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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Media Coverage

A debate of mice and men

Recent actions by animal rights activists have prompted discussion of UCLA’s research practices

By Lindsey Morgan
[email protected] 

The balancing act between ethics and necessity has proven itself to be a touchy subject in the world of animal research at UCLA over the past few months.

While the university consistently points to many positive medical advances that have developed from the use of animal research on campus, and university spokesmen say it follows stringent regulations, protests and activity by animal rights activist groups have risen in intensity beginning this last summer.

Research coordinator Emmanuel Masongsong, a vegan, faced a quandary involving these two standpoints on animal research earlier this year at his job at UCLA.

Masongsong, a UCLA alumnus, disagrees with the use of animals in research on ethical grounds, personally abstaining as much as possible from eating or using animal products.

But at the beginning of the summer, the research team he works with began attempts to trace the growth of a cancer-causing virus in human tissues implanted in host mice.

The potential implications he believes the research could have for health worldwide, including preventing cervical cancer, led Masongsong to choose to assist his team despite his personal disagreement with the principles of animal research.

"There's really no other avenue at this point that would allow us to correctly investigate the characteristics of the virus that we need to, and I just have to live with that," Masongsong said.

Research involving the development of the artificial heart, gene therapy for cancer, a tuberculosis vaccine and radiation therapy have been cited in UCLA press releases as examples of the benefits of animal research taking place at the university.

Masongsong is currently involved in a research project affiliated with the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA, which includes infecting human tissues in mice with the human papilloma virus type 16, then killing the mice in order to analyze their tissues.

As a vegan, his involvement in the research has been limited at his own request to aspects outside the lab, such as sample processing and DNA extraction, Masongsong said.

Those who disagree with animal research should understand that "not all animal researchers are doing it just because it's easy or just because they're not trying hard enough," Masongsong said.

Sometimes research really does require animals in order to move forward, he said.

The team decided to engage in animal research in order to more fully understand the molecular basis of how the virus interacts with the immune system, Masongsong said.

The use of SCID mice, rodents born without immune systems, allows researchers to trace the life cycle of the virus without interference from outside pathogens.

Rodents are used for approximately 95 percent of animal research projects at UCLA, said Phil Hampton, spokesman for UCLA.

Aside from rodents, rabbits are commonly used, particularly in studies involving antibiotic probes, said William McBride. McBride is chairman of the UCLA Animal Research Committee, the body regulating animal research at the university

"Rabbits are very useful because they are obviously a lot larger than a ... rat," McBride said, noting that zebra fish are also used in animal research at UCLA.

Less than 1 percent of animal research at UCLA is conducted on primates, Hampton said.

McBride said the research that is conducted at UCLA involving primates is mostly behavioral.

"It's certainly a misconception that people have that these animals are used for bizarre experiments," he said.

Law and compliance

As a research university, UCLA is committed to pursuing animal research on its campus because such research allows advances leading to breakthroughs in medical knowledge to continue to be possible, said acting Chancellor Norman Abrams in a statement released in August.

No research is done on animals if it can be done another way, and researchers try to take excellent care of their research subjects, said Roberto Peccei, vice chancellor for research.

"It is in the interest of the investigator to try and treat their animals in the best possible way," Peccei said.

In rodent studies involving tumor growth, for instance, there is a maximum size to which tumors are allowed to grow, and if there is a pattern of animals having overly large tumors, the research will be stopped, Peccei said.

Approximately 10 research cases every year have a problem with the care of their animals, which amount to about 1 percent of the research projects taking place at UCLA. The most common problems are usually large tumors on animals being used for cancer research and animals getting off their feeding schedule, Peccei said.

McBride said pictures that animal rights activists show claiming they prove abuse of research subjects are about 40 years old, from a time before the Animal Welfare Act or any other regulations on animal research.

Animal research projects are subject to multiple regulations and approvals before they are allowed to proceed at UCLA.

All animal research that takes place in the United States is regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, the only federal law in the country regulating the treatment of animals in research and setting the minimum acceptable standard for treatment of such animals. It is enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The act defines "animals" as any live or dead dog, cat, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit and wild animal species intended for use in animal research. According to the UCLA Animal Care and Use Training Manual, it does not cover farm animals, birds or laboratory rats and mice.

