158 Days To Mt. Kilimanjaro – Parkinson’s Disease Research – Animal Testing

Since writing the very first post of Parker’s Climb in July of 2010, I always knew in the back of my mind that one day I would be faced with addressing the subject of animal testing for medical research. I guess I could avoid the subject, I could skip it altogether, in an effort not to offend anyone. Tonight, I read an article that is so well written that I decided it is finally time to put my thoughts into words.

Before I go further just let me say this – at various stages in my life, I have written in journals as a way of expressing my inner thoughts! If I have a perplexing life situation, I have always been able to work through it by writing it all out! My journals up to the start of Parker’s Climb have always been hand written. I guess I am faced with the most perplexing situation of my lifetime – therefore I chose to climb a mountain – to raise funds for the cure – and to write.

There is not a human being on earth that loves animals more than Geoffrey Parker. Early on, I shared stories that Geoff’s brothers have told me about Geoffrey’s uncanny kinship with animals. Greg has told me stories of wild animals coming out of the woods to Geoffrey when they were growing up. I watched a squirrel climb right on to Geoff’s shoulder and reach into his shirt pocket for a nut one day. We have raised dozens of ducks in our back yard and every fall for four years a male duck returns to our lawn for the winter. Geoff has been feeding wild parrots in our back yard for thirteen years and he knows the pairs and their offspring. For more than ten years, Geoff has loved and cared for Gracie, our Green Cheek Conure. Every meal that Geoffrey eats in our home is shared with our bird.

I share Geoffrey’s love for animals. I wish humans were more like animals. They love unconditionally, they really ask for little from us, and they give so much. My German Shepherd was my best friend at a time in my life that was difficult. My heart was broken when he died after almost twelve years together. I was so distraught I could not bear to get another dog until only a month ago when we rescued our lovable little Yorki Kili. We have not had a dog for twelve years because the thought of losing another was just too difficult to imagine. I am so happy Kili found us and tonight as I write, I have a little 7 pound angel sleeping on my lap.

The thought of any animal suffering in any way is almost more than I can bear to think of. The thought of my husband and more than five million others having to live one day longer with a disease that could be cured by research that involves animal testing in a labratory is necessary, right and crucial. It is also distasteful, heartbreaking and just down right horrible. To watch a healthy human body become rigid and frozen where movement is not possible is something that I cannot, and will not accept on any terms. This is not just about Parkinson’s disease, it is about many neurological diseases, and I believe with every ounce of my being that a cure for PD will open the door to curing many other brain disorders.

Today in Vancouver, Canada a biomedical firm was protested because there is a research project involving four monkeys that will be used during testing to try to cure Parkinson’s disease. The monkeys will lose their lives in order for their brains to be studied.

This research project may or may not happen – the final decision is in the hands of a panel charged with determining whether or not the project continues.
It does not happen often, but I am at a loss for words. Thank you Mark Hasiuk for your courage – I end with your words because there are none more fitting. pkp

“And pray for our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. Trembling hands be damned.”

Animal testing opponents discard humanity and hope
Proposed UBC research project duplicates Parkinson’s symptoms in monkeys


Save the whales. A venerable slogan from the 1980s, memorialized on T-shirts and bumper stickers, voiced in defense of Melville’s great beast.

The reckless slaughter of 20th-century whaling relented amid the outrage of right-thinking people worldwide. It was a victory for the planet, a high seas rescue against the ticking clock of extinction.

Save the monkeys. Another catchphrase, lacking the latter’s syllabic grace, yet exhorted with equal fervour by activists opposed to Parkinson’s disease research at the University of British Columbia.

The project, proposed by UBC researchers yet pending approval from a UBC oversight committee, breaks down like this: Through injection, researchers will duplicate Parkinson’s symptoms in at least four rhesus monkeys, a mid-sized breed native to Asia. Eventually the monkeys will be killed. Researchers will analyze the monkey brains and document the findings.

It’s ugly work. Fraught with ethical and operational challenges. But entirely necessary and correct.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system caused by brain cell loss. Because the direct cause of cell loss is unknown, most Parkinson’s research focuses on preventing or replacing cell death in certain parts of the brain.

Parkinson’s signature symptoms, famously displayed by sufferers such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox, include trembling and rigidity as motor skills deteriorate. In later stages, psychosis is common. Death is often painful, foretold in the mask-like expression of the afflicted. Currently, there’s no cure although treatment and medication provide symptom relief.

When combatting diseases such as Parkinson’s, cancer and HIV/AIDS, medical researchers utilize tissue culture (the growth of tissues or cells in a laboratory), computer modelling and human volunteers. But animals, particularly primates, provide the best opportunity for breakthrough.

“You can’t study a beating heart in a test tube, and you can’t get your computer to cough,” said Dr. Simon Festing, an animal testing advocate from England, during a recent online broadcast. “Any ban of the use of animals would be disastrous for biomedical research… and send us back to the dark days when, for example, the last time we gave a medicine to people that wasn’t properly tested on animals was thalidomide.”

Anne Birthistle, spokesperson for Stop UBC Animal Research, a Vancouver-based animal rights group, plans to protest the proposed UBC project at a rally Thursday outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

According to Birthistle, a cartoonist by trade, the medical establishment is fatally linked to the animal testing industry, with its breeders and restraint device manufacturers. “And the funding goes to the established animal research, whereas protocol not using animals, that might be more scientifically advanced, find it harder to get funding.”

Birthistle’s group wants to buy the UBC monkeys and ship them to an enclosed sanctuary in Quebec. UBC ignored her offer, and in that sense, I feel her pain.

Despite multiple inquiries, UBC refused to reveal project details or a scheduled start date. This vow of silence raises questions about transparency within the animal testing community. To retain the high moral ground, researchers must share and publish all findings to maximize impact and limit the number of animal subjects worldwide. Animal testing, arguably the animal kingdom’s greatest contribution to mankind, must be conducted with utmost efficiency.

However, no matter how transparent the research, animal testing will always draw fire. Online news stories about the UBC project feature long threads of reader comments overwhelmingly opposed to animal testing for the benefit of human beings.

There’s no greater example of western failure, no greater testament to our inverted culture, than our waning respect for human life. According to Ministry of Health records, between April 2009 and March 2010, doctors in B.C. performed 15,110 abortions. An untold number of abortions took place outside the medical services plan.

That news will garner scant outrage in Vancouver, for obvious reasons. Unborn babies–15,110 last fiscal year–are bothersome, a burden felt vicariously by everyone who values free time, disposable income, flat screen TVs and island getaways.

Four monkeys, by comparison, require no effort from the masses. Their emancipation, despite any potential Parkinson’s breakthrough, would provide temporary relief for the self-obsessed soul.

So free the monkeys. Let them loose on the vine. It’s a cheap thrill, wrapped in T-shirt slogans and moral relevancy. And pray for our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. Trembling hands be damned.


Twitter: @MarkHasiuk

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