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UK Researchers Used Live Cats for 'Nasty' Medical Experiments

Scientists inserted electrodes into the cats’ spinal cords and screwed metal plates into their skulls, among other experiments.

by Olivia Becker
Jun 4 2014, 4:25pm

Image via Wikipedia Commons

A British animal rights group has published a report outlining how scientific experiments were being routinely conducted on live cats and kittens in several universities in the United Kingdom. The report, published by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) on Monday, details lengthy surgical procedures carried out on more than 800 live cats that were only “lightly anaesthetized.”

The report describes a particular series of experiments that occurred at University College London (UCL) in which researchers “attached wire electrodes to the cats’ nerves inside the muscles surrounding their spines and ribcages.” Scientists also inserted electrodes into the cats’ spinal cords and screwed metal plates into their skulls.

“Over the last five years, from 2008 to 2012 inclusive, at least 855 cats were used in 1,304 experiments, with 202 cats used in 2012,” BUAV’s CEO Michelle Thew told VICE News.

BUAV’s report, entitled “What is happening to cats? A critical analysis of UK cat experiments,” details a list of further horrors suffered by the cats across the UK. The organization states that cats suffered deliberate deprivation of light or vision being reared in the dark or having their eyes stitched closed, chemical-induced paralysis during surgery to prevent the cats from moving or breathing, and infection with deadly diseases.

According to the report, the experiments caused immense pain and suffering to the cats, who were then later euthanized.

UCL confirmed that they conducted experiments on the spinal cords and eyes of live cats for research involving vision and neurological diseases, but said the animals were fully anaesthetized and did not suffer.

“The cats were never walking around with electrodes in their brains,” the university said in a statement. “They were anaesthetized before any work and from their perspective, they simply went to sleep and did not wake up.”

UCL also said that the experiments occurred between 1992 and 2002, rather than 2013, as the report alleged. Harry Dayantis, a spokesman for UCL, told VICE News that the findings from those experiments were re-released in 2013, but used data collected in the 1990s.

“The reason for the delay is that it is a fresh revaluation of the data from the experiments a decade earlier,” said Dayantis. “It demonstrates that this research is still generating useful and relevant scientific findings.”

According to UCL, the use of cats was essential in achieving medical understanding specifically about spinal cord injuries and vision.

The use of cats for medical research at UCL ended in 2002, but had nothing to do with the outcry from animal rights activists, said Dayantis.

“The scientific utility of that model is no longer required because we have received all the data we need from the experiments,” he said.

Despite animal rights groups’ opposition to it, the use of cats in medical research is not uncommon. According to the American Anti-Vivisection Society, 20,000 cats are used in medical experiments every year in the United States.

Part of the reason cats are used so often is because scientists know so much about their neurological make-up and they are easier to handle and more accessible than primates.

But this is unlikely to sway the opinion of BUAV, which is staunchly opposed to the use of animals in any type of medical research or experimentation.

“The research at UCL was published in 2013 — we would be surprised to learn that it took place 12-plus years ago,” said Thew. “However, this isn't the issue — these experiments are nasty and highly invasive, and were carried out by UCL. They have said nothing about not doing such research in the future. The only statement we would be interested in is one in which UCL committed to never using cats again.”

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928

Picture via Wikimedia