I've seen people fuck this up.

Another thing that Hermitage's comment reminded me of: CO2 asphyxiation doesn't work on young pups. So if you're going to be sacrificing pups, check with the vets at your animal facility to find out what your institution's recommended method is.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mad Hatter - CD is quick and easy - as long as you know what you're doing. I'm curious as to why people think suffocating a mouse or rat is more humane... Admittedly, it's easier on the investigator.

Mad Hatter's also right about pups. You have to gas them forever. The only quick way is to cut their heads off with a sharp pair of scissors. And if you want blood, you can't do cardiac puncture (too small). You have to squeeze it out of their severed bodies. It's awful. The little buggers are SOOOOO cute!

Thomas Joseph said...

TJ - Piglets...ok, but freaking BABOONS! Why baboons?A couple of reasons.

1. No good animal models for the disease we were studying.

2. They were there and seemed like a viable option (at the time). Turns out they were not.

We didn't dwell on the issue for very long but it does make for some interesting conversation when I bring it up.

Thomas Joseph said...

I'm curious as to why people think suffocating a mouse or rat is more humane... Personally, I NEVER said it was more humane, as a matter of fact, I think I allude to just the opposite. Not that I think the methods is absolutely draconian either. So with that said, when you're looking into developing a vaccine for third world children and your biggest issue is being faced with getting good results versus suffocating some mice ... I think I sleep fairly well at night.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I've never had to do it, and I'm glad for that.

I have a good friend who's a veterinary physiologist, and who's worked with / supervised literally hundreds of students and postdocs who do animal work. She says that people who absolutely do NOT want to do animal work, who cry and stress and worry about it, are the very people you should try to recruit to do it, because they care more and cause less suffering. Some of her stories about people at the other end of the spectrum are just terrible.

She equates it to the way that the people who seek political power should not be allowed to have it, and the best prime minister would be some person randomly selected by a computer who is not allowed to say no!

microbiologist xx said...

cath - Thanks for sharing this info. I plan on making every effort to reduce suffering. It's the least I can do.

Anonymous said...

I think I sleep fairly well at night.Damn straight! I did five years of animal work, and am damn proud of the work we did, and the papers we published. So there.