Tag Archives: mice

How mice are like humans, how they aren’t, and why it matters

By Kathy Guillermo

A recent study published in the journal Science Advances concluded that mice can transfer their heightened pain sensitivity to other mice through scent cues. This paper is the latest in a long line showing that these tiny animals deserve our respect, yet the very people who gather the data fail to draw the obvious conclusion: We must stop treating mice as though they have no emotions or feelings — because it’s been proved over and over again that they do.

To reach this latest conclusion, experimenters at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) first had to make mice acutely sensitive to pain — a terrible process in and of itself — and then determine whether other mice had become super-sensitive by inflicting additional painful procedures on them.

Certainly, nothing good came of this study for the mice involved. Some were injected with a substance that induces long-lasting inflammation. Others were addicted to morphine or alcohol and then made to endure an agonizing withdrawal process.

They were poked with plastic filaments. Their tails were dipped in hot water, and their paws were injected with an irritant to see how much they licked the site.

If these inhumane procedures had been inflicted outside the laboratory, they’d have warranted cruelty-to-animals charges. But mice in laboratories are exempt from even the most meager of protections under the law. Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, they aren’t even defined as “animals.”

Other studies have shown that mice form long-lasting bonds, are good mothers, feel empathy and even giggle (at frequencies that we can’t hear). They have a fundamental right to live without being tormented by humans.

But that’s not all that’s wrong with imprisoning and exploiting mice in laboratories. While they are like humans in many ways, such as the ability to suffer, in others, they are entirely different.

There is abundant evidence that experiments on animals rarely yield findings that end up being clinically useful for humans. One study found that fewer than 10 percent of promising discoveries coming out of basic animal research make their way into clinical use within 20 years.

One large, multi-institution study found few similarities between the genetic response in mice to things that cause inflammation—such as burns, trauma and infection—and the response in humans. In some cases, the reactions were actually the opposite.

And dozens of papers are released each month on rodent studies of diabetes, despite vast differences in the way rodents regulate glucose and the way the disease progresses in them compared with in humans.

By any definition, that’s a pretty dismal track record.

“I think we’ve got ourselves into a mess right now, with lab mice in particular.”

That’s Joseph Garner, an associate professor in the Department of Comparative Medicine at Stanford University, speaking in a recent interview in New Scientist magazine. Garner says that researchers need to ask themselves if animals are truly modeling human disease. “Increasingly, they are not,” he says. “So we end up learning a great deal about how mice respond to various compounds, but it’s irrelevant to humans and an enormous waste of money.”

What is relevant to human medicine is research that uses superior non-animal methods, such as sophisticated computer modeling, engineered human tissue and organs on microchips, which can gauge the effectiveness of drugs on human cells. In fact, Harvard University just announced the development of a 3-D-printed heart-on-a-chip, which will pave the way for rapid customization to an individual patient’s cells.

So perhaps it’s time for OHSU—and others who continue to conduct archaic experiments on animals—to embrace modern, non-animal research methods and develop some empathy of their own.

Tips on Preventing Harm to Wildlife this Winter

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Rosalie’s Lilac is a domesticated, spoiled, little baby! The exact opposite of any wild critter! pic:R.T.

From PETA.ORG:

There are many ways in which you can be a wildlife lifesaver, especially during winter. Please share these valuable tips with neighbors and friends so that the birds, mice, opossums, squirrels, raccoons, and other animals whose habitats intersect with ours can be protected from harm:

Cap your chimney.
When birds sit on top of a chimney for warmth, they can be overcome by fumes, which can cause them to fall in and die.
Never use smoke or fire to drive animals out of chimneys. This will almost certainly kill young animals who are not physically able to leave on their own. Once animals have left, seal all points of entry with a foam sealant or hardware cloth. This must be done in the fall or winter to keep immobile babies—born in warmer months—from becoming trapped! If you accidentally seal an animal inside, reopen the hole and allow him or her to leave.

Repair and seal attic openings. If raccoons have already taken up residence in unwanted areas, evict them by placing ammonia-soaked rags or mothballs into the affected areas (animals can’t stand the smell and will leave).

