in vivo

The term “in vitro” translates as “in glass” and in a scientific sense refers to experiments done in a well-controlled laboratory environment.  Every experiment that I’ve done in my career has been in vitro – from making compounds, to purifying proteins, to sequencing DNA, to doing NMR – all of these have more-or-less been done “in a test-tube(1)”.

Until this week.

My job nowadays requires me to oversee experiments done both in vitro and in vivo (in life).  This includes disease-model efficacy tests, toxicology experiments, metabolism studies, etc. – mostly done in rodents.  Now for a biophysicist like me, doing experiments in animals has always seemed like an arcane and somewhat distasteful endeavor (not like real science – how’s that for a bias?), complete with the lab (a vivarium – even the name sounds icky) being off-limits to most, and folks in scrubs, hair-nets and masks, looking like they just stepped off the set of Grey’s Anatomy.

However, because we want to do a number of large, chronic tests in the months ahead, we need a lot of people capable of handling animals, dosing them and making observations.  And so, in the spirit of not asking someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself, I volunteered to be trained.

Of course, all the minions laughed.  I haven’t done an experiment with my own hands in the lab in a long time (too long!), but I assert that I am still a good scientist and capable of being trained.  So there I was in my full-body lab coat and shoe-booties (2) getting my first experience of in vivo science (3).  And I felt that anticipation and excitement of learning something new.  It’s a thirst that never gets quenched.


(1)  Note: Test-tubes were SO 20th century.  Most biology experiments these days aren’t performed in glass test-tubes.  Most get done in little tiny plastic tubes (to save material and generate less waste) or in plates that have multiple wells in them so you can do a whole bunch of experiments side-by-side in something that fits in your hand.

(2)  The vivarium is not icky, it is spotlessly clean.  Cleaner than anywhere I’ve ever done an experiment that’s for sure.

(3)  As an aside, the longest training by far has been in reading and being tested on the Animal Welfare Act and other rules for the humane treatment of animals in a laboratory setting.  We take this very seriously despite animal-rights activists’ claims to the contrary.  In addition, anyone that tells you that in vitro and/or cell-based assays are good enough to tell you whether a compound is safe and effective is either woefully misinformed or out-right lying.  In-life experiments are time-consuming, expensive and altogether necessary before allowing a drug to be used in the ultimate in vivo setting – us.

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20 thoughts on “in vivo

  1. Yip times they are a changin and we have to change with the times. I hope I never stop wanting to learn something new. " in the spirit of not asking someone to do something I wouldn't do myself" This was always my philosophy at work, I believe it brings a lot of respect from those who work under you. Keep up the good work Steve we need people like you looking out for – us.

  2. at first i was like, NOOOOOO, steve cannot be testing on animals! that's so un-steve! but i do understand that it is necessary for these kinda reminds me of Hot Fuzz – "But it's for the greater good!" ::zombie-like chant:: "The greater good . . ."

  3. Your job sounds amazing… I wish I did something that was cool and exciting. Perhaps I'll be a lawyer…who needs a degree in law, anyways? Everything you need to know is on the internet and surely those things that make lawyers great are things innate and unlearned…all of which Inaturally posess. Yep, I think I'm a lawyer now… lol

  4. You so need to talk to Marc. I know he would be so interested in what you do. I recognized a lot of words from your entry "assay" and "plates and wells" " DNA sequencing" … but I"m not any closer to understanding what you do than when Marc talks about what he does (something with developing tests … to use on pre-symptomatic possible cases of different spinal disorders … mapping something on the genome to easier predict scoliosis … something like this … ). Either way .. you're super smart. And a noble guy, too, keeping your employees away from the rat work.

  5. Not enough people have the attitude that they wouldn't ask someone to do something that they wouldn't themselves do. Way to go. (I mean that seriously – I think it's great!)
    Are there actually people out there who think that in-vitro testing is equivalent to in-vivo? Wow.

  6. I wonder if anyone would get the joke if you started naming the rodents "Brisby", "Nicodemus" or "Justin"? :-)
    On a serious note – congrats on the chance to continue to excel at what you do. A big hearty "here here" (imagine my glass raised for a toast) in response to "And I felt that anticipation and excitement of learning something new. It’s a thirst that never gets quenched." Indeed!

  7. e*c — it is a hard thing to realize when you begin to work in the pharma industry. These experiments are absolutely critical and required by the Food and Drug Administration before any compound is allowed to move forward. The thing to take to heart is that this are all done in a very conscientious manner.

  8. erin-dot-erin — some folks in the lab will still be working in the vivarium — in fact, many have much more experience than me. In this case, they're going to be the teachers and I will be the pupil… :)

  9. Mello — you'd be frightened at some of the propaganda being spread around these days by too-zealotous animal rights activists. Not only rhetoric, there's been a big upswing recently in violence at institutions that conduct in vivo research. Universities are particularly vulnerable, since they typically have more open access than companies — but occasionally there will people that try to break into companies and vandalize the laboratories.

  10. You know, now that you say that I do remember such an event at a university not too long ago. I don't remember where but I do remember being disgusted.
    I was just talking today with a student (hematology fellow) about the garbage that's out there regarding RhoGam injections – the shot that's given to Rh negative women during pregnancy. People believe the nonsense accusations that drug companies make up the need for it in order to make money, and unfortunately unborn babies pay the price.

  11. I'd get it, too! I haven't read that in forever. Great post, Steve. Even if I only understood about 1.1% of it. (I have, however, learned that boys are stupid. Does that count as learning something new and not-quite-exciting?)

  12. That sounds really exciting. It's not too often I get to learn something new, but when I get to, I really enjoy it. Right now, I'm learning how to deal with teenagers. I think I'd rather be learning how to do what you are doing. Wanna trade? ;-)

  13. I learned how to crotchet recently. IN fact, a fellow voxer taught me. Does that count? (mocking myself here)
    No really, it is great to learn new things; they keep your mind working.
    I learned a new technique at work recently. It was challenging because the software was acting up. (really, it was, not my fault: it wouldn't save as, and i looked it up on a user forum, it is a real gitch. stupid software)

  14. As far as your comments on animal testing, the fact that you are a scientist probably makes your opinion irrelevant to the average person. You are a rational thinking person that looks at the facts of a situation and comes to a logical conclusion. I'm pretty convinced the average American bases their opinions on emotion and personal biases instead of fact.The sad part is, it seems the emotionally driven people are the ones that wind up running the country.

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