PCRM Sues OSU — Wants Photographs and/or Videotapes of Spinal Cord Injury Course

In April, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a lawsuit against Ohio State University’s board of trustees seeking photographs and/or videotapes of OSU’s three-week long Spinal Cord Injury Research Techniques Course.

The course teaches students methods of injuring the spinal cords of laboratory animals so they can be used in animal models of such injuries. According to The Columbus Dispatch, 189 rats and 60 mice are injured as part of the course.

PCRM requested information from OSU about the course, and OSU turned over some written records about the course. But PCRM’s suit argues that it needs access to the photographs and/or videotapes in order to evaluate whether or not animals are being treated properly.

In its lawsuit, PCRM claims,

It is of significant societal importance that all U.S. and Ohio taxpayer-funded medical research performed by a noncommercial scientist at, through, and in conjunction with a public university is subject to public accountability and scrutiny.

By withholding the requested information, OSU is preventing the public from meaningfully and thoroughly understanding the process by which taxpayer-funded animal research, which purports to help humans, is conducted.

In its original communication to PCRM refusing to release any photographs or videotapes, OSU said that such records were OSU’s intellectual property, which is one of the exemptions to OSU’s public records law.


Doctors sue OSU for videos of spinal research on rats. Darrel Rowland, The Columbus Dispatch, April 12, 2005.

OSU Responds to PCRM’s Claims about Spinal Cord Injury Course

As I mentioned earlier this year, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the National Institutes of Health claiming about an NIH-funded class at Ohio State University that trains researchers to injure the spinal cords of mice and rats so the animals can be used in spinal cord research. PCRM claims the course is in violation of the Animal Welfare Act and involves cruelty to animals.

OSU recently responded to an NIH request for a response to PCRM’s charges.

According to OSU student newspaper The Lantern, PCRM’s letter claimed that the researchers first performed multiple operations to impair the animals’ spinal cords and then force them to perform a number of task,

The animals are surely in a large amount of post-operative pain in addition to the complications they might experience as a result of their injury. This OSU course violates efforts designed to avoid or minimize such pain and distress to the animals.

In its response to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, OSU responded that a) the animals undergo only a single major surgery, b) animals are medicated for pain, c) behavioral study of the animals doesn’t occur until after the animals have recovered from the surgery, and d) the behavioral research does not involve forcing the animals to perform, but rather offers the animal rewards for performing certain tasks.

According to OSU’s response,

The instructors prepare a cohort of animals with spinal cord injury to train students in the proper conduct of behavioral testing. Testing does not commence until the animals are well recovered from surgery.

In her letter to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, PCRM’s Kristie Stoick wrote that there are alternatives to using animals for such training purposes,

Alternatives range from shadowing a researcher and the use of simulation and models to videotaped technique demonstrations.

OSU spokesman Earle Holland responded that this is simply not the case, telling The Lantern,

There are no available altenratives for whole organisms. If there were equivalent methods, every researcher would jump at the idea of not using animals. It’s really ludicrous. It’s just not true. Researchers would be using them. No one enjoys doing things to animals that are undesirable.

In its letter, OSU wrote that it formed a subcommittee of its Institutional Laboratory Animal Care and Use Committee that investigated the course and considered the possibility of non-animal alternatives,

By properly training new researchers in the current best practices, the potential for poorly performed experiments will be less, thereby allowing refinement and/or reduction of animal numbers. The investigators (and) instructors pride themselves on the high level of care given to the animals and are dedicated to teaching others to deal with their subjects carefully, compassionately, and to respect both animal and human life.

OSU is currently awaiting a response from the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.


OSU denies animal cruelty complaints. Susan Kehoe, The Lantern (Ohio State University), February 28, 2005.

PCRM vs. Ohio State University

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was making a lot of noise in February about the National Institutes of Health’s decision to investigate PCRM’s complaint about OSU’s Spinal Cord Injury Techniques Training Course.

