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.

First Successful Live-Donor Islet Cell Transplantation Procedure

In February, the BBC reported that a team at Japan’s Kyoto University Hospital had succeeded in transplanting islet cells from a healthy woman into her 27-year-old diabetic daughter.

Islet cell transplantations have been performed before, but always from dead organ donors, which created a number of problems since the islet cells were frequently damaged after the death of the donor. And in countries as Japan, dead organ donors are extremely rare.

As the BBC notes, this could be an effective treatment for Type 1 diabetes, and we have animal research to thank for this advance.

That islet transplantation might be used to treat diabetes was first established by Dr. Paul Lacy who used a rat model in which he made the experimental rats suffer from diabetes and then transplanted islet cells from healthy rats. The rats were effectively cured of their diabetes.

How important was this animal research? Dr. James Shapiro was the lead surgeon on the team that transplanted the islet cells. In an interview, he said that a key at DiabetesStation.Com, Shapiro noted that animal research was instrumental in helping researchers understand where the islet cells should be transplanted to for maximum effectiveness,

The idea to use the liver was not mine. Experiments in rats, in large animals, and eventually in people all suggested that the liver was about the only site where islets could take well and work in people.

Sort of odd how that could happen if animals are too different from human beings for animal research to be applicable to human health problems.


Living donor diabetes transplant. The BBC, February 4, 2005.

Islet Cell Transplant. Dr. James Shapiro, April 13, 2003.

World-first living donor islet cell transplant a success. Press release, University of Alberta, February 3, 2005.

Animal Liberation Front Claims Responsibility for University of Iowa Attack

The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility this week for extensive damage at a University of Iowa animal laboratory on November 14.

In a lengthy e-mail communique, the Animal Liberation Front said,

The Animal Liberation Front is claiming responsibility for the liberation of 401 animals from the University of Iowa in the early hours of November 14th, 2004. All animals on the third floor of the UI psychology department — 88 mice and 313 rats — were removed, examined and treated by a sympathetic veterinarian, and placed in loving homes.

Additionally, two animal labs and three vivisector’s offices were entered and all contents relating to animal research were destroyed.

These are:

4th Floor – Spence Labs:
Vivisector Ed Wasserman’s lab entered. Dozens of computers and devices used in experiments on live pigeons were destroyed.

Basement – Spence Labs:
Lab of vivisector Mark Blumburg and others entered. Surgical equipment and small animal stereotaxic devices, as well as “shock boxes” and other instruments of torture destroyed.

4th Floor – Seashore Hall
Primate researcher Joshua Rodefer’s office entered. Computer discs, hard .drives, paperwork and photos showing Rodefer’s work confining drug addicted primates in small glass boxes removed. The remaining paperwork detailing his monstrous work addicting primates and rats to narcotics was soaked in acid and the computer destroyed.

1st Floor – Seashore Hall
Primate researcher Amy Poremba’s office entered. Computers destroyed, documents removed, and the remainder soaked in acid.

This raid was carried out to halt the barbaric research of the UI Psychology Department’s 7 primary animal researchers: Professors Poremba, Freeman, Blumburg, Johnson, Robinson, Rodefer and Wasserman.

This was not thoughtless vandalism but a methodical effort to cripple the UI psychology department’s animal research. Only equipment in rooms where animals were confined and tortured were targeted. Only computers belonging to or used in the work of vivisectors were destroyed. Only documents of animal researchers waere doused in acid. The acid a deliberately chosen paper dissolving agent. Our goal is total abolition of all animal exploitation. Achieved in the short term by delivering the 401 animals from UI’s chamber of hell. And in the extended term by shutting down the labs through the erasing of research and equipment used in the barbaric practice of vivisection. The entire raid was a careful and deliberate 5-pronged assault on UI’s animal research.

Behind the laboratory doors we found drug addicted rats, rats subjected to stress experiments involving loud noise, rats undergoing thirst experiments, unanesthetized rats with protruding surgical staples and oozing wounds, and mice and rats affixed with grotesque head implants. Inside the labs of UI’s Psych Department, we found a bloody torture chamber showcasing the cruelest whims of our earth’s sickest minds. Professors Freeman, Poremba, Rodefer, Johnson, Robinson, Blumburg, and Wasserman are monsters. Tonight 401 animals are spared their reach.

