Count­less an­i­mals are sac­ri­ficed for ad­vances in health and med­i­cal re­search. Sci­ence Reporter CLARE PED­DIE talks to a young sci­en­tist who chose to lift the lid on the animal house and write about his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

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AS a PhD stu­dent at UniSA, Jack­son Ryan killed 563 mice over four years. This week he broke the sci­en­tists’ code of si­lence and de­scribed how it feels to kill in the name of sci­ence.

“No one talks about this stuff, you know,” he told The Ad­ver­tiser.

“You don’t know that sci­en­tists are sit­ting there in a tiny shoebox room killing mice for three to four hours a day. So just be­ing able to raise aware­ness in a way and say ‘Hey, this is what hap­pened to me’ is a good enough rea­son to write about it in the first place.”

His 1500-word fea­ture on the con­sumer tech­nol­ogy web­site CNET is a rev­e­la­tion, a win­dow on a world that is off-lim­its to the public.

“While the mice them­selves had it much worse than me, a heavy gloom hung over every sin­gle ‘kill day’,” he wrote.

“An over­bear­ing weight. It sapped my en­ergy. In the evening, I’d scrub my skin hard enough to leave red flushes, just try­ing to get the smell of anaes­thetic off me.”

Count­less an­i­mals are sac­ri­ficed for sci­ence but their short lives are rarely ac­knowl­edged in the news, aside from a pass­ing ref­er­ence to animal stud­ies or pre­clin­i­cal tri­als.

Dr Ryan is not calling for change to the well-es­tab­lished prac­tice of us­ing an­i­mals for sci­en­tific pur­poses, as he un­der­stands their im­por­tance, but in­stead presents an op­por­tu­nity for all to re­flect.

“How does some­one wres­tle with the fact that they do this as their job and what does that ac­tu­ally mean at the end of the day?” Dr Ryan told The Ad­ver­tiser yes­ter­day.

“If I had stayed in sci­ence would I still be killing mice?”

“I’d prob­a­bly try not to. I just didn’t like that process, it is a very clin­i­cal, very cold process.

“You have to re­move any sort of an emo­tion, not just be­cause they are other an­i­mals (like us), but just to get through the day, when you get up and you know you have to go and kill 15 mice.

“It takes a long time and throws you out of rhythm a bit.”

As a boy from Parafield Gar­dens, Dr Ryan was en­cour­aged to pur­sue sci­ence by an in­spi­ra­tional Year 11 bi­ol­ogy teacher, Mr Bulling, at Thomas More Col­lege in Sal­is­bury.

He went on to study for a PhD at UniSA un­der Pro­fes­sor Howard Mor­ris and As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Paul An­der­son in the School of Phar­macy and Med­i­cal Sci­ences, from 2012-16.

When he agreed to do a project on vi­ta­min D me­tab­o­lism, he knew it would in­volve animal mod­els of bone dis­ease.

“You can’t just sac­ri­fice hu­man be­ings, re­move and study their bones, but, with ethics ap­proval, you can do so with mice,” he said.

“So, every few weeks, I’d head to the univer­sity’s animal hous­ing fa­cil­ity, car­ry­ing a bucket of ice and sur­gi­cal tools.”

Vi­ta­min D is metabolised by the skele­ton to pro­mote growth and strength in adult­hood.

Dr Ryan’s PhD project in­volved com­par­i­son of genetically mod­i­fied mice to nor­mal mice.

He needed sam­ples of blood, bone and or­gans.

The CNET ar­ti­cle de­scribes the process from start to fin­ish, from the clothes he wore to the sights, sounds and smells of “animal urine and musk”.

Anaes­thetic gas numbs the pain but also en­ables sci­en­tists “to ex­tract blood from the heart while the mouse is still alive, giv­ing us a more ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the con­cen­tra­tion of min­er­als present in its blood at time of death”.

In graphic de­tail that Dr Ryan warns “may be dis­turb­ing to some read­ers”, he de­scribes strap­ping each mouse down be­fore open­ing up its chest cav­ity. it

“Still beat­ing, a heart pulses in front of you, no big­ger than the fin­ger­nail on your pinky. Upon see­ing it for the first time, all the air in your lungs rushes out of your mouth,” he writes.

