Quit the Meds; Save the Bunnies!

 My three-legged bunny rabbit "Cotton" in 2011

My three-legged bunny rabbit "Cotton" in 2011

One of the joys (note the sarcasm) of my graduate studies involves a very detailed analysis of the commercialized production of antibodies (aka antibiotics).  And while the nerd in me gleefully finds hardly a thing more fascinating than analyzing the varying disulfide bridges on different subclasses of immunoglobulins, the humanist in me is hurting a bit inside right now.

You see, in the midst of the very detailed calculations regarding exactly how the animal body (rabbits, goats, mice, etc.) produces varying polyclonal antibodies during a typical immune response (I'll explain all this later in more detail, I promise), every textbook and article I study very casually mentions the potential "sacrifice" of the animal during the whole process.  

Uh, wait--sacrifice?  As in, inject the furry little angel until it *gulp* dies?  And then shamelessly collect its bodily fluids for your profit-making machine and move on to your next four-legged victim?

Yeah, needless to say, I'm just not down with that.

Oh, but what's that I continue to hear parroted by every pro-pharmaceutical anti-accountability knucklehead around the world?  It's a medically necessary casualty, they say?  That's horse dung--err, I mean to say--that I beg to differ (cough).

Let's get a quick (science-y, because that's the page I'm writing this for) review of what I'm talking about:  

First, your body (and the bodies belonging to other creatures of God, like your fluffy golden retriever or my old three-legged bunny rabbit, pictured above) has this beautiful defense system that works to fight off pathological (fancy for DANGEROUS) antigens.  "Antigen" is a fancy term used by cool people in the medical field (aka nerds) to refer to JUNK floating around in your blood.  But an antigen isn't just any kind of junk floating in your blood--it's special.  Antigens are molecules with unique identifying markers on their outside coats.  Some of them are good, like blood cells (type "A" blood has the "A" marker, and so on), and some of them are bad, like hepatitis.  You can imagine it like a bunch of players from around the globe arriving at the world cup in all their varying jerseys.  You know which team to root for and which team to throw tomatoes at based on the colors of their jerseys.  Likewise, your body knows which molecules are VIP (and are allowed to float through your blood to their little hearts' content) and which molecules are enemies that must be completely annihilated.  

Second, you should know that when your body identifies an antigen as "pathological" (look at you and your fancy vocabulary, dear reader!) it has a very detailed and specific mode of attack, complete with game plan steps and all.  Your body is SO specific that it has the ability to take "copies" (sort of) of each new antigen it needs to fight in order to create a very personalized antibody (yeah I'm sure you've heard that word before!).  It's like figuring out the exact strengths and weaknesses of each member on the opponent soccer team and subsequently MAKING a player on your side to match all their skills and defeat them.  (Random tangent: It would really behoove any good coach of any sports team to take a lesson or two from the human body, wouldn't it?)

Anyways, let's hurry up so we can get back to the bunnies.  

Third, when your body produces an antibody (which is the specialized molecule made to FIGHT a specific antigen), it has a spot on it (called the "active site") that will bind (note for chemistry students: I said bind, not bond) to a fitting spot on the antigen.  This is very similar to your body creating a lock that the antigen can fit into like a little key.  

(Note for Any Offended Science Geeks Reading This:  I am fully aware that the lock and key analogy is an oversimplification of this process and I've taken organic chemistry too before (besides--I taught the dang subject!) but for the sake of the sanity of the majority of my wonderful readers I won't even go there and if you have an issue with that you're more than welcome to shove it).  

Ahem.  Moving on...

And the last thing to note (before we return to the topic at hand, saving the bunny rabbits) is that your body makes use of tons of different types of antibodies (we call them "classes," like your old fourth grade gym class only that's not what we mean at all).  These different classes of antibodies travel through your blood during different stages of your body's fight against whatever antigen it has deemed pathological, just like the coach on a soccer team may pull players and replace them during different stages of a game.

So when someone gets sick, their body puts up a fight similar to a soccer match where there are different tactics used to ensure successful winning.  Even one particular class of antibodies may have several sub-classes to it, and that's just the miracle of how God's creation rolls.  

For example, let's say a little bunny rabbit was going to be immunized for x pathogen (fancy for DANGEROUS JUNK).  Scientists will inject the bunny with the yucky pathogen in hopes that it will produce an immune response to the ugly bug, and they can then isolate the bunny's antibodies.  They then package these antibodies (called "antibiotics") and sell it to lazy humans like ourselves who would rather take medicine every time we get sick instead of fighting the good fight (hellooo, Z-Pack).  

