Tag Archives: david jentsch

Animal rights fanatics offer stunts, not real solutions

This post is simulposted with the Unlikely Activist blog, run by this post’s author, David Jentsch.

Fanatical animal rights groups in the US love attention-getting stunts. PeTA creates video games extolling violence and propagates advertisements that exude adolescent sexuality. White Coat Waste uses Tea party rhetoric to insist federal investment in research is tantamount to borrowing money from China. And the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] reels endless videos of sad animals on the television to raise money for their lobbying efforts, while tricking people into thinking their donations actually help animals in shelters.

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

These are stunts, nothing more – nothing less.

In Los Angeles, local animal rights zealots are trying hard to carve out their own niche in the “stunt” art form. They light candles during vigils on the beach, hand out post cards decrying UCLA researchers at art events and recite chants in eerie synchrony, while standing in front of our homes. In truth, the occasional bizarre chanting during these stunts is slightly less demented than their usual shrieks, threats and harassment.

Later this month, the ironically named anti-science group – Progress for Science – will mount an 11-day campaign to “honor” the 11 monkeys they believe are involved in scientific research projects at UCLA. They will probably once again come to my home and threaten my neighbors, while trying to make my life miserable.

But if Progress for Science truly has the respect for life than they claim they do, perhaps they should consider a different strategy. Perhaps before mounting their 11 day campaign for 11 hypothetical monkeys, they should find it in their hearts to lead initiatives for real people affected by real disease. For example, they could:

Lead a 930 day campaign for the number of Africans that have died from Ebola so far this year.

Initiate a 4,600 day campaign for the young people in our country who took their own lives last year, often due to mental illness.

Kick off a 1.1 million day campaign for the number of people living with HIV in the US.

Support a 2.2 million day campaign for the people suffering from or disabled by schizophrenia in this country.

Demand an 8.2 million day campaign for the number of people that will die from cancer in one single year, worldwide.

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

It is, of course, true that multi-million day campaigns are impossible, but biomedical researchers in many cases dedicate their entire working lives to addressing the harm in these diseases: our own life-long campaigns. Animal rights fanatics could contribute positively to these efforts, rather than standing in the way of progress, but they won’t do that because they are not actually interested in preserving life. They are interested in stunts.

If you are interested in preserving life, then please support biomedical research, including that which involves animals. This year alone, two Americans received a treatment for Ebola that was developed based upon animal research and that likely saved their lives. This is the promise of science. Stunts, on the other hand, contribute nothing, save no lives and end no suffering.

David J. Jentsch

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.

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


I Pro-Test for Science

Please leave your messages of support including your full name in the comment section at the bottom of the page (no sign up necessary). We must show our fellow scientists that they have our support. Names in the comment section will be added to the signatures at the bottom of the post.

When researchers are harassed and intimidated for carrying out their work, we must consider the whole scientific community to be under threat. We may not always be available to stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues, but we can still offer our strength and support from afar.

At UCLA, the scientists and their community are standing up to end the home demonstrations that have targeted their colleagues for many years.  As Professor David Jentsch writes

For more than a decade, the streets in front of the homes of UCLA researchers have been the scene of regular, brutal, vitriolic and hate-filled campaigns by animal rights hooligans. …  We have decided to act, with our voices, our messages of scientific progress and – most importantly – with the unity of our community.

Speaking of the successful first counter-demonstration at a home protest Professor Dario Ringach writes:

… it should not come as a surprise to anyone that after a decade of harassment, intimidation and threats,  we have decided to mount counter-demonstrations when these animal right terrorists show up at our homes.

These activists now have the shameless audacity to play the victim of this encounter. Incapable of understanding the message, they are now recruiting more misguided individuals to join them in their fanatical crusade and come back to harass us at our homes on February 15th.

We will be there to meet them once more and convey one simple message,

We are not going to take it anymore!

Colleagues and friends – please take a moment to leave a message of support for the brave UCLA scientists who have been subjected to fire bombs, home harassment, threats to their children, and relentless fear-campaigns for over a decade by animal rights activists, yet continue their work to advance science.  It may be difficult to imagine what this is like, and easy to imagine is an issue that is someone else’s– one that will never be yours– but it is not. It is an attack on public interest in scientific progress, in medical progress, civil dialogue, and democratic ideals. Our community is often silent in the face of attacks. We can change that and we really must.

