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Oxford's animal abuse extends farther than you might think

Oxford University's links to cruelty in Israel

The following article comes from an undercover investigation carried out by Let The Animals Live in Israel. The similarities between the horrific experiments carried out at the Weizmann Institute and those carried out at Oxford University are obvious, involving what seem to be identical painful experimental techniques and procedures, as well as desensitisation of researchers and animal technicians. But this is not surprising when the links between this Institute in Israel and the University in Oxford are revealed. It was the Chief of the Veterinary Services of Oxford University who confirmed the conditions of the monkeys in the laboratory, provided advice on housing and on the thirst regimen for the primates at the Weizmann Institute.

Experiments on Monkeys and Cats in the Department of Neurobiology, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

An undercover investigation by 'Let The Animals Live - Israel'

Over the course of the past thirty years, Professor Amiram Grinvald and his colleagues in the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, have conducted a series of invasive and punishing experiments on monkeys and cats. Many of these studies last for several years and involve drilling holes in the skulls of the animals, in order to expose the brain cortex. A special dye is then applied directly on to the brain surface in order to observe the electrical activity of groups of nerve cells, which is subsequently photographed. All of these experiments fall under the heading of basic research, ‘trial and error’, which, by definition, need not yield any practical application to human or veterinary medicine.

The Israeli organization 'Let the Animals Live' carried out an undercover investigation in the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in October 2007. The undercover work was the result of information received by an animal technician who had been employed in the department for a month. The investigation documented two experimental procedures: experiments on eight monkeys, headed by Dr David B Omer, and experiments on an unknown number of cats, headed by Dr Shmuel Na'aman. Both researchers are pupils of Professor Grinvald.

At the present time, eight monkeys are housed in the Department of Neurobiology at the Institute: their names are Shuki, Teka, Zubumupu, Gaydamak, Koko, Pikatchu, Peretz and Butch. These animals were purchased from the monkey breeding farm at Mazor in Israel. The following documentation is based on the testimony of the animal technician, undercover video footage and on descriptions of the procedures used on the animals that have already been published in articles by Professor Grinvald and his colleagues.

Experiments on awake monkeys (Shuki, Teka, Zubumupu, Gaydamak, Koko and Pikatchu) last four years, under the following conditions:

1. The monkeys are kept singly in small metal cages with no environmental enrichment and devoid of any physical contact with other monkeys, and in some cases, unable to even see one another.

2. The monkeys are subjected to a daily thirst regimen (except on weekends) and provided mainly with dry food pellets (which exacerbates their thirst).

3. During the first two years of training, the monkeys learn to sit in a ‘primate chair’ while focusing their vision on a small spot screened on a monitor. This entails forcibly removing the monkeys from their cages with the help of a ‘monkey catchpole’, followed by immobilization in a primate chair for one to two hours a day, during which the animals are trained to respond to a small spot as it appears and disappears on a screen. A correct response results in the monkey receiving a ‘reward’ of a few drops of water (equivalent to less than half a milliliter), through a tube connected to the mouth. The training sessions take place in narrow and darkened rooms in which the monkey is left on its own. 4. After the initial two-year training period, the monkeys undergo surgery in which half of the scalp at the back of the head is removed in order to expose the underlying skull, to which is attached a dental cement cast, ‘cap’. 5. Following recovery from surgery, the monkeys continue with their training sessions as before for a further twelve months, during which new visual cues will be displayed to them on the screen monitor. In addition, they will receive an intramuscular antibiotic injection every morning in order to avoid infection associated with the head implant, and will have their heads shaven twice a week. Whilst seated in the primate chair for shaving or during training sessions, the monkey’s head is fully immobilized by a screw holding the head to the chair. Any head movement is thus impossible. On the days that their heads are shaven, they will remain immobilized in the primate chair for up to three hours.

6. At the end of the three-year period, the monkeys undergo further surgery, during which two holes, each measuring 2.5 cm in diameter, are drilled through the skull and each covered with a transparent silicone chamber, reinforced by an outer steel ring. For the next twelve months, once to three times a week, the monkeys will be made to sit in a primate chair for eight hours continuously, during which their heads will be immobilized to allow the exposed brain to be photographed in response to changing spots on a computer screen. In addition, the monkeys will have their heads shaved twice a week and the silicone chambers cleaned out two to five times a week.

7. Apart from the two surgical procedures involving the dental cement cast and the drilling of holes into the skull, no analgesics (painkillers) are ever used. Surgical procedures are carried out by the researchers themselves, in the absence of any veterinarian.

8. It is unclear what happens to the monkeys once the experiments have been completed. Some of the published articles state that monkeys are killed and their brains examined.

Experiments on anaesthetized monkeys (Peretz and Butch) last one year, under the following conditions:

1. The monkeys are kept singly in cages with no environmental enrichment and devoid of any physical contact with other monkeys, and in some cases, unable to even see one another.

2. They will have undergone surgery to attach the dental cement cast to their heads, holes will have been drilled through their skulls, and they will have been fitted with the silicone chambers (as described in 6 above).

3. The monkeys receive dry food and water ad lib.

4. Once a week the monkeys are fasted for twenty-four hours prior to being anaesthetized. They are subsequently anaesthetized and positioned in front of a screen with their eyes forcibly kept open and their exposed brain photographed while various objects appear on the computer screen. The entire process, including anaesthesia and recording sessions, can last for up to twelve hours.

