Tag Archives: ucla

UCLA Chancellor on the Importance of Research

Earlier this week, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block sent an email to the entire campus community entitled “A Message on the Importance of Research.”  In the message, Chancellor Block emphasizes the importance of medical research using animals and expresses support and admiration to all members of the UCLA family engaged in this work.  Below is the text of the email.

 

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UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

To the Campus Community:

Last week, the Daily Bruin published an important and compelling column by a member of our faculty, psychology and psychiatry professor David Jentsch. In it, Professor Jentsch rightfully encourages our students to use their knowledge and skills for the betterment of our world, which includes engaging in important scientific research.

For many years, Professor Jentsch has conducted essential research aimed at understanding brain chemistry in order to treat the root causes of addiction, a disease that destroys lives and families. This work has required responsible animal research.

I think it’s important that everyone take the time to read this column. As someone who has continued his lifesaving work despite being a target of violence and harassment by animal rights activists for many years, Professor Jentsch offers a critical and unique voice on this subject. Unfortunately, he has not been the only faculty member targeted by activists. Several of our other faculty members who engage in animal research have been similarly targeted and yet have bravely persevered despite these shameless tactics. Our campus has worked through the legal system and with law enforcement to protect our researchers, and I want to use this occasion to make it clear that all members of the UCLA community who contribute to scientific and medical progress continue to have our support, respect and admiration.Please always remember that animal research is closely monitored and subject to multiple stringent federal laws and university regulations. As Professor Jentsch writes, “Be a proud scientist… I stand with you.”As UCLA’s chancellor, I stand with him and all those who are dedicated to improving health and saving lives.

Sincerely,
Gene D. Block
Chancellor

Why Animal Research-based Criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge are Misguided

The following is a guest post by Caitlin Aamodt, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating motor neuron disease that progressively destroys the neurons required for voluntary movement, speech, and eventually breathing and swallowing, killing patients in just three to five years.  Through the Ice Bucket Challenge the ALS Foundation has raised over $100 million in funding while simultaneously providing a platform for over three million people to voice their support for scientific research.  But the wildly successful social media campaign was not without its critics.  Some were hesitant about the idea of wasting clean water, a luxury that isn’t afforded to many parts of the world and one that is growing more and more precious as the drought in the West worsens.  Others, particularly religious leaders, were unhappy with researchers’ use of embryonic stem cells, citing a conflict with their belief that life begins at conception.  But one of the most common criticisms, and the most dangerous, is that organizations that fund animal research should not be supported.

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Pete Frates, for whom the ice bucket challenge was created.

Initially it may seem harmless.  One might see a post about it in their Facebook feed and think, “Oh, so-and-so really has a soft spot for animals,” and then continue on without giving much thought to the implications of what they just read.  The issue can become murky, since the vast majority of people support the idea that animal abuse is wrong.  However, animal research is not abuse, and it is dangerous to voice opposition without considering the implications of what that really means.

What would one have to do to really extract him- or herself from taking advantage of the benefits of animal research?  To start this would involve declining any and all vaccinations, accepting vulnerability to dying from disease.  This actually extends to any intravenous injection, so all life saving therapies involving this simple procedure would be eliminated.  Death from blood loss due to a traumatic injury could not be prevented by a blood transfusion.  All surgeries would be off the table.  The basic antibiotics we take for granted would no longer be an option. No insulin treatment for diabetics.  No dialysis for those suffering from kidney failure.  Any hope for those suffering from breast cancer or depression would be lost.  Even the most recent medical advances, such as transplanting organs engineered from a patient’s own stem cells, would all be unavailable.  With these and countless other treatments directly resulting from animal research you would think that these activists would be sending us thank you cards instead of blind criticisms!

Could this hypocrisy be mitigated by any validity to their claims?  Absolutely- except for the fact that these concerns have already been addressed and protections already put in place.  Researchers and lay people alike want to ensure that no animal needlessly suffers.  Multiple oversight committees govern research activities conducted at universities. All federally funded research centers have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) made up of experts in the field as well as lay people to ensure that experimental design is deemed humane by both scientists and people unfamiliar with research practices alike.  Considerations include alleviating pain and side effects, minimizing the number of animals used, ensuring that animals are used appropriately and only when necessary, overseeing their healthcare and living facilities, and even requiring that a plan be in place to save the animals in the event of a natural disaster.  Research animals should be respected, and in keeping with that ethical consideration IACUC and many other oversight organizations ensure that they receive the best possible care.