I am Pro-Test

For those who think that this is about animal welfare, about specific types of research, about whether or not invasive research in nonhuman animals is justified, or about some other distinction among the wide range of issues concerning captive animals, it really is not.

We ask you to please read David Jentsch and Dario Ringach’s posts (here, here, here), watch this video, and get better look at what is happening.

These are our colleagues and scientists who bravely defend their work, who engage in public dialogue, who lend their voices to serious, fact-based consideration of ethical issues. Consider whether you really believe that the actions taken by the animal rights groups represent a best path forward.  If you do not, please take a minute to comment in support of the UCLA scientists and share with others who can be there to stand with them. Even if you cannot be in LA to stand with them, you can offer a comment in support and let the public know that home harassment is the wrong path.

Please leave a comment including your full name to be added to the list below.

We should all be Pro-Test. Now it’s time to say so.

Speaking of Research

Counter-demonstration. When: February 15, 10:15am sharp!
Where: Franz Hall Lobby @ UCLA (near Hilgard and Westholme)  http://maps.ucla.edu/campus/


Allyson J Bennett
Tom Holder
Chris Magee
Pamela Bass
David Jentsch
Dario Ringach
Jacquie Calnan
Paul Browne
David Bienus
Andy Fell
Jim Newman
Prof Doris Doudet
Gene Rukavina
Prof Bill Yates
Christa Helms
Jeff Weiner
Justin McNulty
Alice Ra’anan
Jordana Lenon
Jae Redfern
Melissa Luck
Claudia Soi
Kevin Elliott
Brian L Ermeling
Teresa Woodger
Joanna Bryson
John Capitanio
Dennis J Foster
Juan Carlos Marvizon
António Carlos Pinto Oliveira
Dawn Abney
Michael Brunt
Wayne Patterson
Greg Frank
Jim Sackett
Davide Giana
Paulo Binda
Emiliano Broggi
Marco Onorato
Cardani Carlo
Pasquele Franzese
Diana Gordon
Janet R Schofding
Rick Lane
Lorinda Wright
Jamie Lewis
Judy Barnett
Martha Maxwell
Stacy LeBlanc
Deborah Donohue
Paula Clifford
Cindy Buckmaster
Diana Li
Ashley Weaver
Jayne Mackta
Giordana Bruno Michela
Agata Cesaretti
Enrico Migliorini
Kim Froeschl
Daniele Mangiardi
Liz Guice
Myrian Morato
Patricia Zerbini
Michael Savidge
Jefferson Childs
Kimberley Phillips
Anne Deschamps
Dario Parazzoli
Robert M. Parker
Agnes Collino
Alberto Ferrari
Igor Comunale
Kristina Nielsen
Marco Delli Zotti
Megan Wyeth
Carolina Garcia de Alba
Andrea Devigili
Erin Severs
Patricia Foley
Mary Zelinski
Alison Weiss
Savanna Chesworth
Christy Carter
Joel Ortiz
William Levick
Lauren Renner
David Andrade Carbajal
Federico Simonetti
Daniele Melani
Dwayne Godwin
Howard Winet
Jeremy Bailoo
Stephan Roeskam
Mary-Ann Griffiths
Carolyn Pelham
Francesca Digiesi
Nicola Bordin
Dianna Laurent
Joe Erwin
Jennifer Picard
Vicki Campbell
Erin Vogelsong
Bob Schrock
Silvia Armuzzi
Elizabeth Harley
Wendy Jarrett
Barbara Rechman
Daria Giovannoni
Patricia Atkins
Scott Hall
Vickie Risbrough
Liam Messin
Brian McMillen
John Meredith
Aleksandra Gondek
Tehya Johnson
Nancy Marks
Leonardo Murgiano
David Markshak
William Horn
John J Eppig
Mila Marvizon
David Robinson
Steven Lloyd
Shari Birnbaum
Matthew Jorgensen
Karen Maegley
Barry Bradford
Corinna Ross
Stephen Harvey
Deborah Otteson
Bette Cessna
Steven Wise
Michael Conn
Gregory Cote
James MacMillan
Suzanne Lavalla
Lisa Peterson
Jennifer Perkins
Richard Nyhof
Beth Laurent
Gabriele Lubach
Michele A. Basso
Cindy Chrisler
Jian Wu
Mahmoud Loghman-Adham
Claire Edwards
Daniel T. Cannon
Emil Venz
Hyeyoung Kim
Jon E. Levine
Ken Linder
Kathy Linder
Matt Thornton
Margaret Maloney
Regina Correa-Murphy
Kristine Wadosky
Victor Lavis
David Fulford
Josiane Broussard
Fabio De Maio
Rachel J. Smith, PhD
Trinka Adamson
Cobie Brinkman
Emily Slocum
Michael J. Garrison
Tom Greene
Jenny Kalishman
Marcia Putnam