UCLA also enforces multiple voluntary recommendations regarding animal research, McBride said.

All of the scientists who investigate animals at UCLA must have their proposed project approved by the Animal Research Committee, which then monitors the project for its duration, McBride said.

A desire for transparency

Taimie Bryant, a professor at the UCLA School of Law who specializes in animal law, said the Animal Welfare Act is not enough to ensure proper treatment of animals.

Bryant believes more transparency of UCLA research procedures is the only way the university can assure the public that its animal research practices are in line with ethics as well as law.

"I think you could write a whole article about the secrecy surrounding animal research at UCLA," Bryant said.

Aside from the Animal Welfare Act and what information is requested through the California Public Records Act, researchers are not subject to any accountability, Bryant said.

This particularly holds true to disclosure of animal research practices to the general population.

"There's no law that requires them to make their approach, their protocol, their practices known to the public," Bryant said.

She believes part of the reason there has been such a spate of extreme activity by animal activists lies in the lack of any law requiring animal researchers to disclose their activity to the public.

"I find it discrediting that they won't participate in any discussion," Bryant said, adding that researchers should talk about the value and actual protocol of the research they do if they think it is legitimate science.

A new direction for activists

Animal research at UCLA has recently been brought to the forefront of public attention because of escalating protests by animal rights activists, some of which have taken violent turns.

The home of Lynn Fairbanks, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences who has published multiple articles on the social interactions of vervet monkeys, was the target of an attempted firebombing in June by the Animal Liberation Front.

The FBI classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Animal Liberation Front accused Fairbanks of conducting painful addiction experiments on monkeys in a posting to the Web site North American Animal Liberation Press Office.

ALF accusations saying Fairbanks abused primates are "rubbish, absolute rubbish," McBride said.

Another North American Animal Liberation Press Office release accused Dario Ringach, associate professor of neuroscience, of paralyzing macaque monkeys before gluing coils to their eyes.

The release said Ringach sent an e-mail in August to the press office saying, "You win. Effective immediately, I am no longer doing animal research."

The release also said that the e-mail requested that animal rights groups leave Ringach's family alone.

The research Ringach was doing was very useful, but he was concerned for the safety of his family, Peccei said.

Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams announced in August that, in response to the increase in the number of illegal and often violent acts by animal rights activists, the university would be investigating potential legal action.

The statement also said UCLA would implement new security measures to protect faculty and their families.

But in a Sept. 8 interview, Abrams said no legal steps had yet been taken against activists.

On Sunday, the El Segundo home of a software businessman named Brian J. Malone was targeted as a protest site by animal rights activists.

Malone, who was not at home but was informed of the incident by a friend watching his house, said people picketed his entire block, handing out fliers to his neighbors and using megaphones.

A post-graduate researcher at UCLA is also named Brian Malone.

The businessman said he thinks he may have been mistaken for the researcher, and is now worried about potential vandalism to his house.

"I've got a bunch of neighbors thinking that I'm a monkey killer,"
Malone said.

Nonviolent activism

Some animal rights activists say the recent activities at UCLA by extremist activist groups have made their own efforts toward ethical treatment of animals less well-received.

The attempted bombing has made an open dialogue about animal research difficult, said Kristy Anderson, a fourth-year geography and environmental studies student and president of the UCLA student group Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

And Michael Budkie, the director of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! believes UCLA is using the recent attempted firebombing of a researcher's house to mischaracterize all animal rights activity as terrorism.

Many of the people who attended an animal rights protest march on campus Monday were involved with Budkie's organization.

In an effort to do away with what she perceives as an impression of all animal rights activists as terrorists, Anderson said she is concentrating her efforts this year on meeting with campus administration to directly relay her concerns. She feels this has gotten more results than have past activities she has participated in, such as protesting.

"We want to get the message across that not everyone who cares about animals is an extremist or terrorist," Anderson said.

Anderson met with Peccei twice over the summer to discuss items of concern to the group, including potentially implementing a policy allowing freedom of choice for dissection in classroom situations, Anderson said.

"I feel more effective in this way," Anderson said.

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