5. The monkeys have their heads shaven twice a week and their silicone chambers cleaned out two to five times a week.

6. It is unclear what happens to the monkeys once the experiments have been completed. Some of the published articles state that monkeys are killed and their brains examined.

Experiments on cats:

Once a week a cat is brought in to the cat room from the ‘Animal House’. The cat is kept in a small cage without food or water for twenty-four hours. The following morning, the cat is weighed and given an anaesthetic injection before being transferred from the cat room to the operating room. Part of the cat's skull is then surgically removed in order to expose the brain, while the cat, whose eyes are forcibly kept open, is exposed to visual objects on a computer screen. The subsequent activity of the nerve cells is recorded by a camera. At the end of the experimental session, the cat is killed.

Experimental Brain Research on Primates and Cats in Israel

Brain research on monkeys is conducted in laboratories where the animals are kept in punishing conditions, in social isolation and in small metal cages in windowless rooms, in the absence of any environmental stimulation or enrichment. Most of the monkeys are forced to endure a daily thirst regimen, whilst immobilized in a ‘primate chair’ for hours on end, day after day, having being fitted with a dental cement cast and having had large holes drilled into their skulls. Some of the experiments include having chemicals injected inside their brains, parts of their brains removed or deliberately damaged, or being given various drugs prior to undergoing yet more invasive procedures. Most of the experimental procedures are performed on awake and feeling animals.

The researchers and animal technicians have little or no background of working with animals and equally lack the professional expertise necessary to cope with such intelligent animals. In most cases, the researchers and animal technicians become desensitized to the suffering of the monkeys and cats they use, and lose sight of their most basic needs. They show no compassion for these animals, but instead, view them as disposable commodities, research tools, test tubes with tails.

Experiments on monkeys and cats are conducted in absolute secrecy, behind closed doors that are well guarded. The animals are transferred from one room to another, covered with cardboard boxes or plastic sheets, to make sure that no one will see them. In discussions with the general public or the media, the researchers will always make a point of saying how much they love and care for ‘their animals’. They tell us that no laboratory animal of theirs ever suffers. The news article ‘The brain behind brain research’ (Yediot Aharonot, July 2000), about Professor Amiram Grinvald, begins with the following words: ‘Professor Amiram Grinvald’s monkeys like grape juice. They very patiently sit in their white chair in the laboratory, watching television, and whenever a picture appears on the screen, thousands of coloured lights flicker on their brains. In recognition of their cooperation, Professor Grinvald gives them some grape juice and strokes them.’ In a news report about the new Brain Research Institute at the University of Bar Ilan, the Institute’s Director, Professor Moshe Abeles, stated: ‘I can’t say that the monkey is happy, but he doesn’t suffer’.

The truth is revealed only to the undercover video camera. The two undercover investigations that have been conducted, one at the Hebrew University (in 2001) and the other at the Weizmann Institute (in 2007), reveal the grim truth about what really happens in brain research labs.

There Are Other Ways

The main argument put forward to justify the use of monkeys and cats in brain research is that it would not be ethical to conduct these experiments on human subjects, and that the data obtained from these studies is valuable and may have applications to human medicine. This argument begins to pale in significance when considering the availability of highly sophisticated non-invasive imaging technologies. These instruments are capable of processing information at the level of nerve cell networks and small populations of nerve clusters, and even single nerve cells, using human subjects. According to the researchers, these sorts of observations can only be conducted through invasive experiments using monkeys.

Research using these advanced imaging techniques allows for ‘real time’ observations on conscious individuals whose brain is actively involved in cognitive processes (such as thinking, reading, singing, speaking and writing) while allowing the researcher to talk to the subject under investigation. Such cognitive activities simply cannot be studied in monkeys.

The range of imaging techniques includes: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); magnetoencephalography (MEG); functional MRI (fMRI); transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS); diffusion tensor imaging (DTI); single photon emission computer tomography (SPECT); positron emission tomography (PET); magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS); event related optical signaling (EROS); and electrical impedance tomography (EIT). Additional methodologies for studying the human brain include: post-mortem examination; the study of donated human brain tissue; psychophysics; in vitro (test tube) studies; cognitive studies; clinical observation of brain damaged individuals; molecular genetic studies; and so on.

With respect to the cruel and invasive monkey and cat brain research conducted at Professor Amiram Grinvald’s laboratory involving visual stimulation, equivalent studies are conducted at Aston University in the UK, using non-invasive MEG imaging on human subjects. The results at Aston are more accurate, in addition to being directly relevant to human beings.

It should also be obvious that the human brain is unique with respect to its organization and structure, in terms of size, proportions and cell populations, and cannot be compared to the brain of the monkey or cat. Attempts at extrapolating animal-based research to humans has led to medical disasters and actually impeded medical progress. Yet despite these catastrophes, few scientists are prepared to openly challenge the concept of using animal models, such as monkeys and cats, for the study of human disease.

The reasons for this reluctance to speak out include political considerations as well as self interest. A major obstacle to opening up the debate is the strategy used by animal researchers who see any challenge to their animal experiments as a threat to their inalienable right to ‘academic freedom’, irrespective of the outcome of their animal studies.

For more information on LET THE ANIMALS LIVE and the investigation into the Weizmann Institute: www.letlive.org.il/english/home.php.

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