“See­ing it for the 400th time the edge is dulled, slightly, but you never get com­fort­able.

“Your hands don’t shake any­more, but your chest still tight­ens.”

He goes on to de­scribe draw­ing 25mL of blood with a sy­ringe and de­liv­er­ing the fi­nal blow, in­tended to cause a rapid, pain­less nless death. Then it’s a mat­ter of f har­vest­ing or­gans and dis­pos­ing ng of the hol­lowed-out corpse in a snap-lock l kb bag. “As the fi­nal mouse is anaes­thetised, it be­came rou­tine for our lab­o­ra­tory to play Jeff Buck­ley’s song Hal­lelu­jah. By the time Buck­ley croons of the se­cret chord that David played, our sur­gi­cal tools are pinch­ing and pulling or­gans from the last ro­dent’s body and plac­ing them on ice,” writes Dr Ryan. “For the first time in hours, you re­mem­ber to breathe.” Mice, rats, guinea pigs and sheep are most com­monly used in South Aus­tralian re­search and teach­ing. Their use is reg­u­lated by the South Aus­tralian Animal Wel­fare Act 1985. Uni­ver­si­ties are li­censed un­der the act to ac­quire and use an­i­mals for their re­search and teach­ing pur­poses. Ex­per­i­ments must meet strict stan­dards and can only pro­ceed with ap­proval from in-house animal ethics com­mit­tees. The stan­dards are set down in the Aus­tralian code for the care and use of an­i­mals for sci­en­tific pur­poses from the Na­tional Health and Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil. Dr Ryan un­der­stands that mice and other an­i­mals are cru­cial to the med­i­cal re­search that saves hu­man lives. “They’re bi­o­log­i­cally very sim­i­lar to hu­mans, shar­ing an ex­tremely sim­i­lar set of genes … You can eas­ily ma­nip­u­late their genes to switch molec­u­lar path­ways and pro­teins on or off,” he writes. “You can in­ter­breed mice to achieve genetically iden­ti­cal strains.

They’re They in­dis­pensindispe able and yet, dis­pos­able. “We “W need d th them t to un­der­stand d t how drugs work in the mi­lieu of chem­i­cals, mol­e­cules and pro­teins that make up a body. Mice teach us how dif­fer­ent sys­tems re­spond to threats or treat­ments, some­thing cells in a Petri dish sim­ply can­not do. We’ve al­ready learned a lot from them.

“Genetically mod­i­fied mouse mod­els have shown us how tu­mours progress and metas­ta­sise, high­lighted more ef­fec­tive ways to treat au­toim­mune dis­ease and, in my own re­search, elu­ci­dated how vi­ta­min D in­ter­acts with spe­cific bone cells to mod­u­late bone turnover.”

Yet in a moment on stage at an in­ter­na­tional vi­ta­min D con­fer­ence, shar­ing his re­search with his peers, Dr Ryan re­alised he didn’t want to work in a lab­o­ra­tory any more.

He’d rather tell sto­ries as a sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tor.

He found work as a chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion show host, orig­i­nally on Game Fest and then Hang­ing With on the Dis­ney Chan­nel.

He per­formed a few “cool sci­ence ex­per­i­ments” along the way and started writ­ing for Al­lure me­dia, then giz­modo and now CNET in Syd­ney, where he started work as as­so­ciate editor just last week.

“It’s not mice that led me away from sci­ence,” Dr Ryan told The Ad­ver­tiser.

“But when you re­flect on it they def­i­nitely con­trib­ute to a real malaise, the weight of hav­ing to do sci­ence for the rest of your life,

“The pro­cesses I en­joyed more were not sit­ting at that lab bench or killing those mice.

“It was ac­tu­ally writ­ing about those sto­ries in­stead.

“When I had the chance to write jour­nal ar­ti­cles and write about my re­search, that’s when I was most happy to go to work.”

And he’ll never for­get those 563 mice who died to bring you this story.

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