Back across the pond, in Leicester (pronounced “les-ter”), animal rights activists are warming up for a battle against a new £15 million (around $24 million) biomedical facility which the University of Leicester is building. Looking through the local rags, an interesting article came up in “this is Leicestershire” from a reporter who took a look round the current facilities.
So let’s set some context to the story:
The university has never let the media in before. They’re allowing it, they say, to set the public record straight.
Access was accepted with no preconditions and no promise to push the university’s side of the story.
So, here we are, on the threshold, fumbling into surgical scrubs, pulling on polythene overshoes that will stop us contaminating the facility with the outside world.
A security card is swiped, a pin code punched and a pair of heavy orange doors slowly part.
The facility manager says: “Treat this like a royal visit. If you see a door you want us to open, we’ll open it for you.”
Conditions – like similar labs across the country – are second to none:
Cages are clean, relatively roomy and well-stocked with plenty of things to gnaw at, burrow through or make nests in.
Clipboards full of completed job sheets show they’ve been inspected daily and had their cages changed at least weekly.
A big stainless steel cage-washer runs almost constantly in a room down the corridor.
Animals can be monitored every five minutes if the experiment they are undergoing puts them at risk of suffering or stress, says the facility manager.
Home Office inspectors come in every six to eight weeks. They can also make unannounced spot checks.
Every experiment, even on a humble mouse, has to clear a university ethics committee.
These ethics committees are comparable to the IACUC committees that exist in labs across the United States. In this Leicester Lab (which is looking to improve its facilities with a new £15 million lab) the 3Rs are at the forefront of researchers:
The more you see, the more you realise everything in here is controlled and moderated.
Nothing, not even the wood shavings these rodents use as a bed and toilet, contains a rogue variable.
The shavings are sourced from Finland. They are ground down from white wood aspen trees because red woods contain chemicals that can be harmful to mice.
The chippings are sterilised and irradiated so no bugs or bacteria can influence the results of experiments.
That makes for better science, says Prof Barer.
Fortunately, the author also makes mention of the benefits which animal research brings to society.
The benefits of animal research are there for us all to see, say animal test supporters.
Foods which help to prevent cancer have been identified in this Leicester lab, as have new ways to get oxygen into bodies after lung failure. That’s the kind of science that is helping desperately premature babies to survive and could yet save thousands in a flu pandemic.
Prof Barer works in the field of TB research.
“Tuberculosis kills two million people every year,” he says.
“If I see an opportunity to reduce the suffering caused by that disease through the careful, considered use of animal research, then I will.
“I don’t like it, but I think it is justified. As a diabetic, I’m someone whose life expectancy is directly related to discoveries made in animals.
What is more interesting is the absolute steadfast blindness shown from animal rights activists in the area:
Protestor Chris Williams believes animal experimentation is wrong morally and ethically, and is driven by bad science.
He also believes they are experimenting on dogs and primates in the University of Leicester.
“I’m 110 per cent certain they’ve got dogs in that building and 90 per cent sure they’ve got primates”, he says.
Unless the university is lying to the Home Office and funding the research covertly, he is mistaken.
Chris is a spokesman for the Stop the Leicester Animal Lab protest.
He doesn’t have a job. He’s been campaigning, pretty much full-time, for the best part of two years.
Fortunately the reporter actually gathers his facts, rather than creates them.
Chris accuses the university of being economical with the truth.
The same could be said of the Stop the Leicester Animal Website.
None of the horrific photographs it contains – dogs and rats in desperate states – come from the facility at Leicester.
“It wouldn’t be a very effective website if we didn’t have photos,” says Chris.
But the suffering shown on their website doesn’t come from Leicester. Perhaps people should be told that.
The article is a nice piece which looks at some of the conceptions and misconceptions surrounding animal research. Perhaps animal rights activists need to spend more time being reporters themselves and finding out what actually happens in labs themselves rather than trusting every YouTube video they find.