The course teaches researchers how to injure the spinal cords of mice and rats so that they can be used in research on spinal cord injuries. The course itself is partially funded by NIH, so the agency’s decision to investigate the course is not surprising. Given that the NIH has previously approved the course, this will likely be a routine investigation unless there are problems with the course that are above and beyond PCRM’s simple objection to conducting this sort of research in animals.

In its press release announcing the NIH’s decision, PCRM takes credit for something that actually hasn’t happened,

In 2002, PCRM was instrumental in stopping NIH-funded experiments by OSU researcher Dr. Michael Podell, who infected cats with feline immunodeficiency virus and injected them with methamphetamine (“speed”) in an attempt to create an animal model for HIV-positive humans using drugs.

And, in fact, Podell made an important discovery — that HIV-like illness in felines progress much faster in cats that were exposed to methamphetamines. Podell hypothesized that this might explain why HIV-related dementia has such a quick onset in human methamphetamine users.

It is true that Podell left Ohio State University in 2002 due to the level of harassment that animal rights activists directed at him, but the research did not stop. It was handed off to another researcher who used tissue cultures to study more closely this effect, but who made it clear that after that study was finished the research would return to using cats in the 4th or 5th year of the study (which would have been 2004 or 2005 — the grant ends May 31, 2005).

As anti-research group Protect Our Earths Treasures noted in 2003,

September 2003, five (5) cats arrive at OSU from Liberty Labs and enter protocol 020047/96A0038.

Why are we concerned? A portion of protocol, 96A0038, was used by Michael Podell to conduct his pilot study which lead to his own protocol – Cats On Meth.

PCRM might have moved on to other things, but the research on felines at OSU apparently continued.


NIH to Investigate OSU’s Spinal Injury Course. Press Release, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, February 8, 2005.

Remembrance for the Animals Used In the Labs at The Ohio State University. Protect Our Earths Treasures, Undated, Accessed: February 28, 2005.

PCRM Wants an End to OSU's Spinal Cord Classes

Ohio State University, like a number of other institutions, offers a three week Spinal Cord Injury Training Course to familiarize students and professionals with the methods and techniques used in spinal cord research. Since much spinal cord research is animal research, the course includes instruction on techniques to injure the spinal cords of mice and rats.

Not surprisingly, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants the courses shut down. In a press release urging activist to contact the university, PCRM said,

Ohio State University is offering what may be the most inhumane course ever taught: A class in injuring the spinal cords of rats and mice.

Participants in OSUÂ’s Spinal Cord Injury Training Course will be taught how to systematically injure the animalsÂ’ spinal cords by major surgery and blunt trauma. OSU rationalizes the course by claiming that more standardized techniques are needed among spinal cord researchers. The three-week course will subject 189 rats and 60 mice to multiple painful surgeries, laboratory procedures, and distressing behavioral exercises after the injuries.

The course is going forward even though nonanimal research on spinal cord injuries is yielding exciting results. For example, relevant data are being obtained through tests on human neural cell lines in culture, impact studies using human cadavers, clinical observations and trials, and other techniques that do not require the use of animals.

Of course PCRM leaves out any mention of the ground breaking work on spinal cord injuries currently taking place in animals (in fact many of the advances that PCRM refers to were possible thanks largely to the sort of basic research with animals that PCRM opposes here).


Action Alert: Help Stop Inhumane Spinal Cord Classes at OSU. Press Release, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, June 11, 2004.

Experimental spinal cord injury (SCI) course. Press Release, Ohio State University, March 15, 2004.

Ohio State University Set to Expand Animal Research Facilities

Ohio State University, which came under fire recently over HIV research involving felines, recently announced that it plans a major expansion of its animal testing facilities.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that OSU will undertake a $30 million expansion of its animal testing facilities at Weiseman Hall that will add 35,000 square feet of lab space. The money will be raised through a combination of money from the Ohio legislature and bonds issued by OSU.