Make your property “undesirable.” (Note: Bird feeders and fish ponds are direct invitations.) Put out garbage only on the day that it will be picked up, and keep it in tightly sealed containers. Also, feed companion animals indoors, and if you do place any food outside, be sure to remove it when the animals are finished eating.

Deny mice and rats access to food in your home. This is the best way to discourage them from taking up residence. Seal holes and cracks that are larger than ¼-inch wide, and store all food in airtight, rodent-proof containers. If you think you have a little visitor, immediately place peppermint oil–soaked cotton balls and rags throughout infested areas.

Keep all garbage in tightly sealed, chew-proof containers.
Rinse out tin cans, put the tops inside so that they can’t slice a tongue, and crush the open end of the cans as flat as possible.

Cut open empty cardboard and plastic containers so that squirrels and other small animals can’t get their faces or heads trapped in them. We have seen so many animals with their heads caught in containers—it would break your heart.

Cut apart all sections of plastic six-pack rings, including the inner diamonds.

Place stickers on your windows to prevent birds from flying into them.

A mouse is not a man — or a tool

By Kathy Guillermo

There are two lessons to be learned from the startling new study reporting that decades of burn, sepsis and trauma experiments on mice have led nowhere: First, mice aren’t good stand-ins for humans. The second one I’ll get to in a minute.

The study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, examined human cells and found that what happens to mice when they’re burned and infected isn’t the same as what happens to people. The time and resources spent using mice to try to figure out how to treat humans are “a heartbreaking loss of decades of research and billions of dollars,” according to National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins. Scientists now understand why all 150 drugs developed using these animals failed in human patients. The study’s lead author stated, “[Researchers] are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we are trying to cure humans.”

The cost to everyone—patients, taxpayers and mice—is enormous.

Here’s the second lesson: If scientists and their funders had taken the ethical course from the start—that is, if they had not harmed and killed some beings in an effort to help others—we might be much further along scientifically. As a nation, we’d be more progressive ethically, too.

Look at some of the burn studies now being conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Mice, dogs, sheep and pigs are burned over as much as 40 percent of their bodies with a scorching-hot metal rod or the open flame of a Bunsen burner. The animals suffer for weeks before they are killed. In some of the experiments, animals are also forced to inhale smoke to injure the lining of their respiratory tract.

It’s tempting to say that now we know that the mice—and likely the dogs, pigs and sheep—suffered for nothing. They surely did. (And now, as PETA supporter Paul Harvey would have said, for the rest of the story: The university fired three supervisors and was fined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after PETA provided evidence that the animals were denied adequate pain relief for their burns.)

Animals have suffered for decades in dead-end laboratory searches for cures for human ailments. The Food and Drug Administration has reported that 90 percent of drugs that test safe and effective in animals either fail to work in humans or harm them. A 90 percent failure rate should be unacceptable. It’s certainly ample evidence that animals, while they no doubt feel pain and want to lead their own lives, are nevertheless not biological replicas of humans. Recent landmark reports have even found that chimpanzees, humans’ closest genetic relatives, are terrible models of human ailments.

If animals had been left out of this scientific equation, would science be further along in its quest for drugs to treat burn and trauma patients? What avenue not pursued might have been the right path to helping people?

But even if experimenters had learned something useful, it would still be wrong to take a Bunsen burner to a tiny mouse. It is wrong to lay a red-hot metal bar against the body of a dog. It is wrong to take a blowtorch to the sensitive skin of a pig. It is wrong to poison, infect, manipulate and cut up animals in a laboratory.

We all owe the authors of this study a huge thank-you. They have proved once again that it is modern studies using human cells, not deadly experiments on animals, that will actually help people who have been badly burned. But now is a good time to learn the larger lesson: We can and must solve human problems without harming animals.

Be nice to mice!

