USCF target of animal rights protest

Inside Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO � Animal rights activists held a peaceful demonstration early Tuesday afternoon to protest the treatment of animals used in research experiments at the University of California, San Francisco.

A small group of animal rights activists and members of In Defense of Animals, a Mill Valley-based nonprofit that fights the exploitation and abuse of animals, held signs and banners while they passed out leaflets along Parnassus Avenue, just outside of the Millberry Union and UCSF's Medical Center.

"Without your voice, the torture will continue," the largest sign read. "Animals in labs need your help."

Activists targeted UCSF because they claim it has an abysmal reputation for lab animal care when compared to other university medical research institutions, said Alicia Moore, development assistant for In Defense of Animals.

In a statement, UCSF said it "takes very seriously the responsibility of working with animals and is committed to maintaining the highest standard of treatment in animal care and use."

But In Defense of Animals pointed to a formal complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August against UCSF for dozens of alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

The complaint cited 60 alleged incidents between 2001 and 2003, including failure to provide adequate veterinary care and sanitary conditions, and neglecting to properly monitor animals following surgery.

UCSF filed a response with the Department of Agriculture defending itself. Most of the violations were redundant or inaccurate, university officials said.

In addition, UCSF said the allegations were two to 31/2 years old, and all were addressed at the time with appropriate reporting back to the USDA.

Primate concerns

But In Defense of Animals said that is not the case, and claimed at least one UCSF researcher, Dr. Stephen Lisberger, performs a "horrific cycle" of invasive surgical procedures on primates, according to In Defense of Animals, which said it obtained clinical records from Lisberger's lab.

His experiments "are gruesome," Moore said. "Monkeys eyes are sliced open with scalpels for wire coils to be placed inside ... and screws are drilled into their skulls in order to restrain them."

Ara Tahmassian, associate vice chancellor for research at UCSF, said claims about Lisberger's research are factually incorrect and inflammatory.

"The methods used in Lisberger's laboratory have been found in compliance with USDA regulations in recent inspections," Tahmassian said in a statement.

Tahmassian added, "UCSF has policies in place that would terminate any research protocol that used the sort of horrific methods alleged in the statements by (In Defense of Animals). Research protocols by all scientists undergo extensive scientific and ethical review."

Animal rights activists say evidence shows animals such as chimpanzees do not accurately represent human conditions and therefore shouldn't be used in medical testing because the results are not reliable.

"Studies done on chimpanzees have failed to identify the risks of cigarette smoking and failed to produce a single case of AIDS," said Elliot M. Katz, a veterinarian and president of In Defense of Animals. "Increasingly, physicians and scientists are realizing that experiments on animals are unreliable and antiquated."

Medical progress

According to Americans for Medical Progress, however, primate research has been essential to knowledge of such diseases as Alzheimer's, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Research of primates has also enabled scientists to develop vaccines against rubella and hepatitis B, among a long list of other contributions.

Tahmassian said UCSF considers the use of animals in research an essential component of progress in medical sciences, adding this has been documented by scientific agencies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health. He also emphasized every proposed research study involving animals at UCSF undergoes an in-depth scientific and ethical review.

Tuesday's demonstration coincided with World Week for Animals in Laboratories, an annual week of events to raise awareness and educate the public about the scientific, moral and economic objections to animal experimentation.