The general perception of animal rights activists is that they are well-intentioned, if uninformed, individuals who are exercising their First Amendment right to protest whatever they want.  Unfortunately the reality is that their members include dangerous extremists willing to harass and carry out attacks on researchers.  At UCLA researchers are all too familiar with anti-research terrorism.  In 2006, 2007, and 2008 firebombs were planted at the homes of UCLA scientists.  In 2007 Dr. Edythe London’s home was flooded, along with a threatening note.  Dr. David Jentsch’s car was set on fire while he was in his home in 2009.  The terrorists also left a note filled with razorblades detailing a fantasy about sneaking up on him and slitting his throat.  On-going harassment includes yelling slurs at scientists outside their home.  In 2011 they referred to the daughter of holocaust survivors as “Hitler with a cunt,” and directed the homophobic slur “You cocksucking bastard” among others toward another researcher.  These extremists even directed their terrorism toward the children of Dr. Dario Ringach.  In 2010 they put on masks and banged on his children’s windows to terrify them and sent letters threatening to target them at school.

In the words of Dr. David Jentsch, “The anger generated by their failure to make a persuasive argument to the public, amplified by their sense of self-righteousness, is sufficient to convince them they are entitled to use violence to achieve their goals.”  We can no longer afford to be silent.  Animal research saves lives.  Anybody who reaps the benefits of animal research while claiming to oppose it should be made aware of this hypocrisy.  It is also essential that we banish the myth that modern-day biomedical research animals are tortured.  There are many layers of protections in place to ensure that they receive the best possible care.  There is no excuse for terrorism.  Nobody should fear for their lives or that of their children, especially researchers who dedicate their lives to scientific progress.  Now is the time to disseminate the truth about animal research and stand up for the welfare of all biomedical researchers.  The next time you hear someone claim to oppose the ice bucket challenge on the grounds of animal research be sure to speak up and educate them.  Society needs to hear the voices of the scientifically literate.  Don’t let them be drown out by ignorance.

Caitlin Aamodt
UCLA neuroscience graduate student

References

[1]  http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html
[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137497/
[3] http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-082914.html
[4] http://www.refinery29.com/2014/08/73360/grimes-als-ice-bucket-challenge-peta
[5] http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical-advances/timeline/
[6] http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/tutorial/iacuc.htm
[7] http://unlikelyactivist.com/2014/02/03/join-pro-test-for-science-to-end-the-age-of-terror/
[8] http://unlikelyactivist.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/arson.jpg
[9] http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/23/time-to-get-mad-time-to-speak/
[10] http://fbresearch.org/als-ice-bucket-challenge-for-a-cure/

Understanding addiction: NIDA article highlights contribution of animal research

Professor David Jentsch is a highly respected UCLA neuroscientist who specialises in the study of addiction, one of the most widespread and serious medical problems in our society today. Sadly, by devoting his career to finding out how to better treat a condition that ruins – and all too often ends – many millions of lives in the USA and around the world every year, David has found himself, his colleagues, and his friends and neighbors under attack from animal rights extremists whose tactics have ranged from harassment, stalking and intimidation, to arson and violence.

Did this extremist campaign persuade David to abandon his research?

No chance!

In 2009 David responded to the extremist campaign against him and his colleagues by helping to found Pro-Test for Science to campaign for science and against animal rights extremism at UCLA, and has been a key contributor to Speaking of Research, writing articles on the role of animal studies in the development of new therapies for addiction, what his studies on rodents and vervet monkeys involve, and how addiction research can help us to understand obesity.

Vervet monkeys involved in David Jentsch's research program live in outdoor social groups to ensure optimal welfare

Vervet monkeys involved in David Jentsch’s research program live in outdoor social groups to ensure optimal welfare

This week the NIH’s National institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has published an excellent article on David’s ongoing research entitled  “Methamphetamine Alters Brain Structures, Impairs Mental Flexibility”, which highlights the importance of non-human primate research in identifying how addiction alters the brain and why some individuals are more prone to develop damaging methamphetamine dependency than others. You can read the article in full here.

Human chronic methamphetamine users have been shown to differ from nonusers in the same ways that the post-exposure monkeys differed from their pre-exposure selves. The researchers’ use of monkeys as study subjects enabled them to address a question that human studies cannot: Did the drug cause those differences, or were they present before the individuals initiated use of the drug? The study results strongly suggest that the drug is significantly, if not wholly, responsible”

This knowledge of how drug use disrupts brain function will be crucial to development effective clinical interventions for methamphetamine addiction, and the huge scale and devastating impact of methamphetamine use makes it clear that such interventions are desperately needed, as David highlights in the article’s conclusion.

