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.

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.

Researchers Treat Paralysis in Rats by Using Embryonic Human Stem Cells

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine announced in July that they were able to treat the bruised spines of rats by injecting the animals with human embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Hans Kierstead headed up the research which took human embryonic stem cells and modified them into cells that form the myelin sheath around nerve fibers (oligodendrocytes). The stem cells were then injected into the bruised spinal cords of the rats.

After a little more than two months, the formerly paralyzed rates regained the ability to walk. According to a report on the research in New Scientist,

Analysis of the rats’ spinal cords revealed that the transplanted oligodendrocytes had wrapped themselves around neurons and formed new myelin sheaths. The transplanted cells also secreted growth factors that appear to have stimulated the formation of new neurons.

Kierstead’s team repeated the experiment three times, finding similar results each time.

New Scientist also reports that another team, led by Douglas Kerr at John Hopkins University, also announced in late June that they had performed a similar experiment. Kerr’s team injected undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells into rats with injured spinal cords. The rats regained the ability to support their own weight again 24 weeks after the treatment.


Human cells used to make paralyzed rats walk. Charles Arthur, The Independent, July 3, 2003.

Stem cells enable paralyzed rats to walk. New Scientist, July 3, 2003.

Researchers Repair Rat's Spinal Cord

A team of researchers led by Dr. Geoffrey Raisman published a study in the June Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine describing how they repaired a rat’s damaged spinal cord by transplanting cells from its nose.

The researchers transplanted olfactory nerve cells into the scar tissue of the rat’s damaged spinal cord. The nerve cells bridged the damage and restored the functionality of the severed nerve fibers in the spinal cord.

Raisman was quoted in the Daily Mail (London) as saying,

This procedure allows spinal nerve fibres to regrow in a way which has not been thought possible. . . . I have been working in this direction all my life and I never expected we would get this far. We now believe that human trials would be worthwhile.

Similar studies in other animals will have to take place first, but Raisman hopes human trials of this technique could begin within three years. It is certainly the latest in a string of findings thanks to animal research that offers the hope of one day curing even serious spinal cord injuries.


Rat healing raises hope for spinal cure. Corinne Amoo, Reuters, June 1, 2003.

Trials To Start On Repairing Damaged Spinal Cords. Paul Sims, The Daily Mail (London), June 2, 2003.

Rat Study Raises Spinal Cord Hopes For Humans. Stephen Cauchi, Sydney Morning Herald, June 3, 2003.

Researchers Partially Regenerate Spinal Cord in Rats

Researchers at King’s College London reported in Nature that they had managed to restore movement to rats that were paralyzed by injuries to the spinal cord.

Normally spinal cord cells do not regenerate for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that following an injury, scar tissue forms in the spinal cord which forms a barrier that nerve cells are unable to cross.

Researchers at King’s College used a bacterial enzyme called chondroitinase ABC that destroys molecules in the scar tissue and allows nerve cells a pathway to grow back.

Dr. Elizabeth Bradbury, who led the research, told The BBC,

After damage to spinal cord tissue, a complex jungle of molecules is deposited in the scarred area. Chondroitinase ABC acts like a ‘molecular machete’, cutting a path through the jungle of molecules that usually prevent spinal cord nerves growing back into these damaged areas.

When they applied the enzyme to rats, the animals recovered most — though not all — of their pre-injury neurological functioning. The rats were able to walk again, but did not completely recover all functioning in their spinal cord.

What does this mean for the ultimate goal of treating spinal cord injuries in human beings? Restoring neurological function is a complex task that will involve solving a number of distinct, but related, problems. This researcher suggests one approach to soling one of those problems.

As Dr. Bradbury told The BBC,

This is a great advance but not some sort of miracle cure. There are still many other blocks that must be overcome before complete spinal cord repair can be achieved in humans. In terms of treating people, we could see clinical trials involving this treatment as part of a multi-targeted therapy starting within the next five years.


Severed spinal cord regenerated. The BBC, April 10, 2002.