They give their lives for humans

Animals in cages at the Animal Resource facility of icddr,b in Dhaka's Mohakhali.Prothom Alo

Animal cells have chromosomes. The chromosomes contain genes. The hereditary characteristics of an animal is coded in the genes. The genes of rats are similar to those of humans.

The use of rats in understanding human physiology and medical research began about 200 years ago. The International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) still uses rats in many important studies regularly.

Other than rats, icddr,b uses several other animals in their research too. The list includes rabbits, rats, guinea pigs and sheep. icddr,b has a separate wing for the animals used in research. This wing, Animal Research Facility, was established in 1962.

This is the first and largest animal laboratory in the country. In fact it’s the only laboratory in Bangladesh that has been certified and accredited by the US National Institutes of Health.

Rabbits kept for research
Prothom Alo

Various animal species are used around the world to discover new medical technologies, drugs, vaccines and test their effectiveness. To find out if a drug or vaccine is effective and safe for humans, it’s administered on an animal first.

Many animals share quite a few similarities including physical traits, genetic makeup and immunity with humans. Animal research and animal resource facilities play crucial roles when it comes to new discoveries and their development.

Setting up an animal research facility is a complex procedure. In fact it’s expensive to build and operate as well. The weather and environment of these facilities have to be controlled at all times while, animals have to be given quality food. The sole goal for that is to keep every animal, used in research, disease-free and in good health.

A day at the animal research facility

This reporter had to wear a special sort of clothing before entering the Animal Resource Facility of ICDDR’B at Mohakhali on 19 October. It was somewhat like a surgeon’s garb in an operating room. The only reason behind so much caution is that no germs can enter the centre.

Inside the two-storey building, there was separate accommodation for rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice and sheep. There were separate living arrangements for each species, based on their age and sex. There’s a whole different arrangement for pregnant animals.

Even the feeding arrangements for each species are separate. There are 11 officers and employees in charge of taking care of these animals.

The life history of a female rabbit hung in the front of its cage. The rabbit was born on 14 August 2021.

icddr,b also uses sheep in their research
Prothom Alo

Even details about her parents and on which date she mated, which male rabbit she mated with, was recorded there. Information of every single animal is stored separately in this manner.

Moving close to a cage little further away, it was seen that a rat had given birth to several pups. The babies were still with their mother. Officials said that they will be moved to a separate space once they’ve reached the suitable age.

Arrangements have been made for the guinea pigs to live inside more than 20 small concrete tubs lined close to one another. A necessary amount of hay is placed in each tub. There’s arrangement for drinking water as well.

Sheep have been accommodated on the ground floor of the facility. Sheep’s blood is required in diagnostic tests. Even a rooster was seen inside a cage on the ground floor.

Which research requires the animals

Head of the facility, Sumon Kumar Paul, told Prothom Alo that a germ-free environment is ensured for every animal of the facility. There is no chance of one species of animal living together with another.

Apart from this, every single animal goes through health checkups routinely. Nutritional needs of each animal are ensured as well. If an animal falls sick, it’s separated from the group. And, there’s enough trained staff to do all this.

Different sorts of tests are run on the healthy animals raised at the facility. Scientists have labeled this experiment 'animal model'. For instance, whether zinc works in treating diarrhoea or not, was tested on rats first.

Some rats were infected with diarrhoea first and then they were given zinc. After seeing good results in rats, zinc was used on human diarrhoea patients. Now, the use of zinc tablets or syrup has become customary to mitigate diarrhoea in children. But this use started with rats!

Rats don’t vomit or sweat. This means that rats have something extra in their body to regulate these things. Human genes have a 98 per cent resemblance to rat genes. As much as 74 per cent researches done on human need are run on rats first.

At the end of the experiment, used animals are given strong sleep medication. They don’t wake up from the sleep anymore. A non-government organisation named Prism Bangladesh takes away the bodies of those animals later.

Meanwhile, 37 scientists who won Nobel Prize in Medicine had used rats in their discovery research. Rats had been used in fundamental researches like how do gene or cell work and how does the body process external information.

Usually, a new vaccine is tested for toxicity by administering it on guinea pigs. Scientists and researchers consider the vaccine safe for humans if no side effects are noticed in the guinea pigs. There had been an extensive research on guinea pigs in developing diphtheria and tuberculosis vaccines.

French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur had used rabbits to invent rabies vaccine. Rabbit is a widely used animal in infectious disease and immunology researches. Cholera researches used rabbits. Rabbits had been used to improve surgical laser as well.

A group of scientists led by icddr,b laboratory of environmental health Zahid Hayat Mahmud has discovered a certain sort of bacterium in the intestine of brackish-water fish found in the southern part of the country. This bacterium (Vibrio parahaemolyticus) is similar to the one that cause cholera or diarrhoea.

Scientists want to find out if this bacterium can really cause diarrhoea or not. So the scientist will observe its effects on rabbits first. For that, they have released the bacterium into a rabbit’s stomach, after collecting it from the stomach of the fish.

Stress on ethics

icddr,b authorities say that international rules and regulations for research animals are followed. And ethics are stressed upon. Animals are used in research all across the globe. Simultaneously the ethical issue concerning the use of animals is given much importance. There is mention of animal’s dignity.

It has been stated in the guidelines that, every animal has some inherent value or significance, which must be respected. It has to be kept in mind during research that animals do have the ability to feel pain. It’s also vital to protect the interests of animals through the research.

icddr,b has policy-related guidelines in writing for the use of animals in research. It stated that the logic behind using animals in research has to be clearly explained, and the animals have to be kept under the supervision of professionally qualified individuals. Besides, the animals have to be handled or controlled through documented or standard procedures.

The guidelines also state that the research procedure has to be completed causing minimal suffering to the animals. Wherever necessary, the use of local or general anaesthetics has to be ensured based on the animal species. Whenever an animal is noticeably ill, the animal has to be mercifully euthanised. Always, there has to be an effort to keep the number of animals to a minimum in the experiment.

Officials of the facility have said there’s no scope for the animals to be reused. In other words, there’s no custom of using the same animals for different experiments. At the end of the experiment, used animals are given strong sleep medication. They don’t wake up from the sleep anymore. A non-government organisation named Prism Bangladesh takes away the bodies of those animals later.

Research animals are sold too

Many other organisations of the country buy these animals from icddr,b. There are pharmaceutical companies, public and private universities, different types of government organisations, some hospitals and clinics of Dhaka, public and private medical colleges on that list. The organisations use these animals for research and educational purposes.

Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering discipline of Khulna University has been running research with animals bought from this facility of icddr,b for more than a decade now. A professor at the discipline Sheikh Zulfikar Hossain told Prothom Alo that they have bought some rats even two months ago. They are being used in an experiment on diarrhoea.

In 2022, 26 universities, 10 pharmaceutical companies, 13 hospitals-clinics, and 5 research institutes purchased animals from icddr,b.
Head of the facility Sumon Kumar Paul said, they sell a rabbit for Tk 2,000. icddr,b however requests the organisations buying these animals, to adhere to the relevant ethics.

*This report appeared in the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha.