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Animal research has long been a source of contention among environmentalists, ethicists, and members of the scientific community. The use of animals in scientific study has been labeled as a type of cruelty that breaches animals' fundamental rights as a life form. However, animal research and non-human models have been critical for scientific advancement and medicinal trials for millennia.
In accordance with this, many psychology researchers have studied the treatment of animals used in animal research to ensure that their welfare is maximized while in captivity. The degree of injury done on the animals varies according to the research for which the animals are utilized. However, the argument for its use are generally weigh based on the benefits against the risks in the research outcome with implementation of strict humane endpoints. Animals in research are protected by the Animal Welfare Act and the act enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) animal and plant inspection service. The animals subjected to research after approval are usually subjected to appropriate living arrangements with adequate social interactions and basic living needs. (Capitanio, 2017)
A strong justification of animal use in psychological research is often reasoned as ensuring the safety and efficacy of a certain experimental drug use or potential treatment tool especially in neurological disorder and psychiatric diseases. Animal research is use to protect human beings from suffering unknown adverse side effects thereby reducing harm to both the control and intervention group. One example of this is a recent research by Rahmati, Kiasalari, Roghani, Khalili, & Ansari (2017) who had used rats treated with scopolamine which commonly causes memory impairment to research the efficacy of Lavandula officinalis, a form of lavender extract in finding its effects on depression and anxiety. In relation to the topic of behavioral research, depression and anxiety are a cause and effect in diseases such as Alzheimer’s or could be a stand alone as a psychiatric diagnosis. Often, chronic diseases such as cancer, heart failure and respiratory diseases can also precipitate a patient to experience depression and other anxiety disorders. (Rahmati et al, 2017)
The use of animal research in the above example was justified as the use of scopolamine could potentially wipe away an individual’s memory or cause memory loss in fragments thus causing undue and more harm in individuals who already suffers memory loss especially when concerning the intervention group. It is also crucial to test the effects of lavender extract for its pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics before usage on patients whom may benefit from the outcome of this research.
Evolution theorists Charles Darwin had proposed that all life forms evolve from simple organisms to complex organisms such as human beings through the natural selection theory. Hence it is believed that animals are evolutionary creatures that bear similarities to human beings especially mammals such as mice, dogs, and rabbits who are all commonly used research animals. (Capitanio, 2017) This allows such animals to be good candidates for research on human psychology and behavior. The intricacy of their behaviors and physiology with similar organs provides good learning point as human substitution. This is thus another justification of using animal research.
An example of this is the proposed and highly commendable use of zebra fish to learn more about the pathogenesis on autistic spectrum disorder which is highly polygenic and involves the interaction between genetics, environmental and behavioral factors. (Rahmati, Kiasalari, Roghani, Khalili, & Ansari, 2017.) The pathogenesis of autistic spectrum disorder is not well known till date and treatment outcomes based on behavioral intervention than on pharmacology. Zebra fish had been shown to be promising in terms of its high flexibility in displaying its phenotype and behavioral changes according to social experiments. (Kalueff, Stewart, & Gerlai, 2014). This make it a highly adaptable species that can benefit the human population as well as justify the needs of using animals in research.
The study of behavioral physiology is a subdivision of biological psychology or behavioral neuroscience. In behavioral physiology, human behavior and its biological roots of physiological psychology are studied. Researchers of behavioral physiology studies about the interaction or association between human physiology and their thought processes, behavioral instincts, and feelings. This includes studying the relations of mental disorders, addictions and substance abuse. The goals of research in behavioral physiology is thus to be both a good psychologist and physiologist by using the generalization and the deduction theory. There are many ways a research is conducted for behavioral physiology such as the use of brain imaging, psychophysiology such as electroencephalography (EEG), neuropharmacology and genetic engineering.
Genetic engineering is often used in the study of human behavior by manipulating genes in animal research to explain the brain-behavior mechanism. There are two common genetic methods use in genetic studies in biological psychology namely twin studies, identical (monozygotic) or fraternal (dizygotic) and its concordance rates and genetic mutations on knocked out genes in modifying animal genes. The introduction of human genetic material into an animal for research named the genetic replacement technique is commonly carried out to understand the effects of certain behavior of that particular gene.
