Caution guidesanimal research

Bei Hu

Although animals die in some laboratory experiments, University officials said scientists conduct their research for the good of humanity — not to torture the helpless.
“People who do animal research do it for the good of humanity, the good of the animal populations themselves,” said David Reynolds, a professor of surgery and chairman of the University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
“It is extremely rare that anybody would take a course of action that is detrimental to the well-being of the animals.”
Animal research is a sensitive subject for both University scientists, who often rely on animal experiments for research, and animal-rights activists, who maintain that such experiments are unnecessary. Though formal guidelines and standards are in place to regulate animal research, the controversy remains.
Researchers used an estimated 120,000 live animals from October 1994 to September 1995 for almost 1,500 research projects conducted at the University. Laboratory-bred rats, mice and rodents account for about 90 percent of the animals used.
These numbers, released in a University report to the United States Department of Agriculture, include statistics from all four of the University’s campuses.
The same report stated that about 50 percent of the animals were used in experiments involving surgical procedures and received pain-killing medications. Less than 1 percent of the animals that experienced pain, distress or discomfort were not given anesthesia or analgesia. These statistics exclude certain kinds of animals, such as rats and poultry, because the Department of Agriculture does not require documentation of their specific use in research.
Most animals used in experiments are killed at the conclusion of the research, said Cynthia Gillett, director of Research Animal Resources, a University service that purchases and takes care of laboratory animals. Only a small fraction of the deaths result from complications from research procedures, she added.
“When you use an animal in a study, it’s not unusual to have to sacrifice the animal at the end in order to evaluate the procedures acted upon the animal,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds compared laboratory research with city pounds. In pounds, Reynolds said, animals are being killed “without doing any good for society.”
Reynolds’ animal care committee, which reviews and approves all research proposals involving animal subjects, was established in compliance with the 1966 federal Animal Welfare Act. The legislation mandates minimum standards for animal care. For example, the law regulates animal housing conditions.
Sixteen University faculty, staff, students and community members sit on the animal care committee. Representatives are usually nominated by individual departments.
Richard Bianco, the institutional official of the Animal Subjects’ Protection Program, appoints the members on behalf of the University administration.
Faculty committee members serve three-year terms. Student members serve one-year terms. There is no limit to the number of terms a member may serve and it is not necessary to have previous training in medicine and animal care to be on the board.
The animal care committee requires researchers to document their research objectives, methods and details of animal use in an application. It also asks if alternative methods, such as videotaped procedures or computer simulation, are available to replace experiments on actual animals.
Roughly 75 to 80 percent of the research proposals are approved by the committee with some modifications and clarifications, said Moira Keane, director of the Research Subjects’ Protection Programs.
This office reports to the Office of Research and Technology Transfer Administration and coordinates the activities of the animal care committee and a similar committee for human research subjects.
Some critics have called the animal care committee a rubber-stamp mechanism because of the low turn-down rate of applications for permission to use animals in research.
“What IACUC (the animal care committee) cares about is making sure that the grants are fulfilled, that their money-making industry can continue,” said Katie Fedor, a University of St. Thomas student and member of the Student Organization for Animal Rights, an activist group with a branch at the University.
Fedor said animal research at the University is “repetitive, unnecessary and horrific.” She said she and fellow animal rights activists have made several attempts to get on the animal care committee. They delivered a petition to University President Nils Hasselmo during their protest in late September against animal experiments at the University.
They demanded that animal rights activists have representation on such decision-making committees.
Bianco, in a written response to the petition, said the University has already satisfied the request by having two community members on the committee.
“(University administrators) don’t care about these animals,” said Fedor.
However, Keane partially attributed the low rejection rate of research applications to the tough departmental approval the research proposals need first. “The research projects have gone through a great deal of scrutiny and planning before they reach us,” she said.
In addition, Keane said, external and internal inspections have guarded research facilities at the University against breach of national animal care standards.
The Department of Agriculture inspects the University’s animal sharing facilities twice a year. The inspections, sometimes done with advance notice for scheduling purposes, focus on animal housing.
In addition, the animal care committee examines individual laboratories at least twice a year.
The University has also signed documents with agencies such as the Office of Protection from Research Risks under the National Institute of Health, which sets voluntary animal care standards for research institutions.
The animal care committee works closely with the University’s Research Animal Resources, which hires six professionally-trained veterinarians and about 45 animal care technicians.
Officials denied that there has been any instance of intentional abuse of laboratory animals.
“What we are familiar with here has been minor (noncompliance with animal care standards) in nature and has been corrected immediately,” he added.
Keane estimates less than 1 percent of approved studies shows noncompliance with animal care standards.
Keane said most reports of noncompliance have been brought up by laboratory personnel and animal care workers. The animal care committee is required to look into every complaint. Keane said her office has not heard complaints directly from animal rights activists in the past year.
Fedor said the animal rights organization would continue their strategy of targeting individual researchers. The group named University psychiatry professor Marilyn Carroll as “vivisector of October.” Carroll has been using rhesus monkeys and rats to study drug addiction.
Keane declined to answer specific questions about researchers, but said, “Dr. Carroll is a very careful researcher and works very carefully with the animal care committee.”