Letter: Animal research saves lives

Alka Chandna and her associates at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) want you to live in a world with no new medications for cancer, pain, heart disease or addiction. In her opinion piece on Tuesday (“Stop animal abuse at Yale,” Jan. 27), Chandna uses the most inflammatory language possible to claim that animal experiments are “useless” and “cruel.” The truth is that much of the medical research that matters for the health of you and me requires the use of animals.

Animals are used in research only when necessary. When this occurs, they are monitored very carefully to be sure that they are anesthetized properly during surgical procedures so that they experience only transient pain or discomfort.

Alka Chandna’s colleagues at PETA describe the research done in my laboratory as “useless” because they say that smoking is a choice humans make, and because we already know that smoking is bad. But there is much we do not understand about addiction. More than 350,000 people died of tobacco-related illnesses last year in the United States alone. The vast majority of those people began smoking as adolescents. Most adolescents progress rapidly to addiction and soon decide to quit but find they are unable to do so.

Anyone who starts smoking and has an episode of depression is at even greater risk of repeated smoking relapse. Research using laboratory animals has contributed directly to the development of new, scientifically based treatments for smoking cessation that are effective and that are helping millions of people quit smoking today. These same medications might also be effective in treating depression and alcoholism. These treatments are saving countless human lives by helping people who have never been able to remain abstinent quit smoking.

At present there is no way to understand the scientific basis for what nicotine does to the brain, nor of testing whether a particular therapy will increase the chance for permanently quitting, without using animals in research. Researchers are careful to respect the animals that contribute to this vital biological research by making sure the animals are healthy and well-cared for, and that they undergo the minimum pain or discomfort possible.

There are many challenges to human health that can only be solved by careful, thoughtful and humane use of laboratory animals. Animals are used only when there are no alternative models for advancing research. Anyone who has had, or who knows someone who has had, a serious illness (stroke, heart attack, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.) has benefited from the research done with laboratory animals.

Marina Picciotto
Jan. 27
The writer is a professor of psychiatry.


  • In_Favor_of_Modern_Non-animal_Research_Methods

    Maria Picciotto's defense of her inarguably cruel experiments on defenseless animals is heavy on invective but short on facts. Picciotto fails to address the central point in Chandna's concerns regarding animal experimentation: that the paltry regulations that exist to offer minimal protections to animals in laboratories are being flauted in labs across the U.S., including at Yale.

    USDA inspection reports indicate that Picciotto's contention that "researchers are careful to respect the animals" is simply not true. Animals in Yale's laboratories have been deprived of veterinary care; monkeys have been found to be suffering psychological distress due to inadequate enrichment; a dog was burned as a result of neglect; and so on.

    All of this is to say nothing of the deprivation, stress, trauma, anxiety and loneliness experienced by animals in laboratories, even before they are used in an experiment.

  • Spherical Cow

    "Animals are used in research only when necessary," says Professor Maria Picciotto.

    This is demonstrably false. Animal research in all areas of phychology and biology is commom, and a basic part of basic research. It is conceivable that one (Picciotto among them) could argue that the positive effects and outcomes of basic research is worth the cost of using living, sentient creature as experimental tools. However, it is highly disingeuous to pretend that we are "forced" into this proposition.

    From the cosmetic industry to medical labs, animals are used primarily because they are cheap and expendable. In industry, it was only because of objections by groups such as PETA that pouring chemicals into rabbits' eyes became illegal. Again, feel free to argue on cost-benefit — but I for one do not think that incremental increases in cosmetic standards can justify such things — and more to the point, since laws banning such testing has been passed, the industry has not "dissolved."

    Likewise, in medical testing, scientists have been "shocked" to discover that AIDS research on chimpanzees has not been applicable to human subjects.

    Certainly, prohibiting the use of animals in laboratories would stiffle some advances in basic research — journal articles reporting on the results would obviously disappear. But science and medicine will not suffer irreparable harm if we limit animal use and promote the higest standards of care for those we (potentially) do allow: only the careers of those scientists uncreative enough to think outside the box and challenge prevailing dogma will be left behind.