Methamphetamine dependence is currently a problem with no good medical treatments, when you say a disease like methamphetamine dependence is costly, it’s not just costing money, but lives, productivity, happiness, and joy. Its impact bleeds through families and society.”

At a time when animal rights activists in many countries are pushing to ban addiction research involving animals, the NIDA article on the work of David and his colleagues shows why this work is so valuable, and just what would be lost if animal rights extremists are allowed to have their way.

Speaking of Research

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

The Science and Medicine of “Progress for Science”

The animal rights group “Progress for Science” (P4S) made one more appearance last night to harass a UCLA professor at his home. Don’t let their name fool you.  The consequences of P4S’s advocacy are backwardness and regression.  To advocate for science you must be familiar with it;  to advocate for progress you must understand medical history.  But it does not take much digging to discover just how detached from facts and science their beliefs really are.  Take for example their views on vaccinations:

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There is absolutely nothing progressive or pro-science about being anti-vaccination. Those who, despite the evidence, continue to advocate against childhood vaccinations are nothing short of a public health hazard who have directly contributed to a rise in avoidable disease and death in our state and elsewhere.  Such groups are not pro-science.  Instead, they have the features of a cult.  

Another commonly held view among animal rights activists is that one’s diet is the source of all maladies and that a vegan diet is an effective remedy to many of them. There is no doubt that science supports the view that eating a good, balanced diet and getting a daily dose of physical exercise are integral components to a healthy life.  But disease, it turns out, can strike at any point in time, in ways you cannot anticipate or prevent.

So what happens when a healthy, young vegan gets sick with… say gallbladder stones?  Do they immediately reach for the oregano oil or yerba santa?  Perhaps ginger or cayenne will do the trick?  Or maybe they will follow the recommendation to use dandelion and milk thistle?

There is no need to ask the hypothetical question, because one can easily discover what P4S member Sarah Jane Hardt did.  Despite her vegan diet, she developed gallbladder stones, and the pain seemed to have been intolerable.  What did she do?  She decided to set aside all her personal beliefs about biomedical research and went to the hospital for surgery —

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I would bet she does not have much knowledge about how cholecystectomies (the surgery she received) were initially developed.  As it happens, it was a naval surgeon named Herlin who first performed the procedure in cats and dogs, leading him to famously conclude:

One can remove the gallbladder without great danger, and this discovery opens the way to a safe approach to stones collected in the gallbladder or impacted in the biliary ducts where they often produce fatal complications”.

In other words, this adamant opponent of the use of animals in research was treated with surgical techniques that were developed as a direct consequence of the work she opposes. Experimental studies on gallbladder surgery are still performed on animals, to this very day, in order to improve the prognosis of individuals that receive the surgery.

So Sarah Jane Hardt can today have a good night.  Thanks to animal research.

Imagine that!

It is doubtful any other member of P4S would act in any other way. They raise no objections when they are the direct beneficiaries of animal research, but they outrageously claim it is compassionate for them to deny the benefits of today’s research to others, including our children and grandchildren.  No, it is not compassionate. Their point of view is nothing short of cruel.

Additional insight into Sarah Jane Hardt’s beliefs are revealed in a view of medical profession that she posted a few days after her surgery regarding the ability of physicians to provide advise on nutrition and diet:

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However, at the same time, she had no trouble at all swallowing the other pills the doctor prescribed:

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Funny…  Topping all this, Ms. Hardt and her friends also had the ethical chutzpah to suggest that UCLA Professor David Jentsch, against who they demonstrate, had firebombed his own car, instead of accepting the claim of responsibility made openly by the Animal Liberation Brigade.  

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Progress for Science has made it clear they cannot find it in themselves to condemn the violence of the animal rights movement.  Carol Glasser, the group’s founder, said:

Whatever we are doing as a movement is not working, it is not saving animal lives. I think it is a waste of our time to demonize people who put their own life, their own  safety, their own health, and their own freedom at risk, because they can’t imagine another way to help the animals.  It is total bullshit of us, to point a finger and demonize them.

