Stuart Zola testifies before Congress about animal rights distortions of science

Back in May the U.S. House Committee
on Science held a hearing to examine how to communicate scientific ideas
to the public. As part of that hearing, neuroscientist Stuart Zola,
Ph.D., testified about his experiences after being targeted by animal
rights activists for experiments he conducted on primates designed to
find answers to questions about the way the brain handles memory.

The sort of claims animal rights
activists made about Zola’s work are typical of those made against
all animal research. “Until my work became a focus of the activists,
I felt that my ‘job’ was to clarify how the brain worked and
to carry out high quality research and to do the research in a humane
and ethical way,” Zola told the committee. “But the activists
were telling a different story. A local group of activists attempted to
discredit my research and the research of my colleagues that used animals,
and claimed that we were in animal-related research ‘just for the
money and job security’ and that not only was basic research that
used animals useless, but that we were ‘torturing’ animals,
and in all ways animal research was inhumane.”

Zola said he assumed the public
would have enough of a scientific background to see through the distortions,
but instead was surprised to find them accepting the animal rights claims
about his research.

Consider the common charge that
a certain experiment doesn’t have immediate practical applications,
so therefore it is wasteful. As Zola made abundantly clear, however, this
is confusing the distinction between basic and applied research and arguing
that the former is unnecessary, which is simply not true. As Zola conceded,
his own research into the neurological structures of memory will have
little immediate practical benefit for patients,

Nevertheless, basic research is highly relevant to patient care and
the eventuality of developing effective interventions and treatments
for brain-associated memory problems. Knowledge generated by neuroscience
research has led to important advances in understanding of diseases
and disorders that affect the nervous system and in the development
of treatments that reduce suffering in humans and animals … Continued
progress in understanding how the brain works and further advances in
treating and curing disorders of the nervous system require investigations
of complex functions at all levels in living nervous systems.

Another common claim made by animal
rights activists is that animal experimentation is unnecessary because
cell/tissue cultures along with computer models can be used for the same
effect. While it is true that alternatives to animal testing do exist,
they are not appropriate for all avenues of research.

Consider computer models. Such
models designed to study some cognitive functions do exist, but there
are no computer models of the brain which would answer the questions about the way memory structures function. For that Zola and other neuroscientists
need to rely on animal experiments. Similarly, while

cell culture and tissue culture techniques can be informative for studying
the function of isolated components of a system, and can help identify
the potential toxicity or medical benefits of compounds in the early
stages of investigation … it is usually the case that we need to understand
function in the context of a whole, intact system, made up of interrelated
organs and organ systems, where they can be many different influences
on a particular function.

Studying the effects of a new drug
in a tissue or cell culture is certainly helpful, but at some point researchers
need to know how the drug will affect the entire animal — something which,
again, requires testing the drug in an animal.

The biggest surprise from Zola’s
testimony is how isolated scientists engaged in basic research remain
from the general public. Reading Zola testify how he thought the public
would see through the animal rights distortions, the immediate question
is how widespread this naiveté is among scientists. Don’t they hear
about the polls where most Americans say they believe that humans and
dinosaurs co-existed at some point, or the relatively small numbers who
understand even the rudiments of chemistry or physics?

It is also alarming that Zola reported
he would visit legislators to discuss the role of animals in medical research

often got comments from them that, although they had many animal activists
visit them, I was the first scientists who had ever come to discuss
these issues with them … until scientists began to talk to legislators
directly, they were often as misinformed about science and the scientific
process and the benefits of animal research as the general public.

The University of California, San
Diego, where Zola works, created a speaker’s bureau to talk about
the research they do to local schools, businesses, clubs, etc. More universities
need to make a concerted effort to reach out to their communities and
educate the public about what they are doing and why it is important.


Testimony of Stuart M. Zola, Ph.D., US House Representatives Committee on Science,
May 14, 1998.

Scientists find DNA cure for genetic deafness in mice

Researchers at the University of
Michigan Medical School recently accomplished the first permanent correction
of a deafness-related genetic mutation. The experiment was performed with shaker-2
mice — a strain of mice born that is born deaf due to genetic defects.

Scientists used a Genetic Engineering technology
to first locate the gene responsible for the deafness and then injected
short sections of normal cloned DNA into fertilized mouse eggs. On June
23, 1997 the first shaker-2 mouse without the genetic defects was born.
The results were reported in the May 29, 1998 issue of Science.

The discovery of the defective
gene in mice quickly led researchers to find a nearly identical gene in
human beings that may be responsible for some cases of congenital deafness
in human beings.

“Interaction between scientists
working with the mouse genome and the human genome made it possible to
locate these genes so quickly,” said Sally A. Camper, associate professor
of human genetics at the U-M Medical School. “It’s a perfect
example of how transgenic technology in mice can contribute to research
with the potential to help people.”

Camper noted that there are 12
other related forms of deafness-related mutations in which the responsible
gene remains unknown and that “finding the defective gene is the
first step toward developing new treatments which someday could restore
hearing in children and adults.”

The UM scientist now hope to find
a way to deliver the normal gene into the cells of adult animals. “The
next step is to develop delivery vehicles to introduce the normal gene
into inner ear cells of individuals who carry these deafness genes,”
said Yehoash Raphael, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the UM
Medical school. “Once adequate vectors are available, gene therapy
for genetic-based deafness will become a reality.”


“DNA cure of genetic deafness in mice helps human research,” UniSci
Science and Research News, May 29, 1998.