The bunny's little body will first spit out some antibodies called IgM, which only last for like a week.  By a week's time, the bunny's wee body will be capable of producing more and more of a different class of antibodies, called IgG, which is the most predominant and heavily studied class known to exist.  The IgG's can last for like three weeks--way long enough for the bunny to develop a sense of "immunity" for whatever yucky pathogen we injected it with.

But that's not what the pharmaceutical companies want.  A strong, healthy, immune little bunny rabbit means no more IgM's, which is (partially) what they want to package and sell.  

Now, don't get me wrong--they could just collect the first batch of IgM's from the bunny rabbit and then congratulate him on feeling better and set the little guy free to complete his life out of a cage, but that would cost them money.  And they're in the business of penny-pinching, you see.

So let's say that the goal of a company is to figure out a way to maximize their collection of IgM's.  What they do then is continually inject the poor animal with more pathogens every few days so that every week its immune system is kicking into over-drive and producing IgM's, without the opportunity to make the natural transition into the IgG production-phase, if you will.  That's like playing a soccer game perpetually in the first ten minutes with absolutely no half-time.  It's just a matter of time before the players collapse, which is EXACTLY what happens to said little bunny rabbits.

They collapse.  As in, dead.  Or, so as not to offend any sensitivities, they are "sacrificed," as medical textbooks prefer to say (note to English gurus: I am aware that medical textbooks have no ability to "prefer" one thing over another but just roll with me here please).

Now, here's the problem with the argument that this is a necessary medical casualty: Pharmaceutical company sympathizers (re: abusing animals) argue that they have to employ practices like the ones I mentioned above in order for their antibiotics production to be fiscally feasible.  They tell you the misleading blanket statement that animals have to be "used" in order for medical science to develop, which just evades the question of how these animals are used and who determines limits and boundaries for such use as to still be medically beneficially (yeah-- medically beneficial, not financially beneficial).  

But when the pharmaceutical companies developing antibiotics are raking in two to three billion dollars annually, I have to say that it seems to me that no animals need to be exhausted as mentioned above in order to market antibiotics.  Why push an animal to the point where it has to die in order to maximize your profit margin?  That's sick and evil and, well, pathological in and of itself.  And judging by the large digits I'm seeing in the profit margin (again, we're talking billions here, folks), I think the numbers would crunch just fine for pharmaceutical production companies if they found more humane methods of using animals for the production of antibiotics.

But honestly, I know that some readers will still pop a pill every time they get a nasty cough, regardless of the plight of the bunny rabbits (and goats, and mice, and other afflicted furries).  

But not so fast--there are other reasons why you should avoid such a casual consumption of antibiotics as well.

Please note that your body has the same darned ability to create its own immune response to an infection as the wittle wabbit making the packaged pill you walk out of the clinic with a prescription for.  You don't need to borrow the antibodies of other living things every time you feel under the weather.  

The only solution I am seeing in sight is simply for us, the wise consumers (living against the grain dun dun dunn!), to avoid using products that are not always medically necessary in order to minimize our contributions to the companies that practice the above crimes.  In fact, this would benefit us just as much as the rabbits, because numerous physicians are now commenting on the harmful effects of the overuse of antibiotics.  

If you constantly train your body to NOT utilize its own God-given immune response, its ability to function will become weakened.  That's like a coach who always sits a terrific athlete on the bench during soccer matches--and hell, even during practice times.  Eventually, the player will lose his ability to play as hard as he could have, had he had the practice.  Your body NEEDS to use its own immune response in order to strengthen its natural immunity.  It's healthier for you, and it sure as hell helps the animals in the process.

Make a commitment to use your own natural antibody production machine in order to save a furry little bunny rabbit dying somewhere in New Zealand right now.  And please sign a few petitions in your free time to stop this heinous misuse of God's creatures who we share the earth with.  

Lastly, If you made it down this far without your brain exploding, congratulations!  I understand how much of a heavy read this was (gee, I have to take an exam on the subject tomorrow, God-willing!).  If you think this article benefits you in any way, please comment below or share the information with others.  

And yay for bunnies!  On a lighter note, I plan to hopefully post the story of Cotton, our old three-legged friend pictured above, here...so stay tuned!


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