Neuroscientists, animal activists meet at center

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Neuroscientists, animal activists meet at center

Dr. Lawrence Hansen (right) neuroscience professor at UCSD, joins the protest against the use of animals in medical research. Hansen recently wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education condemning animal experimentation.

Julia MacKenzie of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, stands in front of the San Diego Convention Center with a few friends. The global Society for Neuroscience is holding its convention here through Wednesday.

Animal-rights protesters in front of the San Diego Convention Center on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010, targeted the gathering of the Society of Neuroscience, which is meeting here through Thursday.

SAN DIEGO — Armed with some graphic pictures and a Lincoln-quoting neurological researcher, a small band of protesters stood in front of the Convention Center on Saturday trying to turn the tide in animal research while many of the 32,000 registered attendees at the Society for Neuroscience Convention streamed in to hear the actress Glenn Close talk about research and depression.

Scientist are gathered from all over the world to present their latest findings in research on the brain and nervous system. According to Society spokesman Todd Bentsen, there are summaries of 16,000 research papers up for review through Wednesday.

About 30 people who object to the use of animals, specifically monkeys and other primates, stood out in front as conventioneers swarmed in. Some wore lab coats artificially bloodied red. Some wore masks. Most carried signs citing the most egregious treatment of animals.

San Diego Police Sergeant Pete brown said there were about 15 officers on site, most working traffic and inside the convention center. Their role, he said, was to make sure the protesters got their message to and that the conventioneers got unobstructed passage into the center.

The organizer of the protest Julia MacKenzie West Coast liaison for the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) said their objective was to “open a dialogue” with researchers on the use of primates in lab experimentation.

Indeed, some of the conventioneers came up and were discussing the issues with MacKenzie.

One, who declined to give her name, said that the researchers need to have a serious discussion on the use of animals.

Inside, neurological researcher John Morrison of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York noted that a discussion on just that topic is scheduled for Monday morning at the convention.

The 9 a.m. panel “Conferring Legal Rights to Animals: Research in the Crosshairs” will look at the growing movement to give animals the same legal protections as humans.

MacKenzie called much of the animal-based research “fairly arbitrary work that has been going on for way too many years in way too many laboratories. If there are productive results from (primate) research, I’d like to see it.”

MaKenzie also hastened to point out that their protests was not aimed at the day’s headline speaker, the actress Glenn Close. “She’s here to speak on something else entirely and I’m not even sure what her stand is on this,” said MacKenzie.

Right now, said Morrison, there are numerous federal , academic and ethical regulations that must be followed in using animals for research. Every research clinic has its own panel which must pass review of animal research projects and evaluate the treatment, goals and value of the research where animals are involved.

He said the animals are used in seeking answers to the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and brain disorders. “We still have a long way to go,” he said.

UCSD neuroscientist Lawrence A. Hansen strongly disagrees. Standing out in front of the Convention Center with a blown up image of a monkey with a probe injected into its skull, Hansen said that there are other ways to achieve the same data without inflicting pain on animals.

Hansen, who does research into Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, works on the corpses of people who have died from the afflictions. He said that digital imaging has gotten so powerful that “it will soon provide all the answers without drilling holes into the heads of animals.”

“I’m willing to wait a few years until techniques are perfected,” he added.

Hansen took pains to separate his colleagues’ goals from their methods. He even pulled out a sheet of paper with the words of Lincoln handwritten upon it: “The true rule in determining to embrace or reject anything is not whether it have any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil than of good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good.”

Hansen and his fellow protesters think that ending animal-based research would be a definite step toward the good side.

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