Medical Research Vs. Animal Rights : Scientists See Threat to Mankind

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Dan Hayes, James McGaugh and Dr. Lawrence Longo, have spent a good part of their lives probing the mysteries of human life. They contend, however, that there is a certain breed of the human species so inscrutable in its recklessness that they can’t begin to fathom what makes it tick.

Hayes is a researcher for the American Cancer Society, Longo for Loma Linda University and McGaugh for UC Irvine. All three men experiment with laboratory animals in hopes of advancing medical science. But all three say the growing animal rights movement is throwing up obstacles now they never anticipated when they set out on their life’s work. Many researchers, they say, are scared.

Hayes, who has been on the faculties of Harvard, Cornell, UCLA and USC, is now a professor of surgery and pediatrics at USC School of Medicine and director of education for the cancer center there. He expressed what most members of the medical community consider so obvious as to be beyond discussion, “All modern forms of cancer treatment, including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are based either entirely or at some crucial point on some form of animal experimentation.” Without animal research, doctors simply would not be able to treat many types of congenital and acquired heart disease, many major diseases of the central nervous system or diabetes, he said, adding that among other advances, animal experimentation has also contributed to medical science’s understanding of birth defects and the development of antibiotics.

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All anyone who doubts the importance of animal research need do is to read accounts of virtually any recent medical advance, Hayes and others said. For example, a new technique to increase the amount of oxygen that blood can deliver to vital organs, which was announced last week--and embraced as a potential treatment for patients undergoing blood transfusions, organ transplants, and victims of stroke or heart failure--was developed through research on pigs, according to news accounts.

But now Hayes feels such research is seriously threatened. Animal rights activists have driven up the cost of research by making increased security necessary and by making laboratory animals harder to get, Hayes said. They have also destroyed experiments and research records, “which is just like destroying knowledge.”

What really worries Hayes, though, is the effect that animal rights activists may have on the future of research. “They are so powerful, so influential, that they can seriously impair the career of a young investigator. . . . I’ve seen this happen, and I think it’s a disaster. Many young investigators have given up research because of the activities of these people. . . . They’re actually afraid that somebody will throw rocks through their windows at night or insult their children or wives.”

In response to this activism, a number of professional organizations have launched a major counterattack to protect their respective realms.


Last year, for example, the American Psychological Assn. released a fat press packet including a reprint of an article from “American Psychologist.” With its heart-wrenching photos of human suffering--for instance, it depicts a horribly malnourished child whose condition was reportedly alleviated by behavioral techniques developed in animal research--it is clearly meant to meet the animal rights movement’s touching material head-on.

Individuals Step Forward

Individuals have also begun to step forward. Pat Van Dyke, a Canyon Lake school teacher, was sitting in a hospital room at Loma Linda University Medical Center, watching over her daughter, Mary, 8, when she decided to become involved in the animal rights debate. Her daughter, who was born with 22 handicaps, including a heart defect, spina bifida and a tethered spinal cord, had just undergone hip surgery.

From the hospital window, Van Dyke watched about 50 animal rights demonstrators protesting Dr. Leonard Bailey’s controversial baboon-to-baby heart transplant. “It was very upsetting,” she said. She immediately told a public relations man at the medical center that she’d be happy to make her own case public.

An insulin-controlled diabetic, Van Dyke said that she was “already well-versed on the importance of animal research. I knew that if it wasn’t for (researchers) injecting a dog with insulin 60 years ago I wouldn’t have insulin therapy . . . . My life would have ended 9 1/2 years ago, six months after I was diagnosed.”

At least as important to Van Dyke, though, was the fact that her daughter’s life, she believes, has been so vastly improved by surgical techniques developed through animal experimentation.

“When she was born her prognosis was a life span of six months,” Van Dyke said. "(It) was maybe holding her head up at the most. She would never be able to sit and never be able to walk. At the very most, her neurologist told us, we could expect a slow learner. But through therapy, the intervention of the Lord, and surgeries which were made possible by animal research, she is now a very active 9-year-old.”

Van Dyke said that her daughter, although still considered handicapped, is a gifted, third-grade student, who has an A average, reads at 7th-grade level, and gets to her second-story classroom without aid.


Hope for Daughter

Now Van Dyke’s hope is that she will live to see her daughter mature into adulthood, she said. “But my own future, what I’m looking at right now--without a cure for diabetes--is kidney dialysis, blindness and possible limb amputation. So my prayer is that there will be a cure. But without animal research, that is an impossibility.”

Cyndi Jelkmann of Playa del Ray has been lobbying in Sacramento in behalf of animal experimentation for Stanford University, the American Heart Assn., and the American Cancer Society. When Jelkmann was 20, she suddenly developed idiopathic cardio-myopathy--an infected heart muscle. Doctors gave her seven months to live, unless she got a heart transplant. As the clock ticked off what looked like Jelkmann’s last few days, a 26-year-old man in Long Beach died in a motorcycle accident. Now, nine years later, his heart still is beating in Jelkmann’s chest.

