Animal Aid

A Catalogue of Shame

New Scientist, March 28, 1998

Oxford University is the oldest English-speaking institution of its kind in the world, dating back to 1096. The first of its colleges, Balliol and Merton, were established between 1249 and 1264.

The University soon earned itself a reputation for excellence as a seat of learning, as well as becoming a centre for lively controversy, especially on religious and political issues. It was not until the late 19th century, however, that science and medicine were added to the curriculum.

Oxford University is also noteworthy in the field of animal experimentation. It was where Sir Howard Florey, in 1940, experimentally infected a group of mice with a lethal dose of streptococci bacteria and subsequently treated them with penicillin, leading to the widespread use of this antibiotic during World War II. It was, of course, fortuitous that Florey had used mice to test penicillin and not guinea pigs, for whom it is lethal. Had he used guinea pigs, it would have killed them, and the antibiotic might well have been completely discarded.

Animal Aid demonstration, September 2004

Whilst spawning many pro-vivisectionists, Oxford has also produced outspoken critics of animal-based research. Sir George Pickering, who was one of the University's most eminent medical professors, was quoted in the British Medical Journal in 1964 as saying: "The idea, as I understand it, is that fundamental truths are revealed in laboratory experiments on lower animals and are then applied to the problem of a sick patient. Having myself been trained as a physiologist I feel in a way competent to assess such a claim. It is plain nonsense."

Judging by the University's track record, it would appear that Professor Pickering's words of wisdom have been largely ignored or forgotten by subsequent generations of students and tutors alike. For example, Oxford researchers have been quick to resort to the animal model in trying to tackle complex human problems related to learning and cognition. John Stein, lecturer in neurophysiology, considers that dyslexia in children could be solved by studying genetically altered mice (The Scientist, January 16, 2002).

The University is currently building a new biomedical research centre, at an estimated cost of £18 million. The stated objective is to seek answers to the problems of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. 'Animal models' of these and other human diseases will be used - a methodology that is now increasingly regarded as outdated, even within the research community. Sadly, those who planned the new research facility failed to heed the words of Vernon Bogdanor, a former Professor of Government at Oxford who stated: "The true enemy of excellence is conservatism, an unthinking adherence to the shibboleths of the past."

Guinea pigs

Due to the secrecy on the part of animal experimenters, the images reproduced on these pages are merely illustrative of the experiments described.

A damning confidential report on the treatment of animals at Oxford University labs was leaked in March 1998 to Animal Aid and released to the media. The internal document, marked 'strictly confidential' revealed that some researchers lacked the basic surgical competence to stitch up wounds they had deliberately inflicted during experiments.

The University's ferret colony had also suffered severe welfare problems. According to the leaked document: "During the last year there have been continuing health problems in the single colony of ferrets kept within the University. Following difficulties with UK supplies, pregnant animals are regularly imported from the USA to provide a source of day-old animals." New Scientist magazine ran an editorial and full-page news article on the scandal, which it headlined 'An open wound'.

What follows are examples of animal research carried out over recent years at Oxford University. One experiment dates back nearly 25 years, but most are more current. Whatever their vintage, they all betray a commitment to a methodology that is scientifically invalid and devoid of compassion.

Click here for part 2 of A Catalogue of Shame, in which we describe the first four of eight animal experiments covered in this report.

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