Voice Your Support for Animal Transport

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

Quick Summary. FBR have a petition to support Air France who continue to be one of the few airlines willing to transport primates for research. Please support them by signing the petition.

For several years animal rights activists have targeted the airlines which transport animals for medical, veterinary and scientific research. They have had a lot of success, with few companies willing to transport animals. In the words of Nature:

The pressures on primate researchers have taken many forms. In the United States, for example, commercial airlines have effectively ceased all primate shipments by air within the country, making it difficult for researchers to transport animals. Many airlines in Europe have taken similar steps, but Air France continues to provide service.

In March, China Southern Airlines announced it would cease transporting primates. This leaves Air France as one of the few international airlines that continue to transport animals.

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Animal rights activists continue to misunderstand and malign responsible addiction research

The following blog post is a long-form reply to an article by a PeTA representative posted to the website Substance.com. A shorter version of my opinion can be found on their website here.


Biomedical research seeks to expose biological principles and mechanisms that cause disease in order to advance from a time where medications and treatments were discovered by chance to one where we reason our way to solutions for human and animal health through scientific discovery. Since the founding of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1974 (only 40 years ago), immense progress has been made into understanding, at the level of brain cells and molecules, why some drugs are addictive, why some people are particularly prone to addictive behaviors and how to treat drug use disorders. One of the reasons that so much progress has been made so quickly is that animal models for drug abuse are remarkably accurate and informative.

In the clearest example of all, if you place a laboratory rat into a chamber and allow it to trigger delivery of cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine, alcohol, heroin, etc., into their bloodstream by voluntarily pressing a button, they will do so. Rats will seek out and voluntarily “self-administer” drugs of abuse, just like people do, precisely because of the remarkable similarity in the reward pathways in the human and rat brain, as well as due to the fact that these drugs act upon brain chemicals in nearly identical ways in rodents and humans. Moreover, if you allow rats to consume the drug daily over a long period of time, a subset of them will progressively become “dependent” upon the drug, just the same way a subset of people that abuse drugs do. Dependence is indicated by the fact that the subject loses control over their drug use and continues to use the drug, despite efforts to abstain. Because of these incredible parallels between humans and animals, we now understand the mechanisms by which drugs of abuse produce reward at a deep level, as well as how these agents encourage drug-seeking and –taking behaviors. For example, we now know how parts of the brain like the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and prefrontal cortex participate in the development of drug-taking behaviors, and we know how crucial brain chemicals like dopamine and glutamate are to these phenomena. This information would not have been possible without responsible and humane research involving a variety of animal models – ranging from invertebrates (fruit flies, roundworms) to rodents (rats and mice) to non-human primates (mostly monkeys).


A rat in a “Skinner box” voluntarily presses a lever to trigger an intravenous injection of a drug of abuse

It is reasonable to ask why, given these advances and the value of animal models, we have not yet cured addictions. The answer is simple. When NIDA was founded 40 years ago, we actually knew very little about the basic biology of the brain and its relationship to drug abuse. Decades of basic research were required before we knew enough about the brain pathways involved in reward to further understand how drugs acted on these pathways and changed them in response to long-term drug intake. Decades of basic research, still on-going, was and remains required to identify all the genes, molecules and cell processes that drugs act on but which were unknown to us as recently as 10 years ago. Basic research continues in an attempt to fully describe how the hundreds of billions of nerve cells in the brain work together to create behavior and how the tens of thousands of genes in our genome affect the function of our bodies. Coupled with amazing advances in the technology needed to study the brain, this knowledge from basic research will yield unprecedented progress towards treating addictions, as well as other disorders of the brain (from Alzheimer’s Disease to schizophrenia) will be possible.

So, what has research into the biology of addictions done for us so far? In a recent blog post, Katherine Roe from PeTA claims that only one new medication has been approved for the treatment of alcoholism/alcohol use disorders based upon animal research in recent years, that it has only “limited” effect and that animal research has “green-lighted” decades of failed medication trials. Not only are each of these statements factually wrong, the truth that is subverted by her points actually demands more animal research, not less.

Firstly, there are actually three medications approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorders (one is old and two are new). One new drug naltrexone (that blocks opioid systems in brain) was approved in 1994; in 2004, the FDA approved another medication (acamprosate). Both specifically target brain chemical systems discovered to be important to alcohol’s effects though animal research. In addition, the development of both medicines required animal research since they act on molecules in brain that might be unknown at all without basic research studies in rodents and non-human primates.

