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Most Outrageously Heartless


Baby rats tormented to study “child abuse”

The award for Most Outrageously Heartless goes to four scientists at New York University Emotional Brain Institute who teamed up to abuse baby rats. Literally. They set out to mimic “child abuse,” but ended up subjecting infant rats to something more like the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib.

Baby rats received painful electric shocks while being exposed to the scent of peppermint for five days in a row. Because they were so young, the scientists hypothesized that the baby rats somehow substituted the peppermint odor for the smell of their mother, and thus perceived the shocks as coming from her.

Another group of baby rats was abused by removing most of the nesting material from their mothers. This frustrated them so much that they were not able to properly care for their babies; they handled them roughly, stepped on them, and nursed them less so they went hungry. The experimenters report that this group of babies cried more frequently than the control group who stayed with mothers in proper nests.

Weeks later, these groups of abused baby rats were subjected to the “forced swim test,” where they are put into basins of water with no platform for resting to see how long they struggle to swim before they give up and float helplessly. Psychologists use this simulated drowning scenario as a standard test, allegedly to study “depression” in animals.

Some of the rats had electrodes implanted in their brain to infuse the drug muscimol, the active agent in psychedelic mushrooms, directly into the brain, before being subjected to another round of the “forced swim test.” The scientists claim that the muscimol “turned off’ the emotional response, thereby reversing the depression, since rats who received the drug struggled longer to swim than those who didn’t.

Although the researchers claimed that the muscimol blocked the “depression-like” floating behavior, it is difficult to imagine what what goes on in the mind of a rat given a psychedelic drug. It is likely terrifying.

All of the rats were killed, and their brains dissected. The researchers concluded that the rat experiment provided a good model for what is already “well characterized” through human clinical studies, namely “early-life abuse constitutes a major risk factor for the development of psychopathologies, including depression.”

Did we really need to torment rats to tell us this? This experiment was funded by a whopping $2.6 million, starting in 2009, from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders combined.

What You Can Do

Please help IDA in speaking out about the millions of dollars that fund this sort of outrageously wasteful and terribly cruel research on animals. It’s time to put a stop to it. The US economy is in crisis, making this even more urgent to address.

Click here to contact your US Senators and Congressperson. Ask for much stricter oversight for granting money to animal research. Insist that all NIH-funded experiments comply with its stated mission “to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.”

You can also call your elected officials. Find their phone numbers, or call the US Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121.

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Raineki C, Cortés MR, Belnoue L, Sullivan RM. “Effects of Early-Life Abuse Differ across Development: Infant Social Behavior Deficits Are Followed by Adolescent Depressive-Like Behaviors Mediated by the Amygdala.” J Neurosci. 2012 May 30;32(22):7758-65.