Saturday, May 30

Animal rights group claims UCLA non-compliant with policies

The original version of this article contained an error and information that was unclear and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Six documents recently obtained by an animal rights organization state that UCLA did not comply with its health policies regarding animal testing.

The documents include reports of 10 incidents of “non-compliance” and one incident of “serious deviation” sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, by Dr. James S. Economou, UCLA vice chancellor for research. Stop Animal Exploitation Now received the reports through the Freedom of Information Act and sent them to the Daily Bruin this week.

The documents state that UCLA deprived animals, including fish, mice, rats and birds, of food and water without proper approval and used unapproved euthanization methods, among other things.

According to one document, a principal investigator at UCLA conducted experiments without providing enough water to animals.

The investigator allegedly began his experiments without approval from the Animal Research Committee,  an independent research review committee, because the approval process took too long. He said he would stop his experiment if told to do so.

None of the reports resulted in fines or penalties to the university.

“There is a clear ethical objection to such conduct,” said Julia Orr, communications director for Stop Animal Exploitation Now.

UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea said in a statement that UCLA identified and proactively reported the incidents and that it takes all non-compliance issues seriously.

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare agreed with UCLA’s course of action in all alleged cases of misconduct.

Animal rights activists are working to gather signatures for a petition, which has garnered more than 4,000 signatures since its release in December. The petition was created after a lawsuit against the university that called for UCLA to release documents surrounding its use of animals in research.

Ritea said UCLA has a long history with activists committing violent acts against UCLA researchers, including vandalization of property, sending threatening messages to researchers and bombings. The university said it will not provide documents on its animal research to the group or respond to the petition to protect its researchers.

The activists at the organization claimed they are not connected to any of these violent acts.

If it received documents from UCLA, the organization said that the identities of any researchers and locations of UCLA animal testing could be redacted.

Jeff Pierce, an Animal Legal Defense Fund lawyer heading the lawsuit, said he thinks the organization and UCLA can both reach a settlement.

“UCLA believes that the public interest is greater in protecting researchers than in sharing public records with my client,” Pierce said. “I believe both are possible.”

David Jentsch, a psychology professor who conducts neurological and addiction experiments on monkeys, said his research is humane.

The experiments Jentsch runs involve exposing monkeys to methamphetamine and documenting changes in molecular and brain structure via imaging. Jentsch said the withdrawal effects of methamphetamine on the animals are minimal. He later euthanizes the monkeys to do a more direct examination of the brain.

Jentsch said the main source of pain from addiction comes in the form of emotional distress – such as the loss of family and friends from drug addiction – which monkeys don’t experience to the same degree as humans.

Although Jentsch said the benefits in bringing his research findings to the human population are slow, the long-term benefits could be substantial. He said he believes he has discovered a molecular change in the addicted brain that directly causes loss of control over one’s behavior, and that his addiction experiments could lead to a breakthrough in addiction treatment.

Dr. Murray Cohen, a psychiatrist and affiliate of Stop Animal Exploitation Now said 99 percent of animal experiments don’t carry over to humans, and that Dr. Jentch’s model can at best make claims on drug dependence rather than the more complicated issue of human drug addiction.

“It is literally impossible to know if animal experimentation results predict human responses,” Cohen said. “The only way to know is to do the experiment on humans, and then why do animal experimentation in the first place?”

Jentsch said non-human primates have brains that are organized and function in a way remarkably similar to the human brain and they share many, but not all human behavioral characteristics and neurobiology. Thus, his experiments serve as probabilistic approximations that get us closer to understanding humans than do rat or mouse models.

Bob Ingersoll, a primatologist and affiliate of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said the use of monkeys in animal experimentation is outdated. He cites the retirement of most chimpanzees from the National Institute of Health and Harvard Medical School, which is permanently closing its primate research center in response to public opinion.

“(Jentsch is) aggressively entrenched in research methodologies that are on the back side of time,” Ingersoll said. “If he insists on being the last slave owner, the last holdout of this kind of research, that’s kind of a public relations nightmare for UCLA.”

So far no determinations have been made in the lawsuit.

Correction: The previous version of this article contained unverified information regarding protests aimed at animal researchers. One document indicated that a principal investigator at UCLA allegedly began his experiments without approval from the Animal Research Committee because the approval process took too long, but said he would stop his experiment if told to do so.

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