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PETA Protests Lab Course

Animal rights activists protested the use of rats in a senior-level course March 3 on the southeast corner of University of Texas at Dallas campus.

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Local animal rights activists protested the use of rats in an undergraduate neuroscience course March 3 on the corner of Campbell and Floyd Roads. Half a dozen protesters carried signs and distributed leaflets to drivers who paused at the intersection during lunchtime traffic.
 
Protester Alicia Townsend said interactive computer simulations could replace a course experiment that involves drilling into a rat’s skull, injecting drugs into the animal’s brain, observing its behavior, then killing and dissecting it.
 
Townsend received her doctorate in psychology at the University of North Texas and frequently volunteers with Animal Action of Texas, a local animal rights group. Townsend said rewards from animal and human research need to outweigh risks.
 
“They’re not learning anything new from these tests, so there’s no reason to put additional animals through this,” Townsend said.
 
Richardson resident Hilda Klosterman called the experiment sadistic.
 
“What good does it do?” Klosterman said. “These are undergraduates — if they were doctors fighting disease, it would be different.”
 
Holly Beal, media contact for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said organization members usually learn about classroom experiments from whistleblowers, then request more information under the Freedom of Information Act and try to open a discussion with the institution.
 
UTD administrators have not responded to PETA since the group initiated contact in late January, Beal said.
 
In a March 2 release about the protest at UTD, the animal rights organization claims that UC Irvine replaced a similar experiment with a computer simulation after receiving information from PETA about animal-free alternatives.
 
That’s not entirely correct, said Tom Vasich, a University of California, Irvine spokesman.
 
“PETA is always there because they want every animal experiment stopped,” Goldberg said.
 
“PETA is taking credit for pressuring us to stop using animals in two biology classes,” Vasich said.
 
“Each use of animal research is reviewed every 2-3 years, and we’re legally bound to see if there are non-animal alternatives. For these two classes, it turned out that there was a computer program we could use.”
 
Vasich said animals are still used in research at UC Irvine, which includes undergraduate courses, and their use will be reviewed by the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) every three years. The Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966, requires every institution that uses animals for federally funded lab research to have IACUC oversight in place.
 
“There have been amazing advances in computer teaching methods, and we will fully explore them because it’s required by federal law and it’s our moral responsibility,” Vasich said.
 
UTD Communications issued a written statement on March 3 which referenced the IACUC’s role in ensuring humane research practices and effective teaching methods.
 
According to UTD’s statement, “The university’s position on the use of animal models for biomedical research and teaching is shared by the world’s leading scientific organizations. The university supports research that will improve the well-being of humans and animals, leads to the cure or prevention of disease and furthers the understanding of biological processes.”
 
Josh Mello, a neuroscience graduate student, took neuroscience laboratory methods as an undergraduate.
 
The first part of the class is about ethics and legal guidelines for research, he said. In the portion of the course where rats were used, students worked in teams and went through the process of planning an experiment, gathering data and writing a research paper formatted for publication.
 
“The whole goal of the class is ethical treatment of animals in research, during the semester and in later work,” Mello said. “Teaching assistants make sure the animals are treated well.”
 
Mello said caring for one of about five rats used in his class made abstract ethical lessons real and showed him how challenging it was to replicate techniques described in textbooks. In Mello’s class, students induced Parkinson’s disease in their rats using a drug.
 
“There’s a reason why we have one of the best neuroscience programs in the country. Students need to learn how to do difficult techniques now, so they don’t mess up someone’s grant experiment,” Mello said. “It’s very helpful for people who want to do this kind of research later.
 
And in my case, the class helped me realize that my interests lay elsewhere, but not because of the animals or the methods.”
 
Alan Goldberg has been director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing since it was founded in 1981.
 
National trends indicate that universities are moving away from using live animals in undergraduate classes, he said. But for individual campuses, answers must come from open dialogue between students and faculty, and examining the educational goals of using animals, he said.
 
“But they raise awareness about issues that are worthy of conclusions.”
 
By Lauren Buell
 
Source: University of Texas at Dallas