Former Vivisector Speaks Out About Cruelty and Bad Science

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Former Vivisector Speaks Out About Cruelty and Bad Science

By Stephanie Ernst on
April 2009

A couple days ago, I received a message from someone named Tony Carr, telling me, in part, "I used to perform animal research - my background is in behavioral neuroscience. I was recently working in a lab studying rat models of drug abuse when I realized that animal research was a waste of time, money, and life. Then I quit."

And yesterday, an article covering Carr's story--and what he witnessed during even his brief time in a lab of the notorious Oregon Health & Science University as an assistant--in a Portland paper.

Inside the nine-story Medical Research Building at Oregon Health Science University’s Marquam Hill campus, about 28,000 mice and 250 rats currently await use in medical experiments.

The rats live paired in transparent plastic containers slightly larger than shoe boxes, stacked on shelves in rooms fed purified air. Researchers in white lab coats shuffle in and out jotting notes, while the rodents run in circles and scratch manically at their containers.

Last summer, Tony Carr took a job here as a lab assistant working on research such as implanting nicotine pumps into rats. The work wasn’t glamorous, but after graduating last year from Macalester College in Minnesota with a double major in neuroscience and psychology, he saw it as a stepping stone to a science career.

Carr changed his mind after three months, after actually witnessing and having to participate in what happens to animals in a facility that is fiercely (and absurdly) defended as being "humane." What he saw there proved to him both that the experiments were cruel and that they weren't good science--and Carr wasn't even previously opposed to animal-based research. But the story could stop here, and we'd still see cruelty: they live in "plastic containers slightly larger than shoe boxes, stacked on shelves," in which they go mad. But Carr's story continues:

“They’re not worried about animals’ welfare,” Carr says. “It’s not even on their radar. They’re worried about getting their job done in as little time as possible.”

Before he was hired last August, he says, two rats were euthanized for sores from botched injections of alcohol into their abdomens—an event OHSU officials confirm. Carr says such mistakes were common at the lab, a charge OHSU vehemently denies.

After a half-hour training session, Carr was assigned to cut into rats’ backs and surgically implant up to two pumps, each the size of a large cold capsule, between their shoulder blades. The pumps administered nicotine to study the drug’s effect on impulsive behavior.

The day after Carr operated on two rats, he found gaping wounds in their backs and the pumps missing. Carr says they must have been so uncomfortable that the rats ripped them out and ate them.
His boss at OHSU, behavioral neuroscience professor Suzanne Mitchell, says it’s still a mystery what happened to the pumps. She asked Carr to put new ones into the same rats and continue the experiment, which he did.

Who can argue that this isn't cruelty? Carr was equally distressed by what would seem obvious indications that these experiments weren't good science either and by what many animal advocates already know about but to which the public in general remains mostly oblivious: it's not about the science; it's about the money.

A growing number of scientists and health-care groups are stepping forward to question what some call an over-reliance on animal research that’s hindering medical progress. Critics of current “animal models” for cancer and AIDS include MIT’s Robert Weinberg, the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Fran Visco and Steven Bende of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Carr finally quit OHSU when Mitchell sought approval to give rats lead to measure the heavy metal’s effect on ADHD. Carr questioned whether ADHD, a controversial diagnosis even in humans, could really be studied in rats.

He learned that all but one member of the boards that approve animal experiments at OHSU are employees at the school—and for every $100,000 in federal grant money for an animal experiment, OHSU gets an extra $54,000 for salaries and operations.

Carr says that’s a clear conflict of interest that leads the board to approve virtually any experiment the feds agree to fund. Mitchell’s lead experiment, which had been funded for $74,000, was approved by the board overseeing her work in November.

I wonder, considering what Carr learned and saw during this short time, what would he have witnessed (and possibly become desensitized to?) if he had stayed in animal research beyond just those three months as a lab assistant?

Remember--it's World Week for Animals in Laboratories. Speak out. Demand change.

For more information on World Week, visit Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN).

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