Switzerland overwhelmingly rejects ban on genetic engineering of animals, plants

Opponents of Genetic Engineering
of animals and plants had been cautiously optimistic about the chances
of Switzerland becoming the first nation to pass a referendum banning
genetic engineering. Instead more than 65 percent of Swiss citizens voted
no on the proposed constitutional change, sending it down to a huge defeat.

Switzerland is home to close to
200 firms that conduct genetic research, including pharmaceutical giants
Novartis and Roche who aggressively opposed the proposed ban.


“Swiss oppose ban on genetic research and production,”,
June 7, 1998.

“Swiss voters reject curbs on genetic engineering,” CNN, June 7, 1998.

Future promises more genetically engineered animals

As animal rights activists point
out ad nauseum, animal models are not completely analogous to human beings.
Substances which cause cancer in rats sometime fail to cause cancer in
human beings and vice versa. But what if researchers genetically engineered mice and rats to suffer from the same illnesses human beings suffer from?
Well now they can, which is creating an enormous debate about the ethics
of such animal research.

Until recently, scientists relied on
finding mutant strains of mice which suffered from diseases or symptoms
similar to those experienced by human beings. Mice commonly used to test
cancer treatments, for example, are specially bred to be highly prone
to developing cancer.

Advances in biotechnology take
that one step further and allow scientists to alter the genes in mice
embryos so they are born with specific defects such as cystic fibrosis
or arthritis. As National Institutes of Health immunologist Ronald Schwartz
recently told the Washington Post, such animal models should be incredibly

John Sharp, superintendent of induced
mutant resource at the Jackson Laboratory, put it bluntly. “More and
more research is moving toward the use of these mice. It’s where
the future of research is headed.”

And it is not just mice. Researchers
at laboratories around the world are genetically altering pigs, goats
and sheep to do everything from produce more easily transplantable organs
to providing delivery mechanisms for medicine in their milk.

As genetic engineering of animals
spreads, so does the opposition movements aimed at limiting or banning it. Those
opposed to such genetic engineering complain it is wrong to design animals
to suffer.

“There really is something
primordially horrible about replicating animals that will suffer endlessly,”
|Bernard Rollin|, a Colorado State University physiologist, told the Washington Post. Other attack genetic engineering as challenging our notions of life
as inherently sacred.

The biggest opposition in recent
years came in Switzerland, where 112,000 Swiss citizens signed a petition
to put a ban on research on genetically altered animals on the ballot.

Failing to use these genetically
engineered animals, however, will mean ignoring an excellent source of
medical information. Genetically engineered mice have already yielded
important information about deadly human illnesses such as |Huntington’s| disease. When scientists removed a gene in mice which corresponds to the
defective human gene that causes Huntington’s, researchers noticed
small protein deposits in the brains of the mice; something that had not
been observed in Huntington’s patients. Upon reexamining the brains
of Huntington’s victims, however, researchers indeed found the protein
deposits, which are now suspected as one of the primary causes of the
diseases’ symptoms.


Rick Weiss, “Creation of flawed animals raises new ethics issues,”
Washington Post, June 7, 1998.

PETA wants animal hearing experiments stopped

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Mary Beth Sweetland was up in arms over animal experiments
that researchers at the University of California-San Francisco plan to
carry out on squirrel monkeys.

According to UCSF vice chancellor
for research Zach Hall, researchers Marshal Fong and Stephen Chenung plan
to anesthetize the animals and then expose them to a range of very high
frequency noise. “The animals, when they wake up, will have a hearing
disability, one that’s similar to one that millions of Americans
have [inability to hear high-frequency sounds],” Hall said.

Sweetland wants the experiments
stopped, but Hall said the experiments have already been approved by the
university’s committee on animal research and will have practical

“The research seeks to understand
the changes that occur in the brain as the result of sensory deprivation
– in this case, hearing loss – with the hope that we can use what we learn
to relieve the hearing loss caused by loud noise,” Hall said.

As Fong summed it up, “These
people [PETA] are distorting the truth here.”


“Activists want UC monkeys spared,” Scripps Howard, May 21, 1998.

Animal experiments lead to possible breakthrough in treatment of spinal cord injuries

A study published in the June issue
of Nature Neuroscience reveals just how far scientists have
come in understanding, and possibly someday correcting, |spinal cord| injuries.

Martin Schwab, of the Institute
for Brain Research at the University of Zurich in Sweden, and his colleagues
took rats and cut the nerve fibers in the rats’ brain stem. This
operation effectively removed the ability of the rats to exercise fine
motor control of their front limbs, making it impossible for them to climb
ropes or grasp food pellets.

Then the researchers injected the
rats with a specially engineered antibody called IN-1. Those rats receiving
IN-1 grew new nerve fibers that took over for the damaged fibers. Both
rats and human beings produce growth inhibitors which usually prevent
new fibers from growing. The Zurich researchers hope the things they have
learned in neutralizing these inhibitors in rats will help them to find
a way to neutralize them in human beings.

“This study re-emphasizes
the role of the non-injured nervous system in compensating for the loss
of function after damage,” said Michael Beattie, a neuroscience professor
at Ohio State University who specializes in spinal cord injury. “The
work they’ve done suggests that they’re on the right track to
understanding how to produce therapies that can enhance repair and recovery
of function.”


Jane E. Allen “New hope for repairing spinal injuries” Associated
Press, May 18, 1998.