The Immunologist needs the mouse. The mouse does not need the Immunologist.
An Immunologist studies the function of the immune system. They are interested in how a foreign agent (the antigen) interacts with the host's immune system. To do this on a small scale one must make extended use of the mouse. Extended use means kill. In the end it means kill. I have blood on my hands too. And it doesn't bother me at all, just so you know where I stand on the lab mouse/animal rights issue. Not literally blood, but blood on paper. I have never personally asphyxiated a mouse with CO2 or dislocated it's little neck, and then proceeded to open its peritoneal cavity with a scalpel, but I have completed paperwork that was faxed to someone who did. What you do, what I did, is write out a set of very simple instructions. B is bleed; V is vaccinate; T is terminate.
Week 0 B/V Week 2 B/V Week 4 B/T
It is important to get that first bleed before you put anything into the animal so that you can know where your baseline is. So when you see a response, you see, you know where you started and basically how much the mouse tried to fight this invader, immunologically speaking. And then you wait, and give them a little more, just to remind the system that you challenged it the first time because it may forget and pretend none of this is happening. The first V is the Prime, and the second V is called the Boost. A very positive word.
And then you bleed one more time before you terminate. The T for a mouse is E. E stands for Exanguination. This is the decapitation and subsequent removal of all cranial blood of a head bearing being. The thing is, mice don't have a lot of blood to begin with, so you need to get all of that blood to find out how well your antigen worked at challenging the immune system. But it's all done rather humanely. That is, there is no small sized version of the Guillotine which both kills the mouse and provides the head free of its bodily constraints in one fell swoop. Like in the Sammy Hagar video for "I Can't Drive 55", where the judge has exactly what I'm talking about, a miniature Guillotine, on his bench, and is using it to chop off the end of his cigar. Sammy sees this and of course flinches as he rubs his neck, so that we the viewer get it. So the mouse is a tool. You would think that comparing a mouse to a human is futile, but the immune systems are apparently well matched. There are other factors such as animal handling, cost, storage, etc... that make the mouse so attractive, immunologically speaking.
My argument for the PETA people who are no doubt reading this is simple. Would you like to find the cure for diseases that kill humans, or let the mice free and have us nasty humans shuttled back to the middle ages? The middle ages, where the rat was responsible for the spread of the Plague? Rat being cousin to the mouse. Lab rat. Close enough. That's ironic. Maybe not truly ironic, more like Alanis Morisette ironic.
I am the new spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Industry.
What goes unseen here is the legal part of it. The Food and Drug Administration would not even have time to laugh if a company submitted a proposal without the support of non-human animal data. It is built in to the process, fortunately for those humans who volunteer for a Phase 1 Clinical Trial (safety). The last place I worked actually got mail bombs from extreme animal rights activists protesting the testing of drugs on animals. There is an urban legend of the animal activists who set free an entire lab's animal population. Not mice, but say a primate group. The monkeys are then killed by traffic when they begin to roam the city. I don't know if this is really true. But if I've thought of it, someone else probably has too, and someone else may have done it. It's possible. Stereotypes may suck but they are true more than half of the time.
I was in a meeting about a year ago, kind of spaced out due to both the Monday and Morning parts of the Monday Morning Meeting. Someone started talking about these guinea pigs they were using for an animal study. Not the mouse as guinea pig, but the guinea pig as guinea pig. I makes sense that they would have to get on the slab too. After all their name is synonymous with being tested upon blatantly.
But back to our mouse. I saw recently in a lab a calendar where each month has a different strain of mouse featured in a nice close-up color photo. A pre-Exanguination photo. Similar in quality to a Playboy calendar, maybe with less airbrushing, as mice don't get acne on their ass. The mouse to the immunologist is like a copy of Hustler is to a 12 year old boy. The mouse and the Hustler both get used for a short period of time, and are then discarded until needed again. The mouse and the Hustler have no power to stop this from happening, and really have no idea. If you put a mouse outside, it will leave you. If you put the Hustler outside, someone will take it, and that is the same as it leaving you. The mouse in this case will not be used for its primary intention, but it's a safe bet that the Hustler will be, not matter how many times it has been used before. No matter how many pages are stuck together, which is no joke. Unless the 12 year old boy is very careful, and they're not, the pages are going to get stuck together. I suppose if there were any boys of this age that had greater access to pornography, this might happen less, just because you don't need to just have that one mag. You still have to have forethought and the presence of mind to pay attention to the now mobile gel-like substance that will defy the laws of vector physics and sometimes even gravity. But you're just not worried about all that, until it's too late. Getting semen out of or off of any surface, fabric or material is nearly impossible. It's durable. The analogy is Rubber Cement.
