ANIMAL AID AWARDS FOR MAD SCIENCE 1997
This year the Awards have a theme - psychological experiments. For the first time, the Home office statistics have listed the number of animals used for this area - 28,057 (1995). The main species included rats (16,906), mice, (1,754), "domestic fowl" (5,212), gerbils (291), monkeys (229, of which 157 were marmosets and 72 macaques), fish (2,070) and amphibians (531). Other animals used included rabbits, ferrets, "horses, donkeys and crossbreeds", pigs, sheep, cattle and turkeys. The Trivial Awards 1997 highlight experiments on chicks, rats, gerbils and primates.
In many psychological experiments, animals are either subjected to stress, drugged or brain damaged. One very common area of research is to investigate brain functions by damaging specific parts of the animal's brain and then observing the results. Many examples are included in the Awards. If the justification is, eventually, to throw light on human brain function, then surely it is more valid to observe the many cases of human head injury.
Modern scanning techniques like positron emission tomography can aid this research. One example from the medical literature explained how neurologists Antonio and Hanna Damasio at the University of Iowa College of Medicine observe patients with brain injuries and relate changes in their behaviour to the damaged part of the brain. They have investigated brain lesions in hundreds of patients so this is a practical approach (Ref.: Science, 1990, May 18, 812-814). Historically, it was human observations of people with brain damage that identified the speech centre.
Another common experiment is to produce "animal models" of anxiety and depression but anxiety in people results from personal problems and the complexities of modern, everyday life and cannot be realistically mimicked in laboratory animals.
The following examples are listed according to the cities where they were carried out.
Animals subjected to brain damage and maternal separation, Cambridge University
The University Department of Experimental Psychology has reported many experiments on animals. For instance:
maternal separation in rats
Experiments were carried out to see how repeated separation of mother and infant affected the behaviour of rats when they became adult. The scientists wanted to investigate the long term effects because "The chronic sequelae of repeated separations have not been studied as extensively as the acute responses". The experiments began 5 days after the animals were born. Then, during the next 15 days they were subjected to ten 6 hour periods of separation from their mothers. The animals' behaviour was then recorded in a variety of tests, leading the researchers to suggest "the potential utility of early maternal separation as an animal model of [human] depression".
Funding: in part by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Psychopathology and Development. K Mathews was supported by a Wellcome Trust Clinical Training Fellowship.
(Ref.: K. Mathews et al, Physiology & Behaviour, 1996, vol. 59, 99-107).
brain damage in marmosets
Marmosets have been subjected to brain damage to investigate the effects on learning and memory. The scientists analysed data from "a large series of experiments on marmosets" that they had carried out and which involved injuries to different parts of the brain. In some cases, the experiments led to "severe" (retrograde) amnesia. It is claimed that the results may be relevant to understanding amnesia in human beings.
Funding: Medical Research Council.
(Ref.: R. M. Ridley et al, Brain Research Bulletin, 1996, vol. 40, 21-32).
brain damage in rats
Rats were subjected to brain damage to see how it affected their performance in carrying out tasks. The scientists wanted to investigate the different effects which arise when different parts of the animal's cerebral cortex are injured. The damage was produced by injecting a toxic chemical into various areas of the brain. During one set of experiments, the animals were trained by giving them electric shocks through an electrified floor. The scientists acknowledge that some of their findings are "consistent" with human observations previously reported in the medical literature.
Funding: Wellcome Trust.
(Ref.: J. L. Muir et al, Cerebral Cortex, 1996, vol. 6, 470-481).
In other experiments reported by the Department of Experimental Psychology, probes were inserted into the brains of rats to measure chemical changes that occur when the animals are startled by a noise ("startling acoustic stimuli"). Electric footshocks and flashing lights were used during part of the experiment to train the animals.
(Ref.: T. Humby et al, Journal of Neuroscience, 1996, vol. 16, 2149-2156).
Another report described how rats were brain damaged to see how it affected their reaction to unusual foods. These experiments were carried out in an attempt to see how the brain controls behaviour towards "novelty".
(Ref.: L. H. Burns et at, Behavioural Neuroscience, 1996, vol. 110, 60-73).
Both these experiments were performed in collaboration with US laboratories.
Chicks fear smell of cats, Guy's Hospital, London.
Experiments were carried out to see how the smell of a predator affects the behaviour and brain chemistry of newly-born chicks. Newly-hatched chicks from ISA, Peterborough were exposed to a variety of odours including that of a laboratory cat. When the birds were 7 days old, they specifically avoided the smell of cats. Some of the chicks were killed (by decapitation) to obtain brain tissue for analysis of the effects the cat odour had produced. The scientists note that "Regular handling has been widely reported to reduce chicks' fear of human beings, and as our experiments were designed to measure a fear response to cat and other odours, the chicks were handled so as to eliminate a response due to handling".
(Ref.: E. Fluck et al, Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behaviour, 1996, vol. 54 85-91.).
Gerbils suffer in Psychology tests, University of Leeds
Gerbils were separated from their mates in an attempt to mimic human depression. According to a report in the scientific press, the gerbils became socially withdrawn and had "quite severe" altered sleep patterns when their life-long partners were taken away. The scientists wanted to find out what happened to the animal's brain chemistry when they became "depressed".
(Ref.: Reported by M Day in New Scientist, 1997, January 25, 18).