Secondly, referring to the efficacy of these medicines as limited seems to misunderstand the nature of pharmacology. These medications do not effectively treat everyone that is medicated with them – but then, no drug used for any disease does. That’s not the way pharmacology works. That said, for tens of thousands of people with alcohol use disorders around the world, they achieve and maintain abstinence thanks to one or both of these medications: something that wouldn’t be possible for them without the medicines. For those people, animal research on alcohol addiction has literally saved their lives.

Thirdly, the fact of the matter is that the desperate need for medications for drug and alcohol abuse has led both NIDA and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) to undertake many clinical trials for medications before there was adequate evidence for efficacy in animal models. Many of the failed clinical trials involved these kinds of medicines. Therefore, if one is concerned about the failure of clinical trials (and we certainly should be), we should be calling for more investment in research, including in research involving animal models. Saying that animal research had “green-lighted” every single medication is simply and unequivocally wrong.

It is for all these reasons that the drug abuse research community is incredibly supportive of animal-based research. The pre-eminent professional society in this area – the College on the Problems of Drug Dependence – which includes epidemiologists, neuroscientists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and policy experts has published a statement clarifying their position on animal research:

There is an urgent need to know more about psychoactive drugs, particularly those features that lead some individuals to escalate initial use into regular use or dependence.  Research with laboratory animals will play a key role in these and related efforts… The College on Problems of Drug Dependence recognizes the value and importance of drug abuse research involving laboratory animals and supports the humane use of animals in research that has the potential to benefit human health and society. Such research plays a vital role in acquisition of the new knowledge needed to understand and reduce drug abuse and its associated problems.

Because drug and alcohol abuse are diseases with far-ranging health effects, contributing to death from overdose, cancer, stroke and metabolic disease, all of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a clear interest in seeing research end addictions. Animal activists’ claims that former NIH director Elias Zerhouni has spoken against the value of animal research are misleading given that he has recently made his opinion clear:

I understand that some have interpreted these comments to mean that I think that animals are no longer necessary in medical research. This is certainly not what I meant. In fact, animal models and other surrogates of human disease are necessary — but not sufficient — for the successful development of new treatments. In short, animal models remain essential to the basic research that seeks to understand the complexities of disease mechanism.

Overall, opposition to animal research on addictions seems to require a deep misunderstanding of basic science research, of the state of current scientific understanding of addictions and their treatment and of basic principles of biology, like pharmacology. It also defies the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and drug abuse treatment community that emphasizes the critical need for more research, including animal-based research, in that effort.

Better Mice, Better Research, Better Results

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

This guest post was written by Mark Wanner from The Jackson Laboratory. He has previously written a guest post for us in 2013 responding to an article in the New York Times. This article is adapted from his earlier post on the The Jackson Laboratory blog, Genetics and your health, here. This focuses on a recent Nature commentary by Steve Perrin, which has been misunderstood by many in the animal rights community. Mark also discusses ways of improving the accuracy of the mouse model.

In February 2013, I wrote a post about the use of mice in preclinical research. It was largely in response to a New York Times article about a scientific paper that impugned data obtained from mice used in trauma and sepsis research. The NYT article in turn implied that research using mouse models for human disease was pretty much useless, or misleading at best.

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SYR: Why I Became a Biologist

David Jentsch:

Behind almost every biomedical researcher is a deeply personal story and a passionate motivation to stop suffering and make the world better, one discovery at a time.

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

The Speaking of Your Research (SYR) series gives scientists a voice to discuss their own research. We welcome posts by animal researchers explaining the science and motives behind what they do. Contact us for more details.

I am a biologist. At heart, I have been a biologist ever since I can remember. Life, in its many forms, fascinates me and, even though my interests aren’t confined to biology (or sciences, for that matter), it was always very clear to me that I would pursue the task of trying to understand life a little bit better.

As a kid, my most vivid memories go back to those Saturday mornings when I use to wake up at 7 a.m. to turn on the TV. First, there were cartoons to watch, but – at around 10 a.m. – the “Wildlife” shows would start: documentaries from the BBC Wildlife or from the National Geographic…

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Understanding addiction: NIDA article highlights contribution of animal research

David Jentsch:

In Italy, the home of seminal research into the brain mechanisms that give rise to addictive behaviors – including alcoholism – animal research addressing substance use disorders is at great risk. There is much to be lost when this devastating disorder of the brain is under-addressed or ignored because of the political agenda of so-called activists whose goal is actually to impede progress and erode human welfare.

