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University criticized for medical testing

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: Front Page


Brandeis is home to a large scientific research center, making strides in cancer, aging and circadian rhythms and, in order to comprehend these scientific systems, animals are often used in the research, a process that animal rights groups such as PETA oppose.

Though the animal rights activists have named Brandeis as one of the country’s most vegan friendly campuses, they criticize the university’s use of animals in the lab, arguing it is cruel to use animals in medical research, and opposing nearly all experiments that use animals.

These experiments, and the creatures they include, however, are imperative to the scientific process, Eve Marder, head of the science division said. Precautions are taken to ensure humane treatment of the animals and they are often treated better in laboratories than on farms, or even in some zoos, she said.

“When an experiment requires the use of animals, we all try to use as few as possible, and as low on the biogenetic scale as possible,” Marder said.

Brandeis currently houses stocks of rodents, worms, crabs, lobsters, yeast and fruit flies for testing. “There are very strict procedures for caring and euthanizing animals, and disposing of animals,” she added.

Many of PETA’s criticisms of animal testing concern the welfare of animals. Funding experiments, or product testing, with which they are far more concerned, are “wasting precious dollars on cruel, irrelevant experiments on animals instead of spending the money on promising human-based research,” according to the their website.

Marder disagrees. “If we are to develop new therapeutics, either new drugs or devices, they first must be researched on animals before they’re used on humans,” she explained.

Moreover, the distinction between product testing and scientific research is a drastic one. “In order to get reliable data, the animals have to be healthy. Every good scientist treats their animals humanely because they want high quality data,” Marder said. Behavioral studies, on which many labs at Brandeis focus, are especially applicable. “If you want to assess a drug on behavior, it’s important for the animals to be healthy, because you want them to behave normally,” she said.

Institutions at Brandeis ensure the humane treatment of animals, dean of arts and sciences Professor Susan Birren (BIOL) said.

“Animal use at Brandeis is strictly regulated to maximize animal welfare and is based on the principles of reducing the numbers used, replacing animals with alternative approaches when possible, and refining procedures to minimize pain or distress,” Birren said. Birren was a board member of Brandeis’ Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which regulates research involving live subjects. A multitude of paperwork and proof that animals are treated well is required to obtain subjects.

Marder insists that the gains from basic scientific research using animals far outweigh the costs. “We sacrifice to learn. We don’t sacrifice them unnecessarily.” The path to FDA-approved drug treatments can take up to 15 years, and the research that the medications were derived from can take place even 50 years prior. Without the basic research like the kind conducted at Brandeis, she says, many life saving medications would not be available.

“People are clamoring for a cure to Alzheimer’s. We may not be able to use yeast to study direct effects, but we look at how proteins fold and how cells die, and that’s the first step.”