  • Bob

    As someone who has worked in Yale labs for years and actually knows something about science, I will say that vertebrate research is used as a last resort. Scientists have all kinds of models: cell culture, worms, flies, yeast, etc. that can be pressed into service for certain applications. That said, nearly all research related to human disease has to be done in vertebrates because results obtained from studying these models translates more reliably in humans. Banning or severely limiting animal research is foolhardy and would effectively stop medical progress dead in its tracks. These are the realities from someone who actually has a clue.

  • Anonymous

    If the two commenters above would be willing to take the place of the animals they are so passionately defending, I'm sure there are plenty of scientists (in places where the IRB is a mythical concept, at least) willing to trade.

  • To commenters #1 and #2

    As my father would say, every situation requires a cost-benefit analysis. In this case, the inevitable cost is the comfort and safety of some non-human animals. Obviously, this is sad, tragic even. The bright side is that more and more scientists are doing what they can to keep their research as ethical as possible. But what needs to be remembered is that when they do need to use animals, they do it in hope that they will find new ways to save untold numbers of lives. Yes, no one is happy that those saved lives come at a cost. But that's the way the world works.

  • notapetafan

    sorry, but your letter in no way addresses the major issues that PETA raises. and i read no inflammatory language in her letter. in fact, PETA is simply asking for the IACUCs to do their job. doesn't sound like Yale has done its. PETA isn't saying don't do research on animals. that's a twisting of the PETA letter-writer's words. wouldn't you gain more support if you offered explanations for PETA's claims?

  • LifeScientist

    PETA has always depended on emotion rather than logic or facts. Anyone who has had ANY experience with IACUC's knows that the USDA and FDA (for GLP studies) are very serious about the standards. Often work can seem esoteric or repetitive but both regulatory and scientific validation often require it to be so. I have seen much more true emotional warmth and empathy from "cruel heartless experimenters" than many of the PETA and ALF core. These are people who not only express little sympathy for human sufferers but have been documented to break into laboratories, steal animals and then kill and bury them .. while claiming to liberate them. There still seems to be attempts make researchers paying animal snatchers for stolen pets … rather the reality of using specially breed, genetically defined animals at a very significant cost per animal.

  • Concerned…

    As a veterinary technician that has worked in both private practice (companion animal) and in research, I can say with 100% honesty that animals used in research receive better veterinary care than a lot of dogs and cats in the general population. There is rarely an issue of insufficient funds in research when it comes to care of the animals, unlike those that own dogs and cats for companionship. I can not tell you how many times we would receive phone calls concerning a family pet that needed immed. vet care and the owners were not willing to bring them in b/c of money issues (or b/c of a lack of concern). I believe that every creature deserves to have the best care, from a little mouse in the lab to the family dog.
    Also, I totally agree with LifeScientist's comment about PETA depending on emotion rather than logic/facts. I believe that, if the members of PETA did a little more research of their own, they would discover that the world of research is NOT full of heartless people. In fact, they may find some of the most compassionate people out there!
    Thank you.

  • William

    This issue is so very simple which actually is the reason most people are baffled by it. In science the burden of proof lies on the experimenter to show some sort of predictive value much like an attorney uses a past precedent in court. It is an extreme rarity for the animal "researcher" to accept an invitation to debate the other side to present the basic rationale and validity of their research simply because they cannot show any type of predictive value from a pure scientific standpoint. When the "researcher" does participate in a debate, history has shown that they ALWAYS lose. Also, they are very picky on who they choose to debate against. For example in the UK a Dr. Vernon Coleman(.com, see his website) is avoided like the plague due to his scientific brillance that shows not only the scientific fraud of this research but the profit motive as well. On the molecular level there are billions of differences between people and animals. The sheer magnitude of this number guarantees you employment for life.

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