In our research labs we use genetically altered animals, usually mice, to test scientific theories which we hope will one day lead to new medicines and treatments. In terms of my own work, we create mice with trisomy, which means they have an extra copy of a certain chromosome. In humans, trisomy 21, otherwise known as Down syndrome, is probably the most well-known of these conditions.
The goal is to find ways of alleviating the symptoms of these conditions. We look at how trisomy changes neurological mechanisms and how it influences embryonic development, stem cells, and the programming and function of cells. We identify and target these mechanisms and hope to treat them through therapeutic drugs. These mechanisms are often similar to those affecting humans with comparable conditions.
From all sides of the animals testing and research debate, everyone agrees that animals are sentient beings and this has been recognized in the Treaty of Amsterdam. Sentiency is the ability to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences. In relation to animals, sentience implies the ability to experience pleasure or suffering.
During an interview session with brain researcher Peter Janssen, who uses macaque monkeys to understand depth perception, I asked him what it was like to perform experiments on non human primates who I would imagine have a higher level of consciousness than other animals.