Activists protest on campus
Various animal rights groups rally against medical testing on primates
Shauntel Lowe

Rabin Saber chants, "Hey, hey! UCLA! How many animals did you kill today?"
at the UCLA Medical Centerís Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Behavior.
Saber was part of a small group of activists protesting primate research at the university.

A proposal by a team of UCLA researchers to study the social effects of Ecstasy on vervet monkeys was a key battling point in a protest held Thursday throughout the UCLA Medical Center area by a small group of animal rights activists.

In conjunction with National Primate Liberation Week, the group of about 15 activists gathered at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue just after noon, holding large posters with images of monkeys during vivisection and other research procedures.

The posters displayed slogans such as "This is not research, it's torture" and "Vivisection: Science Gone Mad." Members of various animal rights groups, including the L.A.-based Last Chance for Animals and the Anti-Vivisection Campaign, were among the protestors who marched along Westwood Boulevard.

The protest did not focus on the use of primates in any specific area of research, but the Ecstasy proposal became a hot discussion topic as the event continued.

The proposal, called "Making Connections: MDMA Research on the Mechanisms of Affiliation and Trust," is intended as a stepping stone to learning more about human social interaction. It was submitted to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies by a group of UCLA researchers about a year ago.

The association is a non-profit research and educational organization that helps scientists get funding and approval for projects involving Ecstasy, psychedelic drugs and marijuana. So far the researchers have not received any funding offers.

Anthropology Professor Alan Page Fiske, one of the main researchers behind the proposal, said Ecstasy has many emotional benefits, including making people feel euphoric and a providing a greater sense of community with those around them. For that reason, he said, it is important to study how the chemicals impact people's sociability.

"The biggest problems we have in the world are people not trusting each other and not feeling a solidarity (and) feeling distant," Fiske said. "If we could understand the basis of compassion and caring, that's about the most important thing human and biological sciences could do."

Protesters argued that research on animals as a means to benefit humans is a waste of time and money, saying the findings cannot translate to humans because they are two different species.

"We're different within our own species. How are you going to go in an entirely different species (and do research)?" said Chris DeRose, president of Last Chance for Animals, a group he started 21 years ago.

The group of activists, proceeded by a string of bicycle-riding university police officers, made stops at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the MacDonald Medical Research Laboratory. The officers sat on their bikes in front of the building entrances, blocking the protestors and interrupting the flow of traffic in and out of the buildings.

The protesters were primarily concerned about the potential harm that could be done to animals through research.

Devin Murphy, a member of Last Chance for Animals, described the desire to see the effects of Ecstasy on primates as a "totally sick curiosity."

Both Murphy and DeRose advocated the use of clinical studies, or observing and analyzing human patients, as a more accurate and moral research method.

David Jentsch, an assistant professor of psychology and one of the researchers behind the proposal, said clinical studies are helpful in showing correlations, but not in finding why, mechanistically, things happen.

"Our society expects me to provide them with facts with a level of certainty. You can't get that without mechanistic studies in non-human species," he said.