1-day old chicks decapitated, Newcastle University (in collaboration with Imperial College, University of London)
Day-old chicks were decapitated to investigate changes in the brain that occur during early learning experiences. The birds were first exposed to a metal bead covered in a nasty tasting substance. When they pecked the bead, chicks showed "a stereotypical disgust reaction, consisting of vigorous beak-wiping and head-shaking, and a retreat from the offending object". Within 5 minutes of this experience, they were decapitated for analysis of brain tissue. 47 birds were used for the final experiment, the eggs being obtained from the Fred Horner Hatchery in York.
Funding: Science & Engineering Research Council, and the Royal Society.
(Ref.: P. M. Bradley et al, Brain Research, 1996, vol. 708, 100-107).
Animals bred in solitary confinement, Nottingham University
Rats were reared in isolation to act as an "animal model" of human anxiety and depression. 21 days after they were born, these normally sociable animals were separated from their litter mates and kept on their own. The scientists wanted to see how the harmful effects of isolation influence brain chemistry, and the rats were eventually decapitated for brain tissue analysis. It is claimed that changes in brain chemistry caused by keeping the animals in isolation, "may be pertinent to the aetiology [cause] of human trait anxiety".
(Ref.: K. C. F. Fone et al, Psychopharmacology, 1996, vol. 123, 346-352).
In another, similar experiment at Nottingham, baby rats were again reared in isolation to investigate the effect on anxiety and how valium affects their behaviour. The scientists explain that previous experiments on the effects of isolation have given conflicting results, and they argue that "These contradictory reports have to be resolved for a deeper understanding of the isolation syndrome and a better understanding of the mechanisms by which social factors influence the development of psychopathology in humans". They justify their research by claiming that "Investigation of the pattern of behavioural change in isolation reared rats may help to understand the aetiology [cause] of human anxiety disorders". The experiments revealed that keeping rats in isolation makes them more aggressive and changes the effects of valium.
Funding: EC, and a "Marie Curie" Fellowship to N. Wongwitdecha.
(Ref.: N. Wongwitdecha & C. A. Marsden, Behavioural Brain Research, 1996, vol. 75, 27-32).
Chicks decapitated in learning tests, Open University
Experiments were carried out with 1-day old chicks to investigate the chemical changes that occur in the brain after learning to avoid a horrible taste. The birds were trained to avoid pecking a bead by coating it with a substance which produces "a disgust response". After training, the chicks were decapitated and the brain tissue analysed.
Funding: BBSRC grant to S. P. R. Rose.
(Ref.: M. P. Clements & S. P. R. Rose, Journal of Neurochemistry, 1996, vol. 67, 1317-1323).
Monkeys brain damaged at Oxford Oxford University
The University department of Experimental Psychology has published a number of reports. For example:
monkeys and brain damage
Monkeys were subjected to brain damage to assess the effect on emotion and motivation. Brain damage was produced either by the use of a toxic chemical or by surgical removal of parts of the cortex. Following the production of injuries to different areas of the brain, the monkeys' behaviour was assessed. In a "food-preference test", monkeys were offered meat, which normal monkeys would usually avoid. (This test was used since earlier experiments had shown that brain damaged monkeys would eat meat.) Another test investigated the brain damaged animals' reaction to stress and frustration. According to the scientists, "A frustration task was designed in which food was visible but unavailable to the monkey." The experiments showed that in some cases, brain damage led to more violent and aggressive behaviour.
Funding: C. E. Stern funded in part by an O.R.S. award as partial fulfilment of a D. Phil degree at Oxford.
(Ref.: C. E. Stern & R. E. Passingham, Behavioural Brain Research, 1996, vol. 75,179-193).
nerve cell experiments in monkeys
In one report electrodes were inserted into monkeys' brains to measure how nerve cells respond to different tastes. Three macaques were used. The scientists justify their experiments by claiming they are needed "to understand how appetite and food intake are controlled by the brain, and disorders in appetite and feeding..."
Funding: MRC and the International Glutamate Technical Committee. (Ref.: E. T. Rolls et al, Physiology & Behaviour, 1996, vol. 59, 991-1000).
In another, similar experiment (in collaboration with the University of Newcastle), the response of nerve cells in the brain to different faces was recorded.
Funding: National Science Foundation, MRC and others.
(Ref.: L. F. Abbott et al, Cerebral Cortex, 1996, vol. 6, 498-505).
Brain damaged rats go round in circles, University of Central Lancashire, Preston (in collaboration with the University of Liverpool)
Rats were subjected to brain damage to investigate the effect on behaviour. The scientists were interested in a part of the brain called the habenula, and they note that "Relatively little research has examined the behavioural effects of habenula manipulation..." Brain damage was induced by an electric current from an electrode inserted into the brain, and after being dosed with a chemical, the animals were found to go round and round in circles (referred to as "circling" behaviour). The scientists claim that such experiments should help in understanding brain disorders and in developing drug treatments.
(Ref.: A. P. Wickens & E. W. Thornton, Experimental Brain Research, 1996, vol. 109, 17-21).
Rats' whiskers cut off for brain research, University of Stirling
Scientists cut off rats' whiskers to investigate how the resulting sensory deprivation affects brain activity. Selected whiskers were removed and the animals kept for up to two months during which the whiskers were trimmed if any re-growth occurred. The whiskers were then allowed to re-grow for 2-3 days in preparation for the final experiment. The animals were anaesthetised and part of the skull surgically removed to enable the effect of whisker stimulation on nerve cell activity to be measured.
(Ref.: S Dolan & P. M. B. Cahusac, Neuroscience, 1996, vol. 70, 79-92).