They used to make Rubber Cement by dissolving milk protein in Hexane. According to the Elmer's website, they no longer use horse hooves or other animal products, including milk protein in their glue. But they used to, and I wouldn't be too surprised if they still do, but say they don't. Regardless, in the past they did, and now have found alternate sources of protein I'm sure. The concept is brilliant. You have this protein floating around in Hexane, an organic solvent. Once you slap it on a surface, the Hexane starts to evaporate and you are left with just the protein. So you get two surfaces like this, press firmly, and the resulting protein-protein interaction is what holds the two pieces of whatever together. Forever. It makes you wonder how the inventor of Rubber Cement got the idea.
Thank you Dr. Craft for being not only the best teacher I have ever had, but also being the biggest asshole pain in the ass on the subject of learning Physical Chemistry in the history of asshole pains in the asses on the subject of learning Physical Chemistry the planet may ever see.
How did a discussion of mice as guinea pigs morph into a vision of a kid in a bathroom with the brazier section of the Sears catalogue now permanently marred with a suspension of sugar, protein, and DNA? That's what I'd like to know.
As long as we're on the subject....
At the last job, we had a slew of methods we'd use to determine things about our product. Size, levels of residual stuff like Nickel, Saccharide concentration. Our conversation one day degraded to the hypothetical of whose sperm had higher levels of protein and sugar. The one with the highest value(s) would of course be the winner. The great thing is, we already had beautifully developed methods designed specifically for just this. Fully validated methods ready for FDA inspectors to pry into. Not the same sample mind you, a vaccine is a far cry from a pool of sperm, but they do have more than a few similarities. We had one method for measuring Saccharide (sugar) concentration, and one for measuring protein concentration. Both very straight forward, chemically simple methods. I wish that I could say that we did the experiment, that we came back the next day with a sample ready for proper dilution, pipetting, and analysis. But I can't. I would love to know what my levels are, I just wasn't sure I wanted to know what his levels were. Even if I'd won. That is some information that you will not ever get out of your head. Every time I would then think of Derek (his real name), I would have 4.38 mg/mL sucrose, and 1.23 mg/mL protein measured against a BSA standard immediately come to mind. Trust me when I say that I don't need that. Imagine the feelings of inadequacy one might feel if there was that information compounded with a losing team. 1.14 mg/mL sucrose and 3.24 mg/mL protein. I made these numbers up for the sake of this discussion. Enough said.
I may be slightly twisted, but it makes me happy that the McDonald's Corporation recently made public the fact that they have always, always been putting meat juice in their french fry formulation. For flavor. That alliteration is unintentional. Not that they made it public, but that there was such an outcry from the Vegetarian Community. It surprises me that they were surprised. Its McDonald's. Remember the Styrofoam containers? If ever there was a corporation which would try to get away with everything it could until it became economically suicidal, it is McDonald's. There is a reason why they are permanently engrained in our culture. For the record, I love me a Big Mac. You get one with extra sauce, and then get a side of Tartar sauce for the fries. Nasty. Heart attack nasty. But soooo good. They'll give you a hard time about the Tartar sauce, but hold the line, make them put it in a courtesy cup. See, we all have our own little McDonald's fetishes. And until recently, so did a lot of vegetarians. My argument is that if you consider yourself a vegetarian, you have no business being at or near a McDonald's. If you go to eat french fries at a McDonald's, you have no business calling yourself a vegetarian. Even if they're the new meat juice free kind.
I am proud to say that I was fired from McDonald's in 1988. I deserved it too. I would stand there and look out into the restaurant while all around me was evidence of the last rush. Lettuce, rehydrated onions, pickles strewn about the stainless steel bench we used to assemble food on. The guy that fired me was short and wore his sideburns to precisely the allowed length for a McDonald's employee, which in 1988 was to the bottom of the earlobe. Steve was his name. And he was bald too. Short and bald with sideburns and 35 and working at McDonald's. That's a lot to deal with at 35. In Steve's defense, he was a manager, and probably made decent money for Northeastern Michigan in 1988. I'm sure I also stood there thinking: Why in the hell am I working here again? The thought of quitting didn't occur to me until after Steve, looking up at me with those deep brown eyes, and those long brown sideburns, said that we're gonna have to let you go. It was new uniform day, and I was semi-excited to be getting a cotton based uniform to replace my polyester one, which came with flared pants, a loathsome thing to me at age 16, which I would dutifully pin together in a tapered fashion before work each day. I want to slap my 1986-1989 self for some of the shit I wore out of the house.
The big slap would be the Chess King sweater that was tan on the body, dark brown on the arms, and had this flyboy patch over the shoulder. It also had a star patch on the chest, over the heart. When I say flyboy, I don't mean a picture of a plane, or even just the word flyboy. No. This was a guy who was a flyboy, as a patch. He had the goggles and the bomber jacket, all of it. An amazing level of detail for a patch. Add some white pants for good measure. Chess King is out of business and McDonald's is not.
I say I would slap my younger, no-idea self, true, but if I ever see a 16 year old kid wearing any outfit similar to that in scope or style, I will silently watch as he walks by and consider it my lucky day.