By Michelle Kretzer

Most first-date conversations probably don’t turn to discussions of mousetraps, but that’s exactly what happened to me. Since the fall months are prime time for a rodent invasion, don’t be surprised if you also find yourself pondering various mouse-eviction methods. Take it from me: Leave the glue traps, snap traps and poisons on the shelf. You can keep the peace and keep rodents out of your pantry with simple, humane mouse-proofing techniques.

When I first met my boyfriend, he was in hot pursuit of a mouse who was taste-testing her way through his kitchen cabinets. He was trying to catch her in a snap trap but wasn’t having any luck. He even surmised that the mouse was so crafty that she was both avoiding the trap and actually mocking his efforts. (I maintain that she was too smart for that antiquated trap.) So there we were on date number one, talking about how the snap trap might maim but not kill the mouse (at least not instantly), could injure his dog and could make a big mess. Somewhere between the salad and the risotto, he agreed to give my humane live trap a try.

Soon after, we met for date number two so that we could implement Operation Mouse Catch. A few days, a few dates and a few dabs of peanut butter later, the resourceful mouse was in custody. We took her mug shot, then promptly released her in the yard.

Despite my boyfriend’s doubts, the mouse’s cabinet-raiding days seem to be over. (Our dates have become a little more normal as well.) That’s because we didn’t stop with the eviction—we also made his home uninviting to rodents. Just focusing on killing or even evicting a mouse or rat who comes inside won’t work if your house is still appealing and accessible—another rodent will simply take the first one’s place.

But you don’t need to bring out the big guns to keep mice at bay. You just need to store food in chew-proof plastic containers, keep trash in cans with tight-fitting lids and seal off any possible entry points. Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a dime, so check for cracks in walls, holes in foundations and gaps around doors, windows and vents, and then get out the steel wool and the caulking gun.

Many rodent traps are not only ineffective but also cruel. Animals caught in glue traps, for instance, may languish for days before finally dying of dehydration or even suffocation. During that time, as the panicked animals struggle to free themselves, the sticky glue rips patches of fur and skin from their bodies.

And like most “kill traps” and poisons, glue traps don’t discriminate. PETA regularly receives calls from distraught people who have found birds, squirrels, snakes and even kittens hopelessly stuck in these traps. Earlier this year, a homeowner in Virginia learned the hard way that glue traps will snare any animal at any time. The man had set the trap at his home, and when he checked it 24 hours later, he found nine snakes caught on the sticky pan. Thankfully, using mineral oil, Goo Gone and a lot of care, staffers at a local wildlife center were able to free the snakes and release them back into the wild.

Once your house is rodent-proofed, use a humane live trap to catch any remaining mice or rats. Be sure and check it frequently, as rodents panic and suffer while inside traps. Escort them to a field or wooded area away from your home. Or if it’s cold out, release them into a sheltered area such as a barn or a shed.

If mice and rats come calling this fall, why not show them some love? You never know where it may lead.

Animals in Labs, Part 2

Tax dollars thrown away on pointless animal experiments

By Alisa Mullins

A report issued a couple years ago by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blasted 100 “questionable,” “mismanaged” and “poorly planned” stimulus-funded projects, including an especially pointless and cruel experiment that the report aptly called “Monkeys Getting High for Science.” The study in question was being conducted at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, a Winston Salem, N.C.–based facility that was awarded $71,623 in stimulus funds to feed cocaine to monkeys.

“I think all of [the projects] are waste,” McCain told ABC News. “[S]ome are more egregious than others but all of them are terrible.”

Hooking monkeys on coke definitely falls into the “more egregious” category. Unfortunately, this study is just a drop in the proverbial crack pipe. Wasteful and cruel addiction studies on animals are currently being conducted all over the country—and most are simply slight variations on experiments that have been conducted for years. Often the “results” have been known for years as well. For example, it has already been well established that smoking harms developing human fetuses. But that hasn’t stopped the federal government from funneling more than $10 million to Eliot Spindel of the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Spindel impregnates monkeys and then continuously injects them with nicotine to cause damage to their unborn babies’ lungs. The preterm babies are then cut from their mothers’ bodies and killed so that their organs can be cut out and dissected.

