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Students protest animal testing at UMC labs

EVAN CARAVELLI/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Rachel Bash, a first-year law student, join protesters outside the entrance to University Medical Center yesterday afternoon to protest the use of live animals in scientific experiments.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
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Fifteen animal rights activists who gathered in front of University Medical Center yesterday weren't monkeying around.

Members of the Animal Defense League of Arizona, Supporting and Promoting Ethics for the Animal Kingdom, and Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, protested in front of the hospital, calling for the release of Pepe, a monkey who has undergone years of experimentation at UMC.

Gary Vella, coordinator of the Tucson ADLA chapter, said electrodes were implanted into Pepe's skull a few years ago to monitor responses to stimuli. Though the electrodes were removed, Vella said Pepe was left in poor condition.

Pepe lives in a cell in the UMC animal facility, but Vella, who did a walk-through of the facilities a few months ago, said the conditions were "sickening."

"The animals are all conveniently tucked away and hidden in corridors and lower-level rooms," he said. "It's not a primate-friendly enclosure."

Vella and the other animal rights activists said Pepe should be released to a primate sanctuary, but UMC officials are unsure of the animal's fate.

Dr. Susan Wilson-Sanders, UA director of animal care, said Pepe may undergo "noninvasive research," but will not be used for further surgical procedures. The prospect for release into a sanctuary is unknown, she said.

"That is the determination that the researcher will have to make," she said. "It's what's in the best interest of the research and of Pepe."

Vella said he can't understand why officials won't release Pepe.

"Why do they have to do more to that poor animal?" he asked.

Suzanne Haws, spokeswoman for SETA, said the protest was also held to inform the public that its tax dollars are used to fund animal testing.

"Our stand is we find animal testing wrong, given the fact they are feeling pain," said Kristen Drumm, president of SETA and a first-year law student. "As long as we keep testing, no one will look for alternatives."

But Wilson-Sanders said any animal research on campus, ranging from an undergraduate class to a biomedical lab, must be approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which focuses on minimizing pain and distress for research animals.

"It is required if surgery is done. The same type of pain-relieving medication that is given to humans is given to animals," she said.

About 15,000 animals are used for university research, 95 percent of which are mice, Wilson-Sanders said.

Sandy Updike, a member of SPEAK, said she was horrified to hear stories of rabbits squirted in the eyes with soap and acid, and monkeys not given drinks unless they followed the scientists' orders.

"They said it's to ensure their products do not hurt people, but it's just sadistic," Updike said.

Wilson-Sanders said the national Nuremberg Code and Helsinki Accord require the university to test on animals before humans, but UA researchers do an in-depth analysis of alternative methods before animal testing is used.

"Sixty percent of all protocols do use alternatives as part of their research," she said.

But Roberta Wright, founder of SPEAK, said that's not good enough because animal testing is "downright evil."

"We want abolition," she said. "Not reduction, not refinement, but abolition."

It's important the community understands what is happening to the animals, said Rachel Bash, a member of SETA and first-year law student.

"I didn't realize what was going on until two weeks ago," said Bela Ryan, a protester. "Our science today is far beyond this."

Wilson-Sanders said animal testing is necessary to learn about underlying causes, treatments and cures for both human and animal diseases.

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