Fact: virtually no new medicine or surgery will come to the American public any time soon unless it has first made the rounds of animal laboratories. Every piece of medical news you read is but a few steps removed from animal studies.  And yet, despite their central role in medical progress, despite the efforts of animal rights advocates to shine a light on these animals, their role remains mostly unknown, unremarked, unthanked.   

When medical advances are announced to the general public, the animals usually stay backstage, unnoticed. We want to look forward --- how will this new medical finding help me or my family? By the time new medicines are approved for release, the animal studies have long since given way to years of human clinical trials. Few scientists want to darken the moment by saying “My colleagues and I sure did kill a lot of animals bringing this work to fruition.”

They might help themselves if they did. They might generate a lot more public support for their animal experiments if they constantly reminded us all of the animal work they do --- but that’s a topic for a future blog entry.

Hundreds of vets and thousands of professional animal caregivers work with scientists to brainstorm how to keep laboratory animals as healthy and happy as possible in a system that relies on them getting sick precisely on the scientists’ timetable.

Glioblastoma killed Edward Kennedy this summer: How do you study this deadly brain cancer in animals? How much have animals played in developing the few treatments that are remotely effective?  And while you’re using them, can you preserve any semblance of health and welfare for the mice whose lives we are sacrificing?

I am a veterinarian, working with animals in laboratories for nearly 30 years now. It’s an odd and challenging job. Brainstorming with scientists on how to use animals in the most humane way possible is how I spend my days. I’m launching this blog to tell readers more about those animals and what it means to take their welfare seriously in our pursuit for knowledge and for cures.

Maybe this blog will help you appreciate medical science better if you understand more of the complex ways in which it’s done. Maybe it will help you appreciate those animals behind-the-scenes more. And though the ones to thank for any new medicine that’s released are long gone by that time, perhaps you can “pay it forward” by insisting that future animal work meet the highest possible standards. I’ll be writing a lot on those standards (as I did in my 2004 book, What Animals Want). I will try to explain how animals have been used in various medical news stories as they emerge. I will describe the animal welfare challenges I see in those studies, with my prescriptions for how we can make those animals’ lives better.

Thanks for reading.

-- Larry Carbone