The low cost of research

Elise T. Chisolm

February 12, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

AT FIRST he didn't want me to watch him plunge the needle into his belly. It seemed a kind of private thing. But because I am his wife and should learn the procedure, I watched.

Before that we practiced on an orange with a hypodermic needle filled with water instead of insulin.

That's just one of the first hurdles after you get over the shock that someone you love has diabetes.

Then you get a certain routine, almost like brushing your teeth. Deep down you are never quite the same; there are new shades of worry patterns.

You give daily thanks for the discovery of insulin.

So you inject, and another dose of life-saving substance has gone into the body.

When I do watch him, I think if it weren't for those long years of trial and error prior to 1921, when insulin was discovered -- the research continues today -- my husband would have been dead long ago, as would most of the nation's more than 500,000 insulin-dependent diabetics.

So, when someone close to you is insulin-dependent, it seemunconscionable that animal rights groups have been harassing labs, scientists and doctors who do valuable research. They have broken into labs and tried to stop studies that have given us information to combat cancer, heart disease, polio. And now AIDS, the newest killer.

These people, who have fought the wearing of leather belts an the cooking of a lobster, seem to have a moral blindness when it comes to saving human life.

If only they understood that by the grace of mice and scientists, thousands of human beings are walking, breathing and still working. Living.

Another family giving thanks for insulin is that of Emily Spitzer, a Washington attorney, and her husband, Dr. Joel Guiterman.

Just two years ago, Rebecca, their 9-month-old beautiful baby, developed what looked like a raging virus. She became weak, feverish, dehydrated; she was almost comatose. ''It looked as if we were going to lose her. It was a week of terror for us. But after many drastic tests in the hospital, she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes -- insulin-dependent diabetes.

''Rebecca is wonderful now. She takes two injections a day, anwe monitor her blood sugar four times a day with the home test and prescribe her diet. We feel so lucky -- it was discovered in time.''

Emily Spitzer has given up her practice for the present to take care of Rebecca. The young attorney does volunteer work at the D.C. chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

''I'm an avid animal lover, we have a great dog, yet we muscontinue our work with animal research. Human life must come first,'' she says.

Ken Farber, director of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in New York, says 6,000 people lose their sight each year in the United States from diabetes and that it is also the leading cause of kidney failure.

''Even the advent of the blood monitoring machine is a result of animal experimentation. For instance, the biomedical research in the past few years has told us that diabetes is an auto-immune disease, and we may eventually find its cause and its cure.''

Dr. Robert Silverman, chief of NIH's diabetes and kidney programs, says: ''We know now that there is a genetic basis to diabetes, therefore animal research is very necessary.''

''What concerns me the most is that this is a wasteful issuethese people who want to stop the use of animals in research,'' he adds.

''There's a notion that you don't have to do animal research any more. Hogwash. So there is nothing I can offer to the person who believes that mice have the same inalienable rights as a child. As a scientist and a medical doctor, I can not and will not change my mind.''

There are rational watchdogs. Thanks to the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington, a non-profit educational organization, you can get documented statistics on just how and for what purpose animal research is conducted.

There is extensive government review of the use of animals: from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the Animal Welfare Caucus; the Animal Welfare Act that sets forth standards for the care and treatment of all animals, including housing, veterinary care and provisions for the use of anesthesia or painkilling drugs for procedures.

There is also independent vigilance for animal studies through the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

Among the other diseases that have benefited from animal testing are: measles, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, and now AIDS.

My anger surfaces when I hear about actors supporting animal-rights groups that interfere with medical studies. I stop watching their shows.

Six years ago my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Today he feels well and is working -- due to a vial of insulin and the strides made in radiation therapy. So I will always hope that researchers can go on with their lifesaving work.

Anything that keeps him with me and his family, I have to thank, as do Emily Spitzer and millions of other human beings everywhere.

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