Arizona State University has long been a target of animal rights activists — and activists are preparing to shoot those arrows again.
A protest, scheduled for today on the Tempe campus, aims to draw dozens in an attempt to stop animal testing in laboratories. The event is part of the annual "World Week for Animals in Laboratories," when animal rights activists distribute information around the country.
"These animals are prisoners," said Shaynie Aero, codirector of Last Chance For Animals Arizona, "and they are treated like objects and forced to endure horrific experiments."
Much of the animal testing takes place at the Biodesign Institute, which houses dozens of researchers looking to cure diseases. Many experts within the institute also research bioterrorism and oral vaccines. The facility was built in 2004, with seven to 15 additional centers planned for construction by 2007.
One of the university’s most important projects intends to help people with paralysis and spinal cord injuries through studying the brains of monkeys, said Jiping He, researcher in the Harrington Department of Engineering.
The research, which began about four years ago, involves inserting microelectrodes into the surface of monkeys’ brains and recording activity while the animals complete tasks involving artificial limbs.
"We’re trying to learn what can be done in the brain to help people adapt to paralysis," he said.
University officials said they ensure that the studies comply with the Animal Welfare Act’s standards, which mandates housing, sanitation and ventilation for animals — but also excludes rats and mice from the classification "animal."
"My job is to make sure discomfort is minimized and that there are no problems," said university veterinarian Dale DeNardo. "The animals here are treated better than you can imagine. They are cleaned, fed and constantly watched."
Animals included in the studies are mostly mice, but others include rabbits, small birds, lizards and monkeys.
"Animals do not need to be used for research because they are a completely different species than humans and can’t even be compared anyway," graduate student Jon Grindell said.
Researchers disagree, saying that studying animals is often more effective — and more socially acceptable — than studying humans.
"Using humans for laboratory testing is what happened in Auschwitz," DeNardo said, "and most people would agree that using animals is a better alternative."