Monthly Archives: June 2015

“Microfluidic” Chip Mimics Human Organs So Animals Won’t Have To

I never hold my breath on announcements of new technology, but if this pans out it would be a grand step forward towards removing our reliance on animal testing.

Called Organs-On-Chips, it’s exactly what it sounds like: A microchip embedded with hollow microfluidic tubes that are lined with human cells, through which air, nutrients, blood and infection-causing bacteria could be pumped. These chips get manufactured the same way companies like Intel make the brains of a computer. But instead of moving electrons through silicon, these chips push minute quantities of chemicals past cells from lungs, intestines, livers, kidneys and hearts.

The primary purpose of the chips really appears to be “reduction of use of animals in pharmaceutical testing” (rather than, say, complementing animal testing, or simply making vast sums of cash), and they’ve started a company called Emulate in order to market it.  It’s lovely to see someone deliberately (rather than accidentally, or grudgingly) moving in that direction.

Further reading: Here’s a little more in-depth review from the journal Nature Biotechnology.  Also worthwhile: Emulate’s “publications” section, with journal articles describing the chips’ use as models for various human organs.

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Cute Videos Dangerous Without Context

slowlorisbeingtickledMy Facebook feed, like those of most people I know, is filled with videos of animals being cute in various ways, often without context.  I have seen baby chimps feeding baby tigers, the infamous “mama tiger with piglets” photo, and many others.  I try not to forward these videos and images, because the lack of context often conceals terrible things.  Today I saw another example: the “slow loris being tickled” video, excerpted in the gif at right.

Here is a brief summary of why this apparently-very-cute video should not be forwarded.  Basically, the lack of context makes this video appear to show a cuddly pygmy loris engaged in a playful interaction with its owner, and implies that lorises make good pets and enjoy human interaction.  This message is incorrect and spreading it can cause trouble for both lorises and humans.

In fact, the arms-raised posture you see in this video is a defensive one used when a loris is frightened.  This intimidated loris is feeling uncomfortable and is raising its arms for better access to the brachial glands in its armpits.  It can lick these areas to create a “venom” which can damage other lorises and cause a serious reaction in humans.

Lorises do not make good pets.  They, like most wild animals, are not designed to live in human habitations and they do not enjoy being handled.  The (illegal) pet trade (along with the trade in “traditional medicine“) is decimating the populations of wild lorises.  “Pet” lorises often have their teeth forcibly removed to reduce their ability to produce a venomous bite.  They often die of stress even before being sold as pets.  Reposting the above video without context only reinforces the message that lorises make good pets, encouraging more people to buy them, and fueling the trade.

What can you do to help?  Before reposting a cute video of an exotic animal doing something cute, do a simple google search to try to get some context.  Do not repost videos or pictures of exotic animals being treated as pets.  Instead, point out why they do not reflect reality and/or proper treatment of the animals involved.  Don’t just be a link in the reposting chain — break it.

For contrast, here is a video of a domestic kitten genuinely enjoying a playful interaction with a human.  As a domesticated animal, this kitten is descended from generations of animals used to coexisting with humans, and makes a great pet.  Instead of reposting a video like the loris video, consider posting a video like this one.

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