That Research and Exotics Guy

Posted: Aug 21, 2014
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That research and exotics guy, what’s he all about?

Hey Everybody! I must say I am extremely excited to be asked to contribute to and share my perspective and experiences. My background is a little different than most people on this site as I come from the research field and also do relief work in a zoo setting.

I still have the same goals as anyone else; to offer the best veterinary care for all of my patients and be an animal advocate. I know, I know, research right? Ewww! How could someone? That was my initial reaction before hesitantly jumping into the field. It wasn’t until I was immersed in it and saw the value of what research with live animals adds to both human and veterinary medicine that I hooked. I'm devoted to the animals in a research setting. I’ll promise to make this not too heavy of a read, but I do think it is important for you to understand my background and perspective on things.

Yes, I absolutely question why we are testing on animals, and hate it in fact. I mean we do have AMAZING computer systems, cell cultures and even micro dose pharmacokinetic testing in humans, but to each model mentioned there are limitations. Just like there are limitations with using a live animal model as well. Doctors cannot practice surgery adequately using cadavers or computers. And trust me! You want your surgeon to have practiced on a pig or sheep prior to slicing you open! The stories I could tell would amaze and terrify you!

Limitations in animal models are like how a mouse might react differently when testing the efficacy or side effects of cancer drugs. However, I would rather doctors have an idea of potential effects before flying blind and shooting grandma up with an experimental chemo drug.

Originally I started my lab animal career at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis. This is one of the largest breeding and research facilities in the country filled with brilliant minds. Notice how I said, “breeding". We do not take animals from the wild in case you were wondering.

I started with the mentality of “I am going to be an animal advocate." I did this and still hold on to this mentality fully. I didn’t know what to expect or how I was going to react. To my surprise it felt like any other regular veterinary practice, except all my patients could pick the locks, slap you and even outwit me.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t see things that I didn’t agree with or thought could be better, but remember my goal was to be an advocate. Seeing things I didn’t like or agree with was also very true at the specialty hospital or general practice I had worked at as well, so that adaptation had already evolved. However, I would say nine times out of ten if I suggested a different, or what I thought were better methods of doing things, they listened. I made a positive change! I also had some very personal moments where what I was involved with on the research side came full circle to help a loved one.

Here’s a very personal example: We activity researched an antiretroviral drug called tenofovir. This drug has the aim in eliminating, greatly reducing viral loads or preventing HIV infection in humans. A dear friend of mine had, unfortunately, tested positive for HIV and was subsequently placed on medications. I asked to see what drugs they were on and sure enough tenofovir was one of them. This drug that I had a very personal attachment to by caring for animals that underwent drug trials was helping keep my friend healthy and alive.

The drug is also now marked in combination with another antiretroviral as a preventive and post exposure treatment. We also had an investigator help create a drug that prevents the passing of HIV through breast milk to the infant. Obviously the result of this drug is amazing, especially for impoverished countries where breastfeeding is the only means of feeding an infant. The drug is now being dispersed to nations where scenarios like this exist to help slow the HIV epidemic.

These are just two of the many stories I could tell and it’s all thanks to the sacrifice animal models provide.

Scared of the recent Ebola crisis in Africa? Check out this link that also shows the importance of animal research.

So, what does this all have to do with me writing for Diversity, first off. No, not because I’m Latino, although that does fit I guess. But, as mentioned, I come from a very different world in veterinary medicine compared to the majority of small animal affiliated bloggers. Secondly is my experience with exotics and large animal species. We all run into them eventually at our clinics, whether we specify a clinic is for cats and dogs only or not. Thirdly is purely as a resource for you. I want to share my experiences and what I get to do to help you, the reader! I encourage discussions on important issues, like animal welfare, compassion fatigue, career options and what we can do to better our technical skills. I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about my perspective and me.

Stephen Cital RVT, SRA, RLAT