Animal testing at University remains controversial

Students are not the only living beings on campus: USF is also home to many animals used in research projects.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, USF housed at least 222 animals for the purpose of scientific research, including 142 pigs, nine primates and several dogs, cats, goats, rabbits, weasels, ferrets and mink in 2004. These numbers do not include the mice or rats housed, which usually account for about 95 percent of animals used in research.

USF has 13 facilities in three counties that house animals for the purpose of research. The facilities are located on campus and throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

Animals are used in the research of many types of diseases and behavioral studies. At USF, researchers are studying different types of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.

The Division of Comparative Medicine oversees the well-being of the animals and provides for their care and supervision, but some remain unconvinced that animal testing is justified.

“I act as an advocate for animals and provide the balance between the aims of research and the animals’ welfare,” said Dr. Robert Engelman, director of the division. “The goal is to achieve a balance with veterinarians and the scientists, ask ‘what is the earliest possible end point in this study to reduce the suffering of the animals?'”

The practice of animal testing on college campuses is fairly common, but animal activists consider it cruel and inhumane.

“People forget that animals feel pain and are social beings that need others for emotional support,” said Megan Malek, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering and an animal rights activist.

Engelman countered that using animals to conduct research is a necessary part of science when treating diseases and illnesses.

“We are trying to recreate the most complex, most poorly understood and the hardest to treat health disorders we know of, so of course the animals are going to get sick,” he said. “To do no harm, you can’t do the study.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) believes there are other ways in which research could be conducted that would not have to include animals and would produce better results as well.

“There are always other options. Almost every case has some kind of non-animal alternative that could be used in place of animals,” said Kathy Guillermo, director of the laboratory investigations department at PETA. “In pharmaceutical testing, 92 percent of the drugs that are proven to be effective on animals are disproved when used in human clinical trials. Animals are not the same as humans.”

David Morgan, a professor at USF, is conducting research to find a way to stop the development of Alzheimer’s disease. His trials have used 600 to 1,000 animals. He believes there is no getting around using animals in research.

“Testing in animal models of human diseases has no substitute in terms of efficacy, safety and usefulness,” he said. “It is a critical and unavoidable part.”

According to the Division of Comparative Medicine, in order for research to be conducted using animals at USF, the researchers must present their plan to a veterinarian and a committee for review. The committee can approve it, require modifications or disapprove it. Nothing can be done to animals before the committee’s approval.

Everyone working with the animals, including security and maintenance workers, must also undergo training, Engelman said.

Despite these rules, PETA believes the animals are not fully protected from harm.

“There is only one federal law in place that offers protection for animals, the Animal Welfare Act,” Guillermo said. “But it doesn’t cover mice, rats or birds, and it doesn’t protect against harmful or painful experiments.”

PETA also believes the law that is in place isn’t enforced very well, said Guillermo.

Concerns for the animals’ well-being are not taken lightly, Engelman said, and people are encouraged to voice their concerns.

“If you have a good staff, then healthy dialogue tends to be self-reporting. We tend to self-report a lot,” he said. “In all of our facilities, signs encourage staff to report deficiencies in care or use. They list phone numbers and callers can remain anonymous.”

In the last three years, about 48 reportable incidents have involved animals, Engelman said. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee investigates the incidents and resolves concerns by addressing founded incidents.