The genetic mutations in an animal can be done by “knocked-down”, “knocked in” and “knocked-out”. In this genetic method, gene mutations can be targeted and its functional role deduced specifically. Genes are genetic material form from proteins that made up chromosomes and are linked to behavioral changes by the chemical compound or neurotransmitters in the brain. A hypothesized gene on a chromosome that has been selected to be made inoperative by replacing or disrupting the codon exons of a gene usually with the use of a selected drug marker is known as “knocked-out” gene. (Manis, 2007) However, this method is only limited to the loss of genetic material to implicate the change and behavior of the tested individual where research on a mutated gene is restricted. Thereafter, “knocked-in” was invented by using a technique to insert mutated gene endogenously into the organism being research to test the effects of the gene outcome. (Manis, 2007) Another genetic method introduced, “knocked-down”, involves silencing the targeted gene by the introduction of RNA to interfere with genetic expression. (Manis, 2007)
An example of genetic “knocked-out” research is the use of mice in detecting the social gate receptors of a human being. (Jacobs, & Tsien, 2017) The activity of N-Methyl-D- aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors are known to be for neuronal abilities such as learning and memory. However, behavioral skills such as motivation to socialize has been postulated to involve the activity of NMDA receptors due to coupling with dopamine. High levels of dopamine is involved in pleasuring activities for the individual such as food intake, sexual activities and drug use while the dysregulation or down-regulation of dopamine has shown to increase incidence of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The researchers knocked-out NMDA receptors to test for the mice social abilities.
Another such example of gene knocked-out method is the recent study from Ceglia et al (2017) on the effects of chronic plasticity in predicting the continuous use of cocaine by conditioned place preference (CPP). The WAVE1 is a protein highly expressed in the forebrain and found to be dephosphorylated after acute cocaine induction following chronic usage of cocaine. Dopamine and NDMA receptors antagonists input slows down the phosphorylation of WAVE1 when induced by acute cocaine use. (Ceglia et al, 2017). The knocked-out (KO) WAVE1 mice has been observed to cause a decreased of conditioned place preference towards cocaine. There is also a decreased in excitatory synapses suggesting WAVE1’s role in maintaining reward stability with a feedback mechanism to the glutamate pathways. (Ceglia et al, 2017).
Capitanio, J. (2017). Animal studies in Psychology. American Psychology Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2017/01/animal-studies.aspx
Ceglia, I., Lee K.W., Cahill, M.E., Graves, S.M., Dietz, D., Surmeier, D.J., … Kim, Y. (2017). WAVE1 in Neurons Expressing the D1 Dopamine Receptor Regulates Cellular and Behavioral Actions of Cocaine. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, PNAS, 114(6), 1395-1400.
Kalueff, A.V., Stewart, A.M., & Gerlai, R. (2014). Zebrafish as an emerging model for studying complex brain disorders. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 35(2), 63-75.
Jacobs, S., & Tsien, J.Z. (2017). Adult Forebrain NMDA Receptors Gate Social Motivation and Social Memory. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory,138, 164-172.
Manis, J.P. (2007). Knock out, Knock in, Knock Down – Genetically Manipulated Mice and the Nobel Prize. The New England Journal of Medicine, 357(24), 2426-2429.
Meshalkina, D.A., Kizlyuk, M., Kisel. E., Collier, A.D., Echevarria, D.J., Abreu, M.S., … Kalueff, A.V. (2017). Zebrafish models of autism spectrum disorder. Experimental Neurology. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Allan_Kalueff/publication/313314512_Zebrafish_models_of_autism_spectrum_disorder/links/58959530aca2721f0da47db7/Zebrafish-models-of-autism-spectrum-disorder.pdf
Rahmati, B., Kiasalari, Z., Roghani, M., Khalili, M., & Ansari, F. (2017) Antidepressant and anxiolytic activity of Lavandula officinalis aerial parts hydroalcoholic extract in scopolamine-treated rats, Pharmaceutical Biology, 55(1), 958-965.
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