Other experiments on animals could easily be conducted on willing human volunteers.

At Yale University, experimenter Marina Picciotto has squandered nearly $10 million in taxpayer money from the National Institutes of Health for nicotine, amphetamine and cocaine addiction experiments on monkeys, mice and rats. The stated goal of one such experiment was to determine how long one should wait after ingesting nicotine before brain imaging is done.

But rather than using actual human smokers who were enrolled in a clinical study, Picciotto isolated monkeys in cages and fed them nicotine-laced Kool-Aid for eight weeks. One monkey received a dose of nicotine each day that was equal to the amount of nicotine found in 17 packs of cigarettes (far more than even chain-smoking humans consume), and the monkeys had to suffer through the distress and discomfort of nicotine withdrawal.

Some addiction experiments appear to be almost sadistically pointless. At Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital, Jack Bergman has conducted federally funded experiments on squirrel monkeys in which they were isolated in steel cages, addicted to methamphetamines and cocaine, strapped in restraint chairs and given electric shocks.

Bergman also wanted to spend another $1.75 million of public money from NASA to blast squirrel monkeys with radiation and then cage them for the rest of their lives to see how it damages their brains and bodies—even though four decades of government-funded radiation experiments on primates have not produced any results that are relevant to humans. A NASA space station engineer who resigned in protest over the experiment says she believes that the agency’s resources would be better spent devising ways to prevent radiation from entering spaceships rather than trying to figure out what to do after it does.

While it is always unethical to confine, poison, mutilate and kill animals for experimentation, it is especially egregious that experimenters are trying to use animals to model addiction, which is in large part caused by social, psychological and even economic factors. Studies on animals can’t resolve these issues.

Furthermore, vast fundamental biological differences between humans and other animals make the results of such experiments difficult if not impossible to extrapolate to humans. Data from mice, rats and monkeys who are trapped in a laboratory and forced into an unnatural and involuntary addiction are of no relevance to humans suffering from drug addictions. Federal tax dollars would be much better spent funding cash-strapped addiction treatment centers and studying drug addictions in humans in a clinical setting rather than torturing animals.

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When ethics and science must not be divided

By Kathy Guillermo

The federal government’s decision late last year to suspend funding for new experiments on chimpanzees, and to re-evaluate all current studies, knocked out a big chunk of the wall that is the species barrier.

Chimpanzees used to be considered “others”—creatures who, despite their human-like qualities, were different enough for experimenters to use in violent and deadly crash tests, to infect with debilitating diseases, and, in a twisted attempt to make them more like us, teach them human sign language. Now the others are us.

The National Institutes of Health based its decision to halt funding for chimpanzee experiments on the conclusions of an expert panel convened by the Institute of Medicine whose express purpose was to examine the scientific validity of using chimpanzees. The committee was comprised primarily of scientists, including some animal experimenters, and determined that “most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary.”

But make no mistake: The report and subsequent take-down of the chimpanzee grant gravy train has its roots in compassion.

The question of scientific validity was raised only after the massive outcry over NIH’s decision to return more than 200 retired chimpanzees, many of them elderly, from quasi-retirement in a facility in Alamogordo, N.M., back into prison-like conditions in laboratories for use in infectious disease studies. NIH said they weren’t really retired; they just hadn’t been used for more than 10 years. The contract for their care was nearing its end. Why not just stick them back in isolation cages, infect them with painful, debilitating conditions, stab them with needles, watch their demise and, essentially, use them up until they die?

Because it’s wrong, was the response from the public, animal groups, many scientists and some legislators. Why must these wonderful, sensitive individuals, who have already been subjected to more physical pain and emotional deprivation than any being of any species should have to endure, be returned to the hell they had already miraculously survived? Why must the United States be the only nation on the entire globe, with the exception of tiny Gabon, still to use chimpanzees as though nothing about them mattered but their perceived usefulness as tools?

