Last week I read about a Japanese robot with a hell of a niche function: It makes lab rats depressed. By bullying them. Between the robot, my love/hate relationship with Japan, and the giant mirror held up to the face of society, this was too good to pass up. Though as I began researching for the comic, things quickly became problematic.
By itself, this robot, dubbed WR-3, is comical. It’s over the top in how convoluted the means to achieve the ends are. It’s practically a parody of scientific research. But before reading the paper, it had never occurred to me that making animals depressed had to be a thing. It wasn’t long after a jaunt through the history of animal models in depression, stress, and anxiety research, that I found myself feeling pretty down.
Most of the comics on this blog are about two things: Space and Animals. I love animals, and animal testing has never sat easy with me. I have always begrudgingly accepted it as necessary for possibly life-saving research*, but nonetheless it bugs me.
Thankfully, there are ethical codes of conduct in place to control and regulate how animals are treated in lab conditions, and research into the efficacy of animal models is ongoing. Studies already suggest that mouse models are misleading in areas of research such as sepsis, inflammation, and trauma, and in 2011, the NIH stopped funding research on chimpanzees**. John Hopkins even has a Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.
Looking forward, advances in genome and stem cell research could mean that animal models may be thrown out all together in favor of personalized medicine. After all, what better test subject than yourself?
*Testing for cosmetics, on the other hand, is downright reprehensible.
**While not a flat-out ban on chimp research, it did send a clear message that alternatives must be sought.