Students locked out of labs

Twenty-four students at Laurentian University are suffering academically in what has become a prolonged and bitter battle between the university administration, its Animal Control Committee and the faculty member responsible for much of the behavioural neuroscience program, Dr. Michael Persinger.

The problems began for students on Wed., Nov. 9 when LU administration changed all the locks to the research facility where the behavioural neuroscience program operates, preventing them from accessing any of their animals.

“The hardest part of this situation is being locked away from the ongoing research in the facility,” said undergraduate student Dawn Shea. “Knowing that some experiments are no longer viable and all that scientific data is gone. I am actually considering University of Calgary for grad studies but am worried I will not have the lab experience required.”

Senior LU administrators claimed they were forced to take the steps after the university’s ACC had rejected all of Persinger’s animal use protocols. Anybody wishing to conduct animal research at a Canadian university are regulated by a local ACC. Any research undertaken must be submitted first to the ACC for approval, before an animal use protocol is granted.

U of C veterinarian and ACC member Dr. Doug Morck explained the role ACC’s play in approving research.

“The ACC provides the review, discussion, debate, and decisions with respect to applications made by faculty members to use animals in research, teaching, or testing,” said Morck. “It is the role of the ACC to not only debate the applications by faculty members using animals, but to ensure that the three Rs of animal use are considered and implemented. Researchers must replace animal use if it is feasible and defend their proposed use of animals if replacement is not feasible. They must also reduce the number of animals used and must defend the numbers of animals they propose to use. And finally they must refine their methods to ensure that the use is optimal and that any discomfort experienced by their animals is minimized or eliminated.”

Problems at LU began in 2004. According to documents provided by LU administration, every ACC is regulated and guided by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The CCAC is funded by federal grants and is responsible for publishing guidelines regarding the care and use of animals in experimental research.

LU Media Relations Officer Paul de la Riva explained that the university might lose funding for not complying to CCAC guidelines.

“Institutions meeting guidelines are given a Good Animal Practice Certificate,” said De la Riva. “Institutions failing to comply with CCAC guidelines have this withdrawn and are also likely to lose funding. In 2004 LU’s ACC was disbanded following a CCAC visit which placed their Good Animal Practice Certificate on probation. The university put an interim committee in place and eventually appointed a new one. It was this new committee which rejected or would not renew the animal use protocols without significant changes.”

The conflict has reached fever pitch, with the students employing legal representation in order to gain access to the facility or gain compensation.

“I am, sort of, a member of the ACC, however I am excluded from participating in the discussions concerning the neuroscience research group’s protocols because they deem me to be in conflict of interest,” said graduate student Debra Meades. “They refused to let ongoing projects continue while all the details were ironed out. Obviously they do not care about research.”

LU administration is unmoved by the students’ plight. De la Riva highlighted their position in a press statement.

“Laurentian University is under no obligation to have an animal research facility,” he said. “However, as long as it operates one, it will be administered in accordance with CCAC guidelines, as required by the relevant granting councils.”

The students are currently pursuing an injunction to have the facility reopened.

“The university does not support us at all,” said Meades. “They only care about the big dollar. Univers-ities choose to cower and comply rather than upholding the spirit of active and creative research.”

Neither side was willing to comment about the nature of the alleged CCAC violations.

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