“What Drives ‘animal researchers’ Like Me?”

As World Week for Animals in Laboratories (a week of animal rights misinformation) comes to a close, we have a guest post from Nancy Haigwood, director at Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC). This piece reflects well the frustration felt by many scientists about animal rights activists misrepresent the noble cause of scientists who work on lifesaving research. Tom

I’m a health researcher who studies animals in order to develop new treatments and cures. When you hear protesters claiming that research animals are mistreated, they are yelling about me.

So what drives “animal researchers” like me?

Simply put, our view is that because animal studies lead to improved human health, they should be considered acceptable – provided the studies are highly regulated, the animals are well cared for, and suffering is not allowed. This is not a unique view. It’s also shared by the National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What have these guiding principles resulted in? Here are advancements from various labs in the past three weeks alone:

  • Mouse research has revealed how a genetic mutation may cause Parkinson’s disease (link)
  • Research in ducks has revealed a gene that might potentially shield humans from the flu (link)
  • Researchers studying mice learned that insulin-producing cells can be reborn in the body – a significant finding for those with Type One diabetes (link)
  • A blood-flow study in zebrafish has highlighted a possible method for suppressing cancer tumor growth
  • A mouse study suggests a new theory for the cause of Down syndrome: missing proteins in the brain (link)
  • A rodent study reveals that the anti-nausea drug Dramamine could be used during a heart attack to prevent heart damage.
  • And finally, as The Oregonian reported on April 2, monkey studies here at OHSU have solved one of the key mysteries about infections resulting from the virus cytomegalovirus (CMV), a disease that causes brain damage to 8,000 newborns each year.

Animal activists often reject these kinds of discoveries claiming that animal studies are outdated and that all of these breakthroughs could be made in test tubes or with computer models. But in reality, no test tube can simulate the complex immune response of an animal and no computer can mimic a real, breathing lung. Before we can try therapies in real human patients we must study a similar living system first.

In response to our studies, local organizers of World Week for Animals in Laboratories have promised us a wide range of activities. They’ve announced plans of legal protests but also some more menacing-sounding acts too.

According to a Web posting by the anonymous Portland Animal Defense League, the week will include “daytime demos” (we’ve learned that’s usually code for harassing a researcher’s family at home), “office demos” (code for invading a lab or office) and a “surprise action.” The activists also plan to protest the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies which raises funds to prevent premature births and their devastating impacts to a child who comes too early.

I fully understand and support each person’s right to legally protest when they have concerns. But Illegal actions are different. OHSU researchers have had our homes and cars vandalized. Our children have been terrorized by masked individuals who show up on our doorsteps. We’ve received threats from the Animal Liberation Front that our houses will be firebombed.

As Portlanders, we take pride in the city’s activist culture. However, surely we all agree that harassment, stalking and death threats have no place in our city. Especially when the core issue – health research – benefits so many.

Nancy L. Haigwood, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist/Director, Oregon National Primate Research Center
Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute
Professor, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology
Oregon Health & Science University

4 responses to ““What Drives ‘animal researchers’ Like Me?”

  1. There are many websites that misteriously I am unable to type here, but anyway, your answers are as your research:unsatisfactory.

    What did you find out at OHSU after poisoning capuchin monkey Trine for 18 yrs?

  2. A small correction Tom, many antibiotics do cure diseases that would otherwise kill or seriously harm the patient. The same can be said for many cancers, especially some types of leukemia, where survivial times are now often long enough and recurrance rare enough to justify the term “cure”.

    For many conditions the term treatment is more accurate than cure, since the disease or injury cannot be reversed but it’s effect on the patient greatly reduced, even to the point where it no longer impacts on the patient’s life. An example is brain cooling to oprevent brain damage in oxygen starved babies, it doesn’t prevent the problem happening but cam greatly reduce its impact on the child https://speakingofresearch.com/2009/10/09/cool-heads-required/

  3. No cures, but many lifesaving treatments:

    Thanks to animal research:
    – We have top treatments for Breast Cancer such as Tamoxifen (developed through research on rats) and Herceptin which is based on a mouse antibody. No wonder the 5-year survival rate for cancer has risen to 80%

    – We have a vaccine for Cervical Cancer (HPV vaccines) which was pioneered in dogs and will reduce the incidents of breast cancer.

    – Imatinib is a monoclonal antibody therapy developed in animals which has been instrumental in improving the lives of leukaemia sufferers.

    Animal research is developing treatments to help cancer sufferers worldwide.

  4. It is a SHAME that after studying for many years, you come up with with comments very repetitive, and above all, that not make sure at all that everything that needs to be researched about our diseases will be known with such precambric “methods”.
    I am not a know-it-all, as all vivisectors present themselves, but I can realize, as many people, that humans are very different that any other species.
    If you inject a non-human with a human disease, you are ignoring the origin of the disease, and that is a very serious mistake vivisectors do in their dirty job.

    I have a list longer than the one you present above, with the terrible effects of drugs coming from your “kind” of research.

    And … how can anybody trust in you, when you do not respect other lives? You and the ones like you are delaying the results that we need to be able to beat our diseases that are too serious to be studied injecting, poisoning, abusing, and killing other species. This is disgusting and I am one of the many who won’t forgive you and the rest of vivisectors for abusing not only non-humans, but also the humans who believe in your lies.
    Too many years, too much money in your pockets, and too many lives wasted…. and still no cure to cancer!

    You just deform something so marvellous as Science and convert it in a horror movie.