Our deepest sadness is reserved for the animals on the 4th Floor kept from our arms, those we were unable to save, including hundreds of mice and rats, pigeons, guinea pigs, and 8 primates.

No animals were released into the wild. All 401 were placed in comfortable, loving homes.

No mention was made in the e-mail about the animals which University of Iowa researcher Mark Blumberg said had ended up being drowned at the laboratory as a result of the attack. There’s also something a bit fishy about the claim that the activists were able to house all of those animals humanely. As Wayne Stollings points out in this site’s discussion forum,

If you take this article as a base the minimum (outdated) laboratory requirement for this group would be 21910 sq in for the rats and 1320 sq in for the mice for a total minimum area of 23230 sq in or 161.3 sq ft. or about a 13ft X 13ft room. If you take the UK minimum for rats . . . of 700 cm2 X 18 cm (108.5 sq inches) you have 219100 cm2 or 33960 sq in or 236 sq ft. as a laboratory minimum. The on line cage calculator for pets gives 225 sq in for rats and 36 sq in for the mice for 70425 sq in and 3168 sq in respectively for a total of 73593 sq in or 511 sq ft, the size of a typical apartment. Given, you can stack the cages to halve the square footage needed, you then have to be more careful in the care as the higher cages may get hotter than the lower ones. So how many people do you believe gave up entire rooms in their homes for these rats?

University of Iowa President David Skorton released a statement in response to ALF’s statement that read,

Today we have learned that anonymous members of the Animal Liberation Front are claiming responsibility for the violent attacks on laboratories and offices in Seashore Hall and Spence Laboratories on our campus on Sunday, Nov. 14. We have shared that message with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and hope that it will help in the effort to solve this criminal case.

Reasonable people do not resort to violence and vandalism and then follow those acts with further threats of violence. Reasonable people can and do disagree about when and how using animals in research is appropriate ethically and/or scientifically. But make no mistake: the message from the perpetrators of this crime, which identifies not only the home addresses of our researchers, but also names family members, can have no other purpose than to intimidate. But we will not be bullied. I have directed our University of Iowa Police Department to work with other law enforcement agencies to take action to help ensure the safety of our faculty, staff, students and their families. Just as importantly, we will take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard the laboratories and offices of our colleagues who have dedicated their lives to the discovery of new knowledge.

At a time like this, when one of our core values is being questioned, it must be said that the University of Iowa is committed to the pursuit and discovery of knowledge that contributes to society’s general welfare.

The knowledge gained from biological research involving animals has come to be valued highly by society because it promotes the health and well-being of humans and animals. The majority of Americans endorse the use of animals to advance medicine and science when there are no non-animal alternatives, and when it is done in an ethical and humane way.

When the use of animals is necessary, the University of Iowa does everything in its power to ensure animal well-being and responsible animal care and use. The University Animal Care and Use Committee is charged with reviewing and approving all University activities related to the care and use of animals in research. In addition, caretakers under the close supervision of veterinary staff provide husbandry to the animals every day.

I call on our entire University to reach out to the members of our community who have been directly attacked, as well as those who have been cut off from their work and forced into temporary quarters by these unconscionable acts.

In closing, I want to strongly reiterate what I said previously: We will
emerge from this incident with an even stronger commitment to continue our scholarly and creative endeavors.

Of course not everyone within academia thinks terrorists are such a bad thing. The Iowa City Press-Citizen quoted University of Texas-El Paso philosophy chair as saying,

They [ALF] want every researcher to know no one is safe from attack. What (researchers) do to animals is not just a threat, it’s a threat that’s carried out.

One of the odd upshots of the ALF attack is that it has apparently created a chilling effect among local animal rights activists. A newly formed group, Citizens for Animal Rights of Eastern-Iowa, had been planning protests at the University of Iowa, but now its president, Kira Pfeifle, is not so sure they’re gong to go ahead with the protests,

I’m afraid to do it now. I don’t want my members to get investigated.


Animal groups worry about effects. Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2004.

FBI investigates university vandalism. KWWL, November 16, 2004.

ALF says vandals likely its members. Mike McWilliams, Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 18, 2004.

