Needle and the damage done

What do people think of this piece from the Guardian? Scientists have discovered through carrying out tests on mice that there might be more to acupuncture than a mere placebo effect, that it might actually be triggering the release of an anti-inflammatory painkilling chemical, adenosine.

They did so through giving mice sore paws, then testing how quickly they pulled their paws away from a bristly brush… which seems like rather a bizarre thing to do for a living and rather difficult to measure. Do they have a stopwatch? How do they get each paw to exactly the same level of soreness? How do they know if some mice are just a bit, well, harder, than others?

Despite being a vegan I’m not against all animal testing. (I’ve spent the day with my five year old niece who has cystic fibrosis; how could I be?) In fact I was approached by someone at the Eco-Veggie Fayre today wanting me to donate to a campaign which was something to do with justice for animal rights prisoners. I flicked through the pamphlet, which set out some of the cases, and then refused.

I support BUAV and campaigners against vivisection, in that I think there are far too many animal experiments carried out and we should be making more progress in reducing that number, e.g. by more data-sharing between companies so that duplication of tests is not necessary and by banning things like the testing of household products on animals (which is in the Coalition Agreement and supported across the House).

But I don’t endorse the behaviour of those who resort to violence, criminal damage and intimidation to promote their cause. In fact it’s entirely counter-productive; it does the cause far more harm than good.

Anyway, back to my original question…. Is this a valid use of animal experimentation if somewhere down the line it leads to scientists developing more effective forms of pain control? Or is rather self-indulgent? Scientists playing games in their labs just to satisfy their intellectual curiosity? 

And what do the Sense about Science people make of it? Has it convinced them that there might be more to acupuncture than “woo”? (This seems to be a technical term used by the skeptic community. Meaning hogwash. Correct me if I’m wrong).

Incidentally a homeopath at the Eco-Veggie Fayre told me Sense about Science is funded by “big pharma”… is that right? And if so, does it matter?

N.B. I’m playing devil’s advocate here, not arguing the toss for homeopathy, or indeed, against it. I tried some homeopathic hayfever pills once. They made me sneeze. Then I discovered they had lactose in them, so I binned them. That is my sole contribution to the homeopathy debate for now.

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  • Dutch  On May 31, 2010 at 1:10 am

    I don’t know if ‘sense about science people’ in this context is just shorthand (longhand?) for ‘scientists’? Vaughan Bell gives a sensible early view on the mouse paper here:

  • luke richards  On May 31, 2010 at 1:12 am

    I’m no scientist, so I could be wrong, but I’m under the belief that adenosine has a half life of just a few seconds.

    I’ve been injected with it about 4 times in the space of 10 minutes for a medical test I underwent once. Like I say, I don’t know, but I’m sceptical of its long-term abilities as a painkilling drug.

    Its a hormone that, among other things, slows down the heart rate (the reason I was administered it) and has to be injected into a canular high up in the arm because a wrist-canular would be too far away from the heart and the drug would have worn off by the time it gets there.

    Not knowing the full details of exactly what this hormone is, I can’t do any more but speculate, but with such a short half-life, I can’t see how tests like this would have any real benefit to the medical world.

    Maybe I’m just not thinking like a scientist, though…

  • jonathan rolfe  On May 31, 2010 at 1:14 am

    i think on the basis of this and things like it everyone should give a toss about homeopathy. i very strongly recommend reading bad science by ben goldacre, it really is one of the most important books published recently in my opinion

  • Carl Lander  On May 31, 2010 at 7:36 am

    A curious debate by its very nature, I am unsure of the validity of sore paw response testing.
    As a friend of mine regularly says ‘We are where we are’, however if we were a land of no cosmetics or makeup and were on the verge of discovery, would society now support its testing on animals.
    The reason I ask is because its easy to be against it with our current portfolio of prodcuts, but would need subsume conviction?

  • vincent heaney  On May 31, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Dear Kerry
    Give me a reply or a bell sometime
    and we’ll discuss science
    Vincent J Heaney
    ps get a years subscription to NEW SCIENTIST OR NATURE

  • Charlotte MacKenzie  On May 31, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I think this is completely unjustified – if they want to find out the anti-inflammatory impacts of acupuncture on humans why don’t they test blood from people who agree to take part in both (acupuncture and research). The animal responses show the mice were in pain. Has it added anything useful to our understanding of how to boost anti-inflammatory responses in people or human pain relief?

  • Dutch  On June 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    David Colquhoun (FRS) also give a good view on the hows and whys

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