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.
The writer is a professor of psychiatry.