Volume 92, Issue 43

Thursday November 19, 1998

billionaire boys' club


Researching close to home

Courtesy of the Council on Animal Care

HOPE YOU MAKE IT TO EASTER. Michele Bailey and assistant Tania Gabbana care for a research rabbit at London Health Sciences research animal facility.

By Kate Kristoff

Gazette Writer

The use of animals for research has long been a topic of controversy. Although much information regarding this subject is kept quiet, it is more prevalent than many people might think – in fact, it goes on right here at Western.

"The criteria for animal research are set at a number of different levels. The federal government has set guidelines and the provincial government has the Animals for Research Act which prescribes and limits the use of animals in research. Western does not develop their own guidelines, it uses the Canadian Council on Animal Care guidelines," explains Michael Clarke, chair of the University Council on Animal Care.

Clarke says a CCAC researcher visits the facilities on campus once a year to determine whether CCAC standards are met. Also, a member of the public, usually from the Humane Society, conducts a visit. Western has consistently met CCAC standards for the past four years, Clarke says.

There are two bodies at Western responsible for animals in research – the University Council on Animal Care and the Animal Use Subcommittee, Clarke explains.

He says animals used in research at Western include mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, sheep, pigs and nonhuman primates.

"Animals are the centrality of medical research," says Bessie Borwein, chair of the Human Ethics Review Board at Western.

The Human Ethics Review Board receives more than 400 research requests a year. Before any are approved, those asking for approval must demonstrate that sufficient research has been done. Many advances in scientific research have happened at Western due to the use of animals in research, Borwein says.

"Western has the premiere medical imaging laboratories. These use animal tissues for their imaging techniques," Borwein explains. She also notes the first successful treatment of Hodgekin's disease and other lymphatic cancers came from research done at Western.

Troy Seidle, coordinator for the Center for Compassionate Living based at the University of Waterloo, conducts visits for the CCAC of testing laboratories to determine whether they meet government standards.

"Western is, as far as systems go, very much in compliance with guidelines," Seidle says. "But what is not allowed under the guidelines is essentially nothing – they can do almost anything as long as they go through the proper permission processes."

Seidle says most universities do animal testing for research and teaching in various departments and often not to specific ends but just general testing. For example, one test he describes involves keeping an animal locked up and giving it electric shocks repeatedly until it stops trying to escape.

"There are things that I've seen at some institutions that are supported by public taxes and funding, that if the public saw, they would not support. But this information is not available to the public," Seidle says.

"If the information isn't available, then there must be something to hide."

Seidle also notes Western is a large user of animals in testing in relation to other institutions, but they are well monitored.

To Contact The Focus Department: gazette.focus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998