Vancouver Animal Rights Campaigns (VARK)

Activists Uniting For The Benefit of Animals

UBC must come clean about animal research

Few Vancouver residents and students know the University of B.C. has an extensive animal research program. Every year, the university conducts thousands of research projects involving animals, some of which employ painful and ultimately lethal procedures. Nearly all of the research is conducted privately with little public scrutiny.

According to a Jan. 25, 2008 article published in the UBC student newspaper, The Ubyssey, “UBC is one of the largest biomedical campuses in the country. The ACC (Animal Care Center) distributes some 100,000 creatures, both large and small, to dozens of UBC-affiliated research projects.” The paper also reported the university experiments on a wide variety of animals, such as mice, pigs, sheep, non-human primates, rats and rabbits. For instance, The Ubyssey noted UBC continues to use non-human primates in neurological experiments. The paper reported, “the rhesus macaque, an Asian species, has been used extensively in Parkinson’s disease research. The monkeys are typically subjected to brain damage which models the degenerative disease and then treated with various methamphetamine and electroconvulsive shock therapies.”

Despite the questionable merit of animal experimentation, a growing unease with such research, and breakthroughs in non-animal alternatives, the use of animals in “science” has steadily increased in Canada. Data from the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) shows the numbers of animals used in research have risen from less than 1.8 million in 1998 to nearly 2.3 million animals in 2008. UBC is at the forefront of this trend.

In February, Stop UBC Animal Research was formed by local citizens — including UBC students, alumni, and faculty — out of concern for animals at the university. Our months-long investigation of UBC reveals some of the university’s animal experiments are highly invasive. One UBC researcher, for example, has experimented on cats for 30 years. In 2008 he received a five-year, federally funded grant for continued animal research. It is revealing and deeply troubling what the university has sanctioned. In his papers, including one published in 2008, the researcher described how he had cut open the backs of cats to expose their vertebrae. Titanium screws were inserted into the cats’ spinal columns to inhibit movement. A restraint chamber was built around the cats’ exposed vertebra to give researchers access to the cats’ spinal columns and to fix the animals in a sitting position for recording sessions.

Unfortunately, the university has been less than forthcoming about its research. UBC has yet to provide us with protocols used in animal experiments and has twice denied our request for information under provincial freedom of information law.

To make matters worse, animal research in Canada is not well regulated. Contrary to UBC officials’ assertions, CCAC guidelines are voluntary. In addition, non-compliance records are not made available and CCAC assessments of UBC’s research are confidential, which means the public has no way of knowing if the university has violated animal-care standards.

At the very least, UBC should disclose the numbers and species of animals used in experiments and protocols used in university research. That way, students, donors, alumni, and the public can make informed decisions about supporting a university that engages in activities many find objectionable and of marginal scientific utility.

Anne Birthistle is a member of Stop UBC Animal Research. (stopubcanimalresearch.org)

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
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