AAAS recognizes the work of Speaking of Research members

On Friday two of our number, David Jentsch and Dario Ringach, travelled to Vancouver to join their UCLA colleague Edythe London in receiving the prestigious Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society, with over 125,000 members, and the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award “honors scientists and engineers whose exemplary actions, often taken at significant personal cost, have served to foster scientific freedom and responsibility”. Recent recipients including the climate scientist James Hansen, NCSE director and defender of science education Eugenie Scott, and epidemiologist and public health expert David Michaels.

Both Dario and David have been long time SR committee members, writing numerous articles for the website on the importance of animals in research, the importance of researchers speaking up, and the dangers of animal rights extremism.

Both scientists are at the heart of the Pro-Test for Science, the movement which stood up to extremists at UCLa in 2009. Around 800 staff, students and members of the public followed Ringach and Jentsch’s lead as they marched through the streets of Los Angeles in support of lifesaving medical research. Well over 10,000 people followed their example by signing the Pro-Test Petition (supported by Pro-Test for Science, Americans for Medical Progress and Speaking of Research) in support of well regulated biomedical research on animals.

Edythe London has also been at the forefront of the battle to explain the role of animal testing in the development of modern medicine. In November 2007, she wrote a Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times to explain “Why I use animals in my research”. This excellent article was a brave and important stand for a researcher who had previously been targeted by animal rights extremists.

Animal studies allow us to test potential treatments without confounding factors, such as prior drug use and other experiences that complicate human studies. Even more important, they allow us to test possibly life-saving treatments before they are considered safe to test in humans. Our animal studies address the effects of chronic drug use on brain functions, such as decision-making and self-control, that are impaired in human addicts. We are also testing potential treatments, and all of our studies comply with federal laws designed to ensure humane care.

The AAAS made this award to Dario, David and Edythe in recognition of:

 “their rare courage, their strong defense of the importance of the use of animals in research, and their refusal to remain silent in the face of intimidation from animal rights extremists.”

While noting that:

“AAAS has consistently supported the responsible use of animals in research, testing and education. A 1990 statement of the AAAS Board and Council noted, for instance, that “the use of animals has been and continues to be essential not only in applied research with direct clinical applications in humans and animals, but also in research that furthers the understanding of biological processes.”

With this award the largest scientific organisation in the U.S. reiterates its unequivocal support for the responsible use of animals in biomedical research, and emphasises the increasing need for both scientists and professional organisations to engage the public in both scientific and ethical issues of great importance to our society.

We at Speaking of Research are grateful for the contribution which all three scientists have made to advance the public understanding of this controversial area of science – and we congratulate them for their accomplishments.


Tom Holder

Explaining Addiction Research

Dr. Larry Hansen, Professor of Pathology and Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, recently wrote a letter critical of some of our research; the letter was posted to the website of an anti-science organization called “Stop Animal Exploitation Now” and appears to be in support of an anti-animal research demonstration to be conducted on the UCLA campus on July 25, 2011. In the letter, Dr. Hansen’s critique avoids scientific discussion of rationale for and nature of our work, resorting instead to hyperbole and repetition of the general criticisms aimed at biomedical research involving animals by pseudo-scientists who ally themselves with the animal rights movement. We aim to fill the factual void created by his letter in the following description of our work.

