Psychiatry professor Marilyn Carroll has long been a target of animal rights activists for performing research on laboratory animals that she says is vital to understanding the mechanisms of drug addiction.
In more than 20 years of research at the University, Carroll has been criticized by animal rights activists who claim her research is immoral, costly and unnecessary.
Carroll, whose research is funded by three grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, uses rhesus monkeys and rats to study why animals become addicted to drugs and why they stay addicted.
Monkeys and rats in Carroll’s studies smoke, drink and intravenously take drugs such as cocaine, heroin, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Carroll also studies the effects of drug withdrawal, examining why laboratory animals relapse into addiction.
The results of her studies, she said, can be generalized and applied to help treat and prevent drug addiction in humans. “When findings in animal studies are tested in humans the results generally agree.”
Animal rights activists disagree. Over the years, Carroll said she has been threatened with “we’re going to get you” letters and phone calls, and has had her laboratory and offices in Diehl Hall picketed. A September protest at University President Nils Hasselmo’s office against her research resulted in the arrest of two University students.
Julie Geldner, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and member of the Student Organization for Animal Rights, said performing research of any kind on animals is unethical and immoral. “It’s a completely disgusting, cruel and unnecessary process. … It’s a waste of funds and resources.
“I am completely against Marilyn Carroll,” she said.
Geldner said making generalizations about humans from animals is impossible. “If you want to observe drug addiction in humans, study it in humans.”
Carroll said she agreed that “theoretically research could be done on humans,” but added that what’s theoretically possible is rarely practically possible. Human addicts are unreliable, difficult to monitor and expensive, she said. “You can’t keep them in patient wards, and you can’t pay them enough.”
She also said laboratory animals can be reused and tested in ways humans cannot. “Human subjects limit the number of (research) questions you can ask,” Carroll said. She said researchers can use humans to study the maintenance and withdrawal phase of addiction, but not to study how people become addicted or relapse into addiction. It would be immoral and unethical, she said, to re-addict a human to drugs to study relapse.
Carroll said she feels comfortable with her research because she said most people agree it is ethical and necessary. Because of animal research, she said, “we enjoy the benefits of antibiotics and those medical procedures that allow us to enjoy life and live longer.”
To illustrate her point, Carroll said virtually every major drug and medical procedure “that helps people stay alive longer has been tested on animals.”
But animal rights activists disagree. “There is no reasonable justification” for her research, Geldner said. “I can’t understand why she’s doing this.”
Despite Carroll’s adversarial relationship with animal rights activists, she said they have had a positive effect on animal research. Animals now have cleaner, bigger cages and better food and veterinary care than they did 20 years ago, she said.
“I do think we’re finding answers,” to human medical problems through animal research, Carroll said. She said several important advances for drug prevention and treatment have been discovered through animal testing. She cited, as an example, recent studies in humans that used alternative reinforcement techniques pioneered in her work with animals.
The studies, at the University of Vermont and the Addiction Research Center in Baltimore, used what Carroll called a “community reinforcement approach” to wean cocaine and heroin addicts from their habit.
The patients were given social rewards like ski passes and movie tickets that they couldn’t turn in for money. These rewards provided the addicts with an alternative to using drugs and Carroll said it proved to be a successful form of treatment.
In the original studies, Carroll used sweet drinks as an alternative to drugs for both rats and monkeys, and after the method proved successful, the experiment was repeated with humans.