Not only do they refuse to condemn those that firebomb cars or homes, but they publicly offer support to convicted animal rights arsonists.  Here is Tyler Lang, another member of the group, offering support for two of them:

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Members of “Progress for Science” masquerade  themselves as peaceful, compassionate, pacifists, and pro-science.

Nothing is further from the truth.

They are scientifically illiterate, cheerleaders of violence, cruel, anti-science and, obviously, dishonest.

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Update: More discussion from David Jentsch here.


To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SpeakingofResearch

Statement on postponement of Pro-Test for Science rally

Dear colleagues, students, friends and supporters,

We want to thank each and every person that put aside their valuable personal time when they committed to attending this weekend’s Pro-Test rally in Westwood. Your agreement to participate is a testament to your commitment to scientific research and to the scientists who have been targeted at UCLA.

Our real goal was to positively change the climate for researchers at work and at home, where protesters are conducting their campaigns of terror. Counter demonstrating was but one way that this can be accomplished, and indeed, we believe a multi-faceted approach is required. Your commitment to this demonstration has evoked a renewed motivation in the University to work with us to create new strategies to bring under control the activities of animal rights extremists who insist on conducting campaigns of harassment, intimidation and threats against scientists and their families. At the recommendation of the University and to give these strategies an opportunity to develop and take effect, Pro-Test for Science has decided to defer the event planned for this Saturday.

We want to thank our supporters, and those who may object to aspects of the work but still hold that moral disputes ought to be resolved in the court of public opinion by civil debate. We will continue to express our expert views to the public so that society can take informed decisions in matters of basic, medical research and public health.

Pro-Test for Science

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An open letter to those who support violence in the name of animal rights


The following is an open letter from a victim of animal rights extremism.  It was sent to a Los Angeles Times journalist in an effort to draw his attention to the problem. The letter was never published. Her family, not connected to animal research, was the mistaken target of the Animal Liberation Front attack on a UCLA scientist (ALF’s claim of responsibility here). Her personal account of the story, written only days after the firebombing, makes it very clear how close animal right extremists came to hurting human beings in their pursuit of their political goals. These is the kind “direct action” celebrated by animal rights fanatics that demonstrate at the homes of UCLA scientists. The truth is, as the writer notes, that this nothing short of terrorism. For fear of retaliation from animal rights extremists, the author wishes to remain anonymous.

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An open letter to those who support violence in the name of animal rights

For those of you who support violence because you are tired of waiting for the rest of us to accept your views, how exactly are your actions going to convince us to care more about the rights of non-human animals?

Three days ago, at 4 o‘clock in the morning, someone poured gasoline over my car (on the gas tank side) and set it on fire. It was parked in the driveway one foot away from my house, under a tree.  We don’t know if this was done in the name of animal rights, but after looking at websites and learning of similar actions taken against researchers and innocent bystanders, it is a reasonable guess.   My family is connected to UCLA, although none of us have anything to do with scientific research, other than having benefitted from life-saving medications and surgeries in the past.

The sound of the exploding burning tire woke my neighbors, two of whom acted quickly to prevent the worst from happening.  My two cars are total losses, my neighbors’ two cars are damaged, and a neighborhood is terrorized.  The ripples of fear and outrage spread far beyond our street, to our families, friends and colleagues at work.

What might have happened? Without quick action by my neighbors, the gas tank in my car could have exploded, killing or maiming my teenage daughter sleeping 15 feet away.  She has been a vegetarian since age 8, as are many of her friends, since they grew up watching “The Simpsons’ and wanted to be like Lisa Simpson who is smart, vegetarian, a saxophone player who challenges authority.   A roommate closer to the driveway would have suffered the same fate.  It was 4 in the morning; we were all sleeping.  This is ‘attempted murder’ not just ‘property damage’. Someone tried to kill us.

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Maybe you don’t care at all about the human side of this story.  You might classify the horrors that could have happened in my family as ‘collateral damage’ the same callous way our government labels civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world.  How does that kind of thinking advance the cause of the animal rights movement? After all, you are trying to influence other human beings to change their ways and care about the rights of animals, correct?  This doesn’t seem the optimal way to win hearts and minds.  Your approach seems more like ‘destroy the village to save it’ as our government practiced in Viet Nam in the 1960s and 70s.

Maybe you care only about animals.  Did the persons who firebombed my car know about my rescued house rabbit, Samsonita, sleeping in my house 25 feet from the car, who lives cage free in her own room?  Did they know about my cat, Ethel, who worked hard every night in the neighborhood to find rats and mice to lovingly bring them inside to share with me in the middle of the night?