Last New Year’s Eve, in the face of this outcry, NIH announced that it was suspending the transfer of the chimpanzees (though tragically, at least 14 had already been sent to a laboratory) and had asked the Institute of Medicine to investigate the importance or lack thereof of chimpanzees to research. The committee stated that it would not deal with the ethics of the issue.

But here’s the elephant in the living room: The question was only asked because so many people, indeed so many nations, believe it is unethical to experiment on chimpanzees.

While the committee found that nearly every use of chimpanzees in laboratories today is scientifically unjustifiable, the immorality of the practice was the subtext. At the briefing during which the Institute of Medicine announced its findings, the committee chair bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn of Johns Hopkins University, even stated, “We understand and feel compelled by the moral cost of using chimpanzees in research.”

Chimpanzees are so like us that most people cannot ignore their desire to be free from subjugation.

Like the Berlin Wall, the barriers that separate humans from all the other species, including those who don’t look like us at all, will crumble. Perhaps one day, and I hope not too far from now, the cages and other implements of animal experimentation will, like the Wall that once separated one group of nations from another, be found only in the Smithsonian and other museums.

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University laboratories failing the ‘3 R’s’

By Dr. Alka Chandna

Most of us find it uncomfortable to think about a defenseless animal imprisoned inside a laboratory cage and used in invasive and ultimately lethal experiments. We hope that laws will protect the animal and that the experimenters will take all measures to minimize the animal’s pain and distress.

But here’s the truth: There is only one law in the U.S.—the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—that provides protection for animals in laboratories. According to multiple federal audits, even this law, which deals mainly with caging and husbandry issues, is not being adequately enforced. Worse, the animals’ last line of defense—oversight committees at laboratories, called “Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees” (IACUCs)—are failing at their jobs as well.

The creation of IACUCs was Congress’ response to massive public outcry over abuse and neglect in laboratories exposed by PETA in the early ’80s. In 1985, Congress amended the AWA to require that every animal facility set up a committee to be responsible for ensuring that experimenters search for alternatives to the use of animals and consider alternatives to painful procedures; that discomfort, distress and pain to animals are avoided or minimized; and that experiments are not being unnecessarily duplicated. In essence, IACUCs must ensure that the “3 R’s” of animal experimentation—reduction of numbers of animals used, refinement of procedures to minimize or avoid pain, and replacement of animals with non-animal models—have been considered.

Animals in laboratories endure lives of deprivation, isolation, stress, trauma and depression even before they are used in any experiment. Implementing the 3 R’s is a minimal provision extended to animals, and IACUCs are legally mandated to ensure that this modicum of humane treatment is applied. But 49 years after the 3 R’s were first articulated in 1959 and 23 years after the implementation of IACUCs, animal experimenters and IACUCs are still failing to take the 3 R’s seriously. Consequently, countless animals have been subjected to unnecessary suffering.

In September 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published a scathing audit report describing a climate in which laboratories view fines for AWA violations as a “cost of conducting business.” The report notes that at almost one-third of facilities, IACUCs failed to ensure that experimenters considered alternatives to painful procedures. The report cites this failure on the part of IACUCs as being the most frequent AWA violation. The report further documents the failure of IACUCs to ensure that animals receive adequate veterinary care and to ensure that unnecessary or repetitive experiments are not performed on animals.

Inspection reports filed by USDA veterinarians and evidence gathered by PETA through whistleblowers and undercover investigations corroborate these concerns. At Columbia University, the IACUC’s failure to adequately review animal experimentation protocols meant that monkeys and dogs in scientifically questionable studies died slowly in their cages without veterinary care.

At Ohio State University, the failure of the IACUC to question the necessity of using dogs to test the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids means that dogs are forced to run on treadmills until they collapse. They are killed and dissected—even though the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for humans are already well documented.

At the University of Connecticut, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Washington and dozens of other universities, experimenters implant coils in monkeys’ eyes and put metal cylinders into holes drilled into the monkeys’ skulls to determine which parts of the brain control eye movement—even though non-invasive techniques can be used on people to obtain human-relevant data.

