The Question of Animal Rights Local Scientists and Animal Rights Groups Say That Research on Animals Should End - but That's Where Their Agreement Stops

Article excerpt

William J. Longmore and Sammy Shoss represent two sides of a longstanding dispute that shows no sign of resolution. Two decades after the animal rights movement heated up in this country and three decades after the Animal Welfare Act was passed, animal rights activists and medical researchers remain stubborn opponents.

Ironically, the two sides agree on the principle at the heart of the fray: Both researchers and animal rights groups say they want research on animals to end.

But scientists won't stop using the animals until alternative methods as effective as animal research are available, they say. And many don't believe that will ever happen. The National Institutes of Health has allocated $12.7 billion for research this year. In 40 percent of the projects, some animals are used, officials say. Researchers put the number of animals used nationwide at about 18 million a year; activists say the number is closer to 70 million. Rats and mice are most often used. In addition, in 1995 - the last year for which figures are available, about 1.4 million dogs, cats, primates, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits were used in publicly funded research. Some procedures permitted on animals for research purposes include surgery on the brain, spinal chord and all organs; transplants of organs from one animal to another, even from one species to another; injury to the head to study brain trauma; the breaking of bones and cutting of the spinal chord; induction of diseases and conditions of all kinds, including nicotine and heroin addiction; and mild electric shock. Anesthesia and analgesics are required in most cases, but pain may be induced without anesthesia or painkiller in certain circumstances, such as in the study of pain itself. "Animal models help us understand and treat human disorder," says Dr. Theodore Cicero, vice chancellor of research and vice chancellor of animal affairs at Washington University School of Medicine. "We are not evil people. . . . We're trying to do good for mankind." Like others in research, Cicero and Longmore deny claims by activists that nonanimal alternatives - such as synthetic cell cultures, human tissue cultures and computer technology - make using animals obsolete. These research methods are helpful and are used when possible, Cicero says, but while they can simplify procedures, "none will predict what's going to happen in a complex living organism." Longmore's research was aimed at respiratory problems in premature infants. The study showed that these infants' lungs lacked an adequate amount of a substance called pulmonary surfactant, which allows the lungs to fill up with air again easily after exhaling. The infants had to struggle to breathe, he said. His work, along with work elsewhere in the country and Japan, led to the development of a product called Survanta, which is made from cow lung. It is now used widely to treat infants with the disorder. "I feel lucky to be involved in science that has had such a direct benefit," Longmore says. Now, he is involved with similar research on respiratory disorders caused by lung injury. Longmore admits that feelings about animals can pose a dilemma in research. He said that a few years ago, he tried to work on ferrets but had to give it up. "They make eye contact," he said. "And they're really lovable animals." Longmore and others say the Animal Welfare Act and other government regulations, as well as the research institutions' own rules, protect animals from unnecessary suffering. But animal-rights activists say policing of research institutions for compliance with law is inadequate: In 1995, for instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had 69 inspectors to check 2,688 research sites. `A Paradigm Shift' Even if the rules are followed, activists say, much animal research is repetitive, irrelevant or cruel. They cite projects that tend to make the listener cringe: gunshot wounds in cats, crack-cocaine addiction in monkeys. …