Skorton responds to ALF claim. Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 18, 2004.

DARPA Funds Research Into Rat Rescuers

Back in 2002, researchers at the State University of New York made a splash of publicity — and lots of criticism from animal rights activists (Gary Francione complained at the time that “there’s got to be a level of discomfort in implanting these electrodes”) — after they created a remote-controlled rat. The researchers implanted electrodes in the brains of rats and then used a remote control computer setup to reward the animals for fulfilling tasks. In this way, they were able to train the rats to respond to a series of remote commands, essentially creating remote-controlled rats.

Neat trick, but aside from the basic science involved in helping to further map which brain regions are involved in specific behavioral changes, does this have any real world application?

DARPA, the Pentagon’s research unit, us currently funding a project to see if such rats could be used to locate people in buildings that have collapsed from earthquakes or other disasters.

Researchers Linda and Ray Hermer-Vazquez at the University of Florida in Gainesville have been training rats to identify the scent of human beings as well as for the explosives TNT and RDX. The trick then is to be able to interpret remotely when the rats have in fact discovered such scents. According to Linda Hermer-Vazquez,

There are two neural events that we believe are hallmarks of the ‘aha’ moment for the rat.

If they can reliably pick up on those neural events and have a system that allows the rat to be pinpointed when it discovers human or explosive scents, then rats could make ideal rescuers. Unlike other solutions for finding trapped people, such as remote controlled robots, the rats would be able to navigate within complex, unpredictable environments much better as well as detecting human and explosive scents in an environment that is full of competing smells, which artificial systems still have a great deal of difficulty with.

The Hermer-Vazquez’s told New Scientist that they hope to have a viable rat rescue system developed sometime in 2005.

Typically one of the fears after large earthquakes and other natural disasters is that rats will multiply and spread disease as a result of the breakdown of sanitation and other systems. How appropriate, the, that rats might also be put in service to find victims and save the lives of people trapped after such disasters.


Rats’ brain waves could find trapped people. Emily Singer, New Scientist, September 22, 2004.

“Robo-rat” controlled by brain electrodes. New Scientist, May 1, 2002.

Russian ALF Outlines Its Extremist Actions

In July, the Russian Animal Liberation Front Support Group posted on the Internet an English-language outline of the group’s activities in Russia since its first activities in 2000.

The Russian ALF apparently started out with pretty low expectations, bragging, for example, that,

The summer of 2002 was marked by the destruction of 70 advert posters . . .

A few years later they had progressed to stealing frogs,

On 21 April 2004 RALF activists managed to get into the laboratory of the institute named after Anokhin, Russian Medical Academy. They freed 119 frogs and their eggs.

Thank goodness they saved the eggs!

The RALF (their acronym, not mine, but quite apropos) then moved up the food chain to rats and rabbits,

On 8 May 2004, 110 rats and 5 rabbits disappeared from the laboratory of Moscow State University Biological Department. These animals were used in experiments against alcoholism and drugs. Rats were fed drugs and alcohol, and rabbits had electrodes inserted in their heads.

Ah, the globalization of animal rights cluelessness in action.


History of the Russian Animal Liberation Front…so far.
Russian Animal Liberation Front Support Group, July 2, 2004.

Researchers Demonstrate Nerve Cell Regeneration after Spinal Cord Injury in Rats

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine demonstrate that a combination of therapies and cell grafts caused significant regeneration of nerve cells in rats suffering from spinal cord injuries.

Using the sort of techniques opposed by animal rights groups, the researchers first used a surgical technique to induce spinal cord damage in the rats. They then transplanted tissue grafts into the damaged area. New nerve cells regenerated not only in the area of the tissue graft, but also extended into the spinal cord and healthy tissue surrounding the injury.

Lead researcher Mark Tuszynski said in press release announcing publication of the findings that,

Previous studies have demonstrated reduced lesion and scarring, tissue and functional recovery after acute spinal cord injury. This study shows unequivocally that axons can be stimulated to regenerate into a cell graft placed in a lesion site, and out again, into the spinal cord — the potential basis for putting together a practical therapy.


Nerve cells successfully regenerated following spinal cord injury. Press Release, University of California, San Diego, July 13, 2004.