What are our experiments about? Amongst addictive drugs, methamphetamine leads the pack: accounting for more treatment seekers in the California system than does any other illicit substance. Methamphetamine addiction is associated with elevated morbidity, including higher rates of communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, and mortality. It robs young people of their lives and families of their loved ones. Despite this, as of 2011, there is no FDA-approved medication for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction. This is due, at least in part, to the limited insight we have about how methamphetamine affects brain chemistry, hijacking the parts of the brain responsible the ability to feel pleasure and to make good decisions. Our work focuses on the latter – on how methamphetamine changes those brain regions needed to resist temptations and to avoid unhealthy behaviors, leading to the cascade of bad decisions apparent in many people suffering from addictions.

Our goal is to identify those brain abnormalities that cause poor decision-making in methamphetamine addiction, to clarify how aberrations in brain chemistry contribute to these problems and to propose medications that can counteract those effects, with the hope that they will exert a clinical benefit in the treatment of the disorder.

What do our experiments involve? We test human subjects (people with a methamphetamine use problem and healthy unaffected persons), non-human primates and rats. Some of our monkeys and rats are exposed to methamphetamine in a manner that is similar to human methamphetamine abuse. The rationale for this is that the drug will alter their brains in a manner similar to the way it affects the human brain. Dr. Hansen’s assertion that this kind of analysis is impossible, due to differences in brain organization between animals and humans, ignores the evolutionary trends that conserved important neural mechanisms across mammals and more than a century of neuroscience research that controverts his conclusion. In contrast to his seriously erroneous assertion, if monkeys or rats are offered access to methamphetamine in a laboratory, they will voluntarily use/abuse it in high amounts, much like many people will. The lack of methamphetamine abuse in wild animals reflects lack of access, not lack of willingness.

The human and non-human primates participate in behavioral testing and brain imaging (like MRI and PET scans) to assess how brain structure and function changes with methamphetamine dependence. Crucially, however, these methods do not allow us to directly monitor the molecules themselves that cause brain dysfunction in addiction. For that, we must undertake studies of brain matter collected from rats or monkeys after euthanasia (death produced by painless administration of an anesthetic).

PET scan of brain function in a living vervet monkey

Once we identify chemical changes in the brain caused by methamphetamine, we seek to correct those changes with medications. Those that are found to be effective in our animals are then suggested to researchers who conduct clinical trials. Our work has contributed, at least in part, to the rationale supporting clinical evaluation of one medication for methamphetamine addiction.

Do monkeys and rats become addicted? As noted above, animals will willingly take drugs of abuse, just as people do. Though methamphetamine changes the chemistry of the brain regions involved in decision-making in animals a manner similar (possibly identical) to that occurring in humans, the consequences of those biological changes are not the same because of the unique way that addiction affects human social relationships. Anyone who has watched “Interventions” knows that much of the real suffering and pain associated with addictions comes when drug use affects the relationships between the individual struggling with their addiction and those who love them. The damage caused to their relationships, the impact on their parents and children and the failure of their plans and aspirations are all major causes of distress in addicted persons. Animals experience none of this and none of the associated emotional pain. By studying them, we can uncover the secrets of how drugs change brain chemistry, although the psychosocial consequences of addiction are uniquely human.

Vervet monkeys involved in our research program live in outdoor social groups to ensure optimal welfare

What are our ethical principles? When it comes to animal research, our ethical principles have two dimensions. First, we embrace – not simply accept – the Animal Welfare Act and the regulatory mechanisms that ensure that animal welfare is a key concern in designing and undertaking animal studies. We use the fewest animals possible and the least harmful methods. We do everything possible to avoid causing pain or distress in our studies, and we alleviate it using state-of-the-art methods when we can. Second, it is our ethical obligation to pursue studies that may alleviate the suffering caused by methamphetamine addiction. Human suffering is real; it is all around us. It is ultimately avoidable, if we understand the problem deeply enough. We believe that people suffering from addictions and the people that love them deserve that every reasonable effort be made to address their problem, and we will, consequently, continue our work.


Professor Edythe D. London, Ph.D.

Professor J. David Jentsch, Ph.D.

Obesity, Smoking and Addiction

Morbid obesity and cigarette smoking represent the two most substantial causes of preventable death in the Western world. According to recent estimates, about 1/3 of all adult Americans are morbidly obese (meaning that their excess of body weight is large enough that it causes illness or disability), and these numbers are increasing; approximately 15% of the American public smokes – though the proportion smoking  in many parts of  the developing world is much higher. The rates metabolic complications that correlate with obesity, including diabetes, are also on the rise. Because both obesity and smoking influence risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer (the three leading causes of death in the United States), smoking and obesity account for substantial disease burden, health care dollar expenditures and deaths. They cut many human lives short and exert a substantial impact our national economy.

