Hundreds of students, UC faculty and community members marched on Westwood Boulevard on Wednesday to show support for animal research and to denounce the use of violence against UCLA researchers by animal rights activists.

The rally, organized by Pro-Test at UCLA, marked the first time UCLA researchers publicly stood up in support of animal research since attacks by activists escalated four years ago.

Pro-Test supporters met at the intersection of Westwood Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue. From there they marched to the Court of Sciences, where a number of guest speakers talked about the role of biomedical research in medicine.

Hundreds of people carried signs proclaiming, “Stop the Violence” and “Animal Research Saves Lives.” Many also joined in chants of “No more threats! No more fear! Animal research wanted here!”

At least 50 protesters also attended the rally to denounce the use of animal research.

Protesters lined up along Westwood Boulevard and held signs that displayed graphic images of animals in research laboratories.

Pro-Test supporters filed into the Court of Sciences. Tom Holder, a member of the first Pro-Test group, which was founded at Oxford University in 2006, walked up to the microphone.

“Today is going to be remembered as the day scientists stood up and said “˜No more’ to the fear and harassment of researchers who practice life-saving research,” he said.

Following Holder’s speech, Gerald Levey, the vice chancellor of medical sciences and dean of the UCLA School of Medicine, addressed the crowd.

“Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every medical advance in the last century, including the development of veterinary medicine,” Levey said.

Other speakers who came from the UCLA administration and animal research community talked about the university’s commitment to practicing limited, ethical research and continuing the development of alternative research techniques.

The speakers also stressed the importance of educating the public about the role of animal research in modern medicine.

Yet protesters at the event refuted these claims, arguing instead that animal research is costly, unnecessary and unethical.

One protester was dressed in a monkey suit and was locked inside a cage.

The man, Jimmy Chovanec, described himself as a concerned citizen interested in justice for animals.

“There is no value in animal research. There are more diseases now than ever before,” Chovanec said.

“I get nightmares about lab animals being tortured,” he added, rattling a chain against his cage.

Peter Young, a well-known animal rights activist who served time in prison from 2005 to 2007 for raiding mink farms, also showed up to protest the rally.

“I think it’s important for researchers to know that they’re being watched and are being held accountable for what they do,” Young said.

He said animal research has no medical value and is used solely to gain a profit.

He added that talks with the university are unlikely to yield results.

“Any kind of dialogue that does not result in the total abolition of animal research is worthless,” he said.

Young said he would not denounce violent tactics used by some activists and supported those who have broken into research labs to free animals.

Other protesters expressed mixed opinions about the use of violence to intimidate UCLA researchers.

David Jentsch, a university researcher and the founder of Pro-Test at UCLA, organized the rally.

“It’s unbelievable how many people came out to support biomedical research and decided not to be afraid anymore,” Jentsch said. “Nobody believes the world is going to change tomorrow, but you have to start somewhere, and after years of incessant harassment, we are finally making it clear that we have something to say.”

Jentsch said he founded Pro-Test at UCLA earlier this month after his car was torched by animal rights activists.

“After the attack, it was apparent to me that I was only one of a string of victims and that these attacks were not going to stop,” he said.

This rally was the first event held by Pro-Test at UCLA. Jentsch said his next goal is to formalize a list of Pro-Test members.

He also expressed a desire to start talks with animal rights advocates who have denounced the use of violence.

“I’m absolutely committed to having a dialogue over the merits of biomedical research. I want to have a positive discussion to see what we have in common with (animal rights supporters), not just what we have in opposition,” he said.

Jentsch said the university is already committed to practicing responsible research that takes the welfare of animals into account. But he said he believes researchers are willing to listen to the public’s concerns, and he hopes a compromise can be reached.

He added that, although the vast majority of animal rights supporters do not advocate the use of violence against researchers, many do not explicitly denounce violent tactics.

“I want the UCLA community to find its way past this conflict that is hurting everybody. I think the university should do a better job about engaging the surrounding community and giving them some input,” Jentsch said.

“But that’s only going to happen when I don’t feel I’m going to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and see my car on fire,” he said.

Still, Jentsch said he is devoted to seeing progress made in the next year and added that, when each side is able to listen to and respect the views of the other, then “all options are on the table.”