Each time an IACUC allows a painful procedure when a less painful alternative is available or allows a redundant or useless experiment to proceed, it is not merely an administrative failure but a violation of federal law. Most importantly, these failings mean that animals suffer. There is no excuse for this.

Members of IACUCs should be carefully selected and properly trained to understand their responsibilities under the law and to understand all facets of the 3 R’s. If they don’t perform their responsibilities as they are mandated, they should be held accountable by government agencies and compliance officers at their universities and removed from their positions. Laziness and ignorance have been tolerated for far too long.

PETCO sells animals down the river!

By Daphna Nachminovitch

People across the country are rightly outraged that PETCO left hundreds of caged animals to die in its Johnson City, New York, store during massive flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee overflowing the Susquehanna River. Despite highly publicized flood warnings and a mandatory evacuation order from the town’s mayor, PETCO managers abandoned terrified birds, guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters, mice, reptiles and other animals to struggle to keep their heads above water as floodwaters rose. Nearly 100 animals perished.

PETCO’s refusal to evacuate these animals in the face of imminent danger is only the latest incident in the company’s long history of callous disregard for the lives and well-being of the animals it sells. PETA and the mayor of Johnson City are calling for a criminal investigation and appropriate charges against PETCO for abandoning these animals to die in the flood, but many other animals will continue to suffer and die in the pet trade unless caring people turn their outrage into action, by refusing to buy animals—or anything—from stores that treat living beings like inanimate objects.

To understand PETCO’s total indifference toward animal welfare, you only need to look at the deplorable mass-breeding mills from which it buys the animals it sells. PETA has sent undercover investigators into four animal suppliers to the pet trade, and every investigation found animals confined to crowded, miserable, factory-farm conditions; languishing in filth; deprived of the barest essentials, including food and water; severely neglected; abused and left to endure slow, painful deaths. PETCO is well aware of how animals suffer and die in these hellholes, yet it continues to do business with them.

At one PETCO supplier, Atlanta-based Sun Pet, Ltd., PETA obtained undercover video footage of a Sun Pet employee bashing a bagful of hamsters against a table to kill them, among other horrors. Prompted by PETA’s complaint, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) inspected the facility and found rodents running loose, dead animals in enclosures with live ones, food thrown on top of bedding and rusty cages with sharp, dangerous edges, which Sun Pet was ordered to replace immediately, but didn’t. U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors confirmed many of these findings and the GDA slapped Sun Pet with a $3,000 suspended fine and two years of probation, but PETCO continues to buy and sell animals from this mill to this day.

PETA’s 2007 undercover investigation of another PETCO supplier, Rainbow World Exotics (RWE) in Hamilton, Texas, revealed similar abuse. We captured heartbreaking footage of a worker castrating inadequately anesthetized rabbits and bleaching their wounds, a manager stomping hamsters to death, live animals being tossed in the trash, a cockatoo starving and dying and more. PETCO has stood by RWE and continues to buy and sell animals from its warehouse.

And PETCO would probably still be selling animals imported by the now-defunct U.S. Global Exotics, Inc. (USGE), if PETA’s undercover investigation hadn’t resulted in more than 26,000 mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arachnids being seized from the facility and a municipal judge divesting the owners of all the animals. At USGE, PETA’s investigator documented animals confined to severely crowded and filthy containers, including soda bottles and milk jugs, litter pans, cattle-feeding troughs and barren wire cages, as well as employees who put hundreds of sick, injured and dying animals in a freezer to die. Some of them, including a squirrel whose neck had been severely lacerated and a chinchilla who was bleeding from a prolapsed rectum, languished for hours before succumbing.

PETCO may not care if animals are bashed against tables at its suppliers or if they drown in their cages at its stores, but it surely cares about its bottom line. It’s up to us to hit PETCO where it hurts—its bank account—by never spending so much as a cent in its stores until it stops selling all animals. People who are ready to care for an animal companion can help stop the flood of homeless animals by adopting from animal shelters and rescue groups instead and having their new companion spayed or neutered.

Daphna Nachminovitch is the vice president of PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department.