Some of the animal rights websites claim that they are part of a proud tradition of liberation movements.  There are quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Frederick Douglass, and claims of being the ‘Underground Railway’ for animals.  But the violent harassment of medical researchers is more like the terror practiced by the Ku Klux Klan, who burned crosses in front of the homes of African Americans who dared to act as if they were free and equal to whites.  These kinds of tactics were used not by civil rights activists but by their opponents, and any claim of a moral relationship to that history by violent animal rights advocates is obscene.

I ask you to reconsider your support for violence in the name of your cause, animal rights.  Please think about other kinds of terrorism we have experienced in recent years.  How did you feel about the events of September 11th? Were you horrified, or did you think that everyone harmed, and all their friends and relatives, deserved what happened?  What about the bus bombing in London, or the nightclub in Bali, the trains in Madrid, the slaughter in Mumbai?  Do you support those actions, because the bombers believed in their cause, as you believe in yours?  Or do you disagree with their approach?

Either way, if you believe it is ok to commit violence in the name of your cause and harm innocent sentient beings, how are you are different from those terrorists?  Around the world, millions of people suffer from violence committed in the name of a cause, by government soldiers or rebels or saboteurs.  How does this make the world a better place?  How are you convincing other human beings to care more about the rights of animals by committing and applauding violence?

What would you do?

We understand.

There is a segment of the population that opposes the use of animals in medical research and basic science.  Their reasons vary.  Some think all sentient beings ought to have the same basic right to life and freedom as any other human being. Some believe that the work amounts to scientific fraud and cannot possibly lead to any advancements in the health of humans. Some argue that illness is merely a product personal choices. In most cases, it is a combination of all of the above.

Of course, we disagree.

So what have we done about it?

We made the effort to open up dialogue and bring both sides of this important debate to the court of public opinion.  In 2010 Drs. David Jentsch and Dario Ringach, along the student group Bruins for Animals, organized a discussion panel at UCLA that many welcomed as a good first step at establishing some sort of meaningful debate.

In 2011, Dario Ringach and Robert C. Jones (an animal rights philosopher from California State University at Chico and a participant in the our 2010 discussion panel), organized a one-day symposium at UCLA on the similarities and dissimilarities of human and non-human primate cognition (video here).

Dr. Ringach participated in two public debates on the use of animals in research.  The first one at the Institute for Human Values in Health Care at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he debated animal rights philosopher Dr. Nathan Nobis.  A second debate took place at Rutgers Law School, where he debated animal rights scholar Prof. Gary Francione.

In 2013, Dr. Ringach also participated in the UW Forum on Animal Research Ethics that aims to provide a platform for all sides to share their views with the public.  He also published an article about the ethics and science of animal research and contributed a chapter to a book that describes the position of both sides.

After accepting an invitation to speak at a local high school, Dr. Ringach brought along animal rights philosopher Robert C. Jones to present to opposing view.  Their shared goal was to educate children that we can have a civil debate about moral disputes in our society.

And on top of all that, our strong commitment to providing the opposing side a platform to express themselves in public continued throughout a deplorable campaign against researchers that included threats, intimidation, and calls for violence by animal rights extremists.  Nefariously, our efforts were replied with increased “home visits” that clearly have no other purpose than to harass those they disagree with.

What would you do to stop the relentless attacks on your family and home? What kind of support would you want and expect from your community, professional societies, home institution and the government?

After more than 10 years of a sustained campaign animal right extremists left us with no options but to personally protect ourselves from their disgraceful behavior.  It was regrettable that, on our first attempt, one person within our group was overwhelmed with anger resulting from over a decade of mistreatment from animal extremism and acted in ways we do not approve of.

Our stated goal clearly was, and still remains, to peacefully prevent animal rights thugs from conducting orchestrated campaigns of harassment against the UCLA family.  We wanted to convey that message clearly to all our supporters.  Having said that, one must not let the bullies who openly support violence as a legitimate method to advance their cause to pretend they are the victims.

It is then for all the above reasons that we will gather once again on Saturday Feb 15th at 10:15am, in the Lobby of Franz Hall, at UCLA to defend the tranquility of our homes, families and neighbors from fanatics whose sole goal is to resolve their moral dispute by violence and force.  We will join hands and be proud of the fantastic science done at UCLA and in universities across the country in the name of society.  Work that will improve the well-being of humans and animals alike.

David Jentsch and Dario Ringach