Originally posted on Speaking of 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…

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Animal rights activists and their death fetishes

Long before I became the target of animal rights activists myself, I heard stories of the anger, hatred and threats of which they are capable. I had not experienced any of it directly, so I was able to intellectualize it, but not “feel” it. This may be a problem for many of you reading this blog who have never yourself been the victim of this kind of rabid behavior.

Animal rights activists claim to the be the defenders of justice, equality and decency, yet what really seems to stoke the passion of some of them is the attack itself. The glee they take in attempting to beat down other human beings that hold a different philosophy is unmissable.

PastedGraphic-2(2)Of course, my first personal experience with their violence was the bombing of my car in 2009. There are some who claim in the animal rights movement who claim that the bombing was a staged, hoax on my part (demonstrating just how out of touch with reality a good number of them are). There are others who claim that attacking a car is a non-violent crime and that no people were actually hurt in this action. Putting aside the fact that inflicting mental and emotional injury is an act even more evil, in some cases, than inflicting physical harm, there is a more basic fact. The only reason that people were not hurt that morning is because I prevented it. They set my car on fire in the middle of a populated fire-hazard zone. There is every reason to believe that they knew that homes would likely burn in the subsequent fire, and it’s only the quick actions of myself and the fire brigade that prevented that.

Many people, both AR extremists and scientists alike, believe that this level of hatefulness is the product of a very small number of terrorists. What this point of view misses is that there is a larger crowd that is more than willing to use occasions like this to fulfill their fetishes with death.

Two things surprised me in the period following the bombing of my car: 1) just how evil many animal rights activists are and 2) just how many of them are willing to engage in this death-threat fetish online. It’s not a “few”. It’s hundreds upon hundreds, as many who have been the targets of these internet campaigns realize.

Case in point: just over a month after my car was bombed, I received the following note. It would come to be a primer on the fantasies with death so many animal rights extremists have.


In the fall of 2010, I would open a plain envelope that had arrived in the mail, and razor blades would spill out. In the accompanying note, the writer graphically describes her fantasy with stalking me at night and sneaking up behind me and cutting my throat. The note had an almost erotic taint to it, revealing the intense pleasure the author took with putting these words and images on a page.


For all these reasons, I no longer feel and shock or surprise when I read about a new case of death threats hurled by animal rights activists at almost anyone in the public who fails to share their philosophy. A recent story highlights what happens when a family is first the victim of a wolf-attack that kills their young horse and nearly kills their dogs and is second the victim of animal rights activists who consider the family responsible for threats against the wolves.

Some of the extremists made threats against the family, against people who were trying to locate the wolf in question and against lawmakers in the state where this occurred. One of the individuals who made such comments was quoted in the story:

They also don’t even know the difference between an actual threat and a remark just wanting ill-will to befall them. Which just goes to show how incredibly ignorant these people are.

His point? He’s not threatening anyone! He’s just wishing death would occur, happen-stance like!

Which just goes to show how incredibly evil these animal-rights people are.

What is clear enough is that there are a really sizable number of animal rights activists who seems to take more pleasure in hurling threats and in eroticizing death than in actually protecting animals. This adds to the weight of evidence that suggests that deep psychopathology is at the root of a lot of pro-animal rights behaviors.

Whether you support biomedical research involving animals or not, one thing is clear. We should all condemn the misanthropic and hateful behavior of what amounts to a quite large number of animal rights extremists. Only then can we find a pathway to a meaningful dialogue on the human-animal relationship.

Gary Francione: “I don’t believe in vaccinations”

David Jentsch:

It’s a great thing that many anti-science kooks like Gary Francione don’t have children…. If they did, it’s their children who would be paying the price. Of course, their opposition to humane and responsible biomedical research means they want your children to pay the price instead.

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

We previously discussed the anti-vaccination stance of a member of the animal rights group “Progress for Science”.  The fact that this individual prefers oregano oil, ginger, garlic, and other herbs over vaccines did not come as a surprise.  We have  already noted the strong similarities between the arguments espoused by the anti-vaccination and animal rights groups.  But you may be asking yourself — just how prevalent is the view among animal rights activists? It turns out the position can be traced all the way up to prominent academics, such a Professor Gary Francione:

Yes, you heard right (play it again if in doubt) — Rutgers Law Professor Gary Francione does not believe in vaccinations. He is not alone.  The exuberant applause he receives comes from animal rights supporters in the audience, and you can easily judge there are no shortage of them.

How could this be? You would think that…

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