Many animal rights activists contend that scientific research is actually a scientific hoax, more dangerous to humanity than beneficial. Jelkmann scoffs at that notion: “I know that I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for animal research. You can’t argue with black and white. I was a girl who was going to be dead in a few days.

“Since the 50s there was ongoing research using dogs and cats to develop and perfect transplant procedures. . . . Obviously it would be ludicrous for a researcher to come up with an idea and try it right out on a human. Who would allow that? . . . I hear a lot of (animal rights activists) say that transplants mean stepping over bounds. Your time has come. But that’s hard to accept for a young human being.”

Helps Causes

Jelkmann said that she actually contributes to animal welfare causes and is appalled by some of the abuses of animals she has heard being committed in the name of research. “But to totally outlaw animal research would be the downfall of medical advances and would cost a lot of lives,” she said. McGaugh, a psychobiologist and the director of UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, conceded that he is willing to talk about animal experimentation only because his anger and his desire to state the case for research overrode his worries about retaliation by animal rights groups.

McGaugh, who still plays saxophone and clarinet in jazz bands, had been studying drama and music as an undergraduate, but his curiosity about “motivation and learning” in those fields led him to switch his major to psychology. So he went from pondering “what a piece of work is a man” and lowered his focus “increasingly down to understanding physiological and neurobiological mechanisms.” He said, though, that the nature of his quest has never changed--he is still exploring the question of what it means to be human.


On a bulletin board outside his office at the center, McGaugh has a cartoon of two rats standing outside a complex maze. One rat says to the other: “It’s left, right, left, left, right, left, right, right, right, and you can’t miss it.”

Most of the rats McGaugh works with (he has a pet rat, two turtles, two cats and a dog at home) are kept in stacks of plastic and wire mesh cages, in a small, climate-controlled room at the center. Most have shaved heads with sutured incisions where surgery has been performed. Tiny hypodermic needles called cannulae have been inserted into many of the rats’ skulls.

“I do experiments in which we investigate the effects in rats and mice of drugs and hormones administered to specific brain regions,” McGaugh said. “That involves doing brain surgery on the animals, injecting drugs and hormones and conducting learning experiments in which we teach them little problems and test them. . . . From these experiments we draw conclusions about not only which brain regions are important in learning and memory, but what the biochemical mechanisms are in those particular brain regions.”

In part as a result of McGaugh’s work at the center--where 40 employees and researchers from UCI, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UC Riverside work on a variety of learning and memory experiments--major pharmaceutical companies are “mounting major research programs to develop drugs specifically for the use and the treatment of disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions affecting memory,” he said.

Understand People

McGaugh said he does not know, nor feel compelled to ponder, what it means to be an animal, when there’s so much work to be done in trying to understand human memory--which in essence is what makes man a unique species. . . . where we store “our hopes and our wishes, our loves our hates. . . .

“When people develop severe disorders of cognition, let’s say in Alzheimer’s disease or severe stroke, before long they begin to lose the elements that have identified them as being humans. They become less and less of an organism. You can see the disintegration set in. . . . You can survive with a leg cut off. You can survive as a quadriplegic. But you lose the basic elements of being a human being when you decline cognitively--when you don’t know things any more. You might as well be a rock or a vegetable.

“One has to decide, ‘Is it important to know how the human brain works? Is it important to attempt to find techniques for treating disorders of cognition? Is it important to try to keep people as human-like as they can be for as long a time as possible?’ If the answer to that question is yes, then experimental research on animals is required, because there is simply no other way to get at these questions. You just can’t.”

Having answered that question for himself, McGaugh has a clear loathing for “terrorist groups” such as the ALF--"I don’t know any other word to use for these people, no matter how self-righteous they may be.” And he is loath to understand their thinking.

“Where do you draw the line?” he wondered aloud. “I hope they think not only about the obvious things like eating meat and using leather shoes and leather purses but also about whether insecticides should be used and antibiotics should be used. Because on those grounds, one should be consistent. What does having a backbone or not having a backbone have to do with whether one should do research on an animal or kill them or step on them? What about snails, don’t snails have any rights?

“I say to the animal liberation people, let them liberate fleas, and let them liberate snails. Why are they less concerned about them than they are about animals that are larger and that look more like us and that we happen to use as pets? Let them liberate some hornets.”

Researcher Longo, 58, is a professor of physiology and of obstetrics and gynecology at Loma Linda University and the head of the division of perinatal biology there. Longo can’t remember ever wanting to be anything but a doctor--which may have something to do with the fact that he was a sickly child and that he “read like crazy"--especially biographies of famous physicians.