So, why do so many people engage in over-eating and smoking, when it’s obvious that these behaviors are harmful? In the case of smoking, the nicotine content in a cigarette – coupled with its other ingredients – produces feelings of reward and relaxation that people find desirable. The high sugar and fat content of many of the food items readily available today do the same because they taste so good. Because they are such powerful rewards, these stimuli are sought out and consumed by people, though there are significant differences between individuals, but what is now causing great concern is the degree to which these behaviors are leading to a generation of health problems – inherited by those who haven’t even made these choices themselves. These inherited factors are not just genetic.

Exceptional new work from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has now shown that monkey mothers who consume a diet rich in sugar and fat during pregnancy give birth to offspring that are themselves prone to acquiring excessive body fat, exhibit heightened anxiety responses and carry a host of changes in gene expression and brain chemistry that underlie these susceptibilities. In essence, mothers who eat an unhealthy diet influence the physiology of their offspring in ways that make them obesity prone. Kevin Grove, the OHSU researcher leading these studies, indicated that an unhealthydiet during pregnancy:

“is programming the [fetal] brain to also seek that high fat diet and those highly palatable diets later in life, which are going to make them at higher risk for obesity and diabetes…”

Similar results have been found for smoking; for example, studies in rats show that when a fetus is exposed to nicotine during gestation (as they are when pregnant women smoke), the resulting offspring is at higher risk of seeking out nicotine and developing a pattern of routine intake. In other words, in both cases, mothers – by engaging in excessive eating and/or smoking during pregnancy, affect the life-long pattern of behaviors in their children.

Once some (but not all!) individuals begin smoking or eating high sugar/fat foods, they experience progressive loss of control and an associated spiral into food and cigarette addiction. The hallmarks of this dependence include 1) unsuccessful attempts to quit or control the behavior, 2) continued engagement in the behavior despite knowledge of a problem caused by it and 3) giving up life activities previously enjoyed because of the behavior. Put differently, what makes an addiction what it is is the fact that individuals cannot voluntarily stop, reduce or control their food/cigarette consumption. Once again, research reveals that it is genetic factors that differentiate those that descend into addiction from those that are resistant to it.

Today, research in humans and animals is focused on the biological factors that cause the compulsive nature of addiction. Studies in rats have revealed that changes in the activity of a neurotransmitter called dopamine contribute to the emergence of food and drug addiction. Studies in monkeys are beginning to reveal how obesity and food addiction take hold. For example, the news program Nightline ran a profile of research going on at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU that addresses the biological origins and consequences of obesity caused by intake of high sugar and fat diets, coupled with relatively low activity levels. These studies are showing what genes, proteins and biological pathways contribute to obesity and help to explain why it is so difficult to escape. As stated in the program:

“The animals [at OHSU] may hold the answer to curing a health problem tied to many of the leading causes of death in the United States…”

Across this nation, there is scarcely a family that is not affected by the sickness and death caused by smoking and/or obesity. This includes scientists who study animals in order to find cures for these problems. A researcher at UCLA, Professor Edythe London, who has been ruthlessly targeted by opponents of animal research, described her commitment to solving the riddle of cigarette dependence in a 2007 OpEd entitled “Why I use animals in my research”.

“My personal connection to addiction is rooted in the untimely death of my father, who died of complications of nicotine dependence. My work on the neurobiology of addiction has spanned three decades of my life…. To me, nothing could be more important than solving the mysteries of addiction and learning how we can restore a person’s control over his or her own life. Addiction robs young people of their futures, destroys families and places a tremendous burden on society.”

For many who have a personal insight into the devastating effects of addictions like compulsive smoking and/or over-eating, the humane and regulated use of a small number of animals in order to prevent suffering in the future is justified. Though their loved ones have suffered and/or died, there is hope for others, and scientific progress aimed at accomplishing this will not stop, no matter how much the nature of addiction or the animal research aimed at ending it are misunderstand and misportrayed.


David Jentsch