OSU’s William Yonushonis told the Dispatch,

It will be a rodent facility, primarily for mice. We’re looking at housing up to 35,000 cages. You can put up to five mice a cage.

This would add to the approximately 75,000 animals that the Dispatch reports are already used annually for research at OSU. Ninety-two percent of such animals are mice and rats.

Ohio-based animal rights group Protect Our Earth’s Treasures criticized the expansion. POET director Rob Russell told the Columbus Dispatch,

There’s a whole bunch of projects that we feel could be stopped today, and we feel it wouldn’t have any negative impact on humans.

OSU is also planning to build a new biosafety level 3 laboratory to study infectious diseases which will house laboratory animals.


New labs for mice planned at OSU. Alice Thomas, The Columbus Dispatch, July 5, 2003.

Background On Proposed BSL3 Laboratory Planned for Ohio State University’s West Campus. Press Release, Ohio State University, July 26, 2003.

Letter to the Editor Defending Animal Research

While searching Lexis for a related story, I happened to run across this well-written letter to the editor from a former animal researcher defending the importance of medical research. This originally appeared in the May 17, 2003 edition of the Columbus Dispatch (Ohio), and is reproduced here by permission of the author:

Shelley Finley’s May 3 letter, headlined “News of better treatment of lab animals is exaggerated,” contained the same nonsense that resulted in the funding cutbacks that cost me my career.

I don’t know of Finley’s qualifications for commenting on the evils of animal research, but as a former animal researcher at Ohio State University, I certainly feel qualified to offer a rebuttal.

Finley claims that thousands of primates are “often victims of the cruelest experiments.” But primates are valuable animals. Why would a researcher want to torture them?

Finley contends, “There are no real restrictions on what can be done to an animal during an experiment.” On the contrary, there are probably more rules and regulations governing the care and use of laboratory animals than governing my own health care. There are countless review and approval procedures that researchers must undergo here in the United States, and animal research in most European countries has nearly been brought to a halt because of similar regulations.

Finley then launches into a graphic description of brain mapping on conscious animals, which have portions of their skulls removed and are “forced” to respond to stimuli via brain electrodes. I once did that in bats, and I admit it initially sounds awful. My research concerned mechanisms of ear directionality. I would prepare small holes in the bats’ skulls under anesthesia, then record from brain cells with microscopic electrodes, which are considered painless. It was my intent to do all of my recordings under anesthesia, as it is hard to keep an electrode stationary in a squirming animal.

However, a few times my animals came out of anesthesia, unbeknownst to me. They would calmly listen to the soft beeps and whistles as I continued mapping their auditory systems, apparently comfortable enough that they had no reason to move. What the animal-liberation activists don’t tell people is that there are no pain receptors in the brain. They also don’t tell people that brain mapping is also done in conscious humans, for instance to locate epileptic foci.

Antivivisectionists such as Finley are well-meaning but deluded, and they consciously distort the truth of what researchers do, in order to make it sound as shocking and macabre as possible. In the real world, I have not once heard a scientist express pleasure at seeing an animal suffer, which is something I can’t say about much of humanity. Researchers do care about the welfare of their research animals, particularly when activists raid their laboratories at night, torture their animals for photo ops, and “liberate” them into environments where they cannot survive.

Finally, Finley bemoans that $23 million of tax money has been allocated for university research involving animals. This figure, if accurate, amounts to less than a dime per year per American citizen. If animal-rights activists believe even a dime is too much to pay for advances in medical technology, then surely their true objective is to shut down biomedical research entirely.

They are winning their campaign, and our biomedical infrastructure is indeed crumbling. Researchers such as myself are either teaching or finding other lines of work. Laboratories are closing their doors. Meanwhile, diseases such as SARS, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease threaten our well-being. Until Americans can muster enough common sense to see through these extremists’ distortions and lies, our future will be bleak indeed.

Sarah Fox