Longo had no plans to be a researcher, though, until he did post-doctoral work at UCLA. “I did some animal research and got hooked,” he said. “It is a passion. I’m an obstetrician by training, and I could make a lot more money if I went out into private practice. . . . For me it was more exciting to be an investigator, to explore questions in biology and understand the biological basis of certain processes.”

He did concede that his friends consider him an “unabashed idealist.” It was his admiration for what he calls Schweitzerian ideals, the social ideals of humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, that led him to West Africa, where he practiced missionary medicine for several years after his training at UCLA, he said. It was there that he lost a child when his wife delivered prematurely.

Might Help Babies

Longo denied that his infant’s death had much to do with his decision to go into perinatal research. But knowing that his work might help give a baby who would never know life “70 years or so with an undamaged brain or body, I think that’s exciting,” he said.

The work Longo and the 12 other research scientists in the division do is, for the most part, “fundamental research” done for the advancement of basic science--but often the projects do pay off with immediate benefits for pregnant women and their babies, Longo said.

Stated most simply, Longo is trying to understand the intricacies of how oxygen is delivered from a mother to the unborn fetus. But he and other researchers complain that stating things in their simplest terms often gives animal rights activists a chance to “obfuscate the truth” and “spout nonsense.” So Longo preferred to explain his work in some detail, although he realized those details might offend people.

Longo has conducted most of his research using sheep which, he points out, are purchased from a breeder farm and treated with care according to federal guidelines. He said that his facility, like most others, is under the close scrutiny of various government agencies--in his case the National Institutes of Health, American Physiological Society and an internal Animal Review Board--which perform periodic inspections to enforce rigorous guidelines. (Animal rights groups counter with “the fox guarding the henhouse analogy,” and say inspections are lax at best, and often non-existent.)

In Longo’s office the rare books he collects and his scientific texts are piled on furniture, the air-conditioning ducts and every inch of shelf space that’s not occupied by his collection of antique mortars and pestles. The rest of the perinatal research wing is more orderly. The operating room, used strictly for animals, has as much glistening stainless steel and gadgetry as the ones on “St. Elsewhere.”

In a typical experiment in his current project, a pregnant sheep is anesthetized and a Cesarean section performed to insert thin tubes called catheters into blood vessels of the fetus and the amniotic sac of the ewe. The incision is then sutured, leaving the fetus in place.

A week or so later, after the animal has recuperated, Longo and his team use the catheters to inject minute particles called “radioactive microspheres” into the bloodstream of the ewe and fetus, he said. The microspheres, which contain a specific radioactive element, will “reflect the distribution of blood flow” in the capillaries. The team may also have placed electrodes in the fetus’ skull to monitor metabolism in the brain. The result is that the researchers are able to study the effect on the fetus of changes in the ewe’s hormones and other components of metabolism such as glucose and lactic acids.

“And all this time the ewe is sitting there quietly chewing alfalfa. Nothing’s hurting her or the fetus.”

At the end of this particular type of experiment, the fetus is put to sleep.

Longo said he hopes the experiments will add to what is known about how blood flow is regulated to the developing brain and other organs of the fetus, thus offering insight into infant brain damage.

One argument animal rights activists make is that there now exist a number of alternatives that could replace most or all animal experiments.

Longo said that researchers at his facility, and most others, routinely use a range of these. In fact, “One of our claims to fame (at the perinatalogy lab) is our work in mathematical (or computer) modeling,” he continued, referring to the alternative often held up by animal advocates as the best way to do most research.

But predicting by mathematical modeling, Longo said, “has to be based on a certain reality. . . . And the way most of us work with the modeling is we take certain data from animal studies and incorporate it into this model. . . . And then we may find there’s some glitch in (the mathematical model) or something we forgot about. But the point is, you’ve got to have the data from the animals.”

The same can be said for work with cell cultures, another alternative in which cultivated cells are experimented on in vitro. “It’s a powerful tool, and modern-day biology depends on it to a large extent,” Longo said. “But having said that, you still have to come back sometime and say, ‘But what about in the real world, where these cells are communicating with other cells, the tissues are communicating with other tissues and the organs are communicating with other organs?’ ”

Speaking in a voice so soft that sometimes it was barely audible, Longo said that as he sees things, anti-vivisectionists are like a lot of people, in that “often we have these little pockets of total irrationality in our minds.” But he also thinks the militant anti-vivisectionists’ “irrationality” has gotten out of control.

“Most of us in research are probably genetically programmed to be kind of quiet, introspective types who stay in the laboratory, instead of out in the trenches. . . . But somebody’s got to have some (courage) and stand up and say, ‘By George, there are some very cogent reasons why we have to use animals in research, as unpleasant as it may be.’ ”