Scientist Thinks Outside the Cage
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Scientist Thinks Outside the Cage

From October 2005 PCRM Online

[Ed. Note:] Common sense would indicate that results derived from medical research on animals under such stress would not be reliable. Obviously, such barbaric research is not only harmful to animals, but most likely also worthless, as far as any benefit for humans is concerned. It’s time to stop this waste of time and money in the name of “science.” Donate only to charities with the Humane Charity Seal of Approval.

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., and Lucy

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., PCRM research scientist, has spent the past year examining the lives of mice and rats used in medical experiments. In one study, published last year in Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science, Dr. Balcombe showed that even routine contact with researchers cause these rodents severe stress. A new report, soon to be published in Laboratory Animals, shows how barren laboratory housing compounds the animals’ suffering.

Dr. Balcombe shares these findings at scientific meetings around the world. On October 1, he spoke at the Ontario Veterinary College; on October 20, he presented a paper titled “Rodents in Laboratories: Suffering beyond the Experiments” at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Comprising 90 percent of all animals used in laboratories, rats and mice suffer a seemingly endless variety of harmful experiments. An estimated 100 million die in the United States each year in procedures ranging from toxicity tests to birth defects studies to psychology experiments.

But rodent pain and stress are not limited to the experiments. Rodents in laboratories must regularly endure stressful or painful routines, such as blood draws, injections, and force feeding/dosing. Seemingly benign manipulations, such as moving a cage or picking an animal up, cause stress-response hormones to flood the bloodstream. Other reactions include a racing pulse or a blood pressure spike. Recovery can take an hour or more. “Being picked up doesn’t sound frightening, but when it precedes a needle jab, a tube forced down your throat, or worse, these animals learn to fear it,” says Dr. Balcombe.

Even the rodents’ “down time” is grim. “In the wild, rats and mice are highly motivated to explore, hide, build nests, forage, and choose social partners. Their 'shoe-box' lab cages thwart most of these behaviors, leading to stunted brain development and distorted behavior such as prolonged and futile digging, circling, and cage bar-gnawing,” Dr. Balcombe reports.

Jonathan Balcombe’s new book, Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good is slated to be published by Macmillan in May 2006

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