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Most Outrageously Senseless


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Cats deafened and turned into experimental equipment

The winner in the category for Most Outrageously Senseless went to researchers at the esteemed institutions of Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.

Highly invasive hearing experiments were conducted on 15 young cats, purporting to improve hearing aids and cochlear implants for human use. Cochlear implants are used to help hearing- impaired individuals perceive sound. Developed over the last 30 years, largely through human research, they are helpful to many people, but still need refinement.

Cats were made deaf using high doses of drugs known to damage the nerves involved with hearing. Some cats used in the experiments were naturally deaf. The researchers report that some of the cats had already been used in a prior experiment.

After the deafening procedures, cats had surgery to install cochlear implants and then were put through lengthy electrophysiological testing trials. They did not describe how long the testing trials lasted, other than to state that they administered steroids every four hours to minimize brain swelling.

Experimenting on cats to purportedly enhance the performance of cochlear implants for humans is cruel and unjustified. The response in an auditory neuron in an anesthetized cat is a limited view of the full picture of human hearing physiology. Hearing is a conscious phenomenon. Tracking the way neuron fires in an anesthetized cat is outdated and inhumane.

Lawrence A. Hansen, MD, Professor in the Departments of Neurosciences and Pathology at University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, wrote about this research: “There is no justification for deliberately deafening cats to experiment with cochlear implants when directly applicable clinically based investigations with such devices are already being done with humans. The cruelty inflicted upon the cats used in these experiments is sufficiently severe and callous to disconcert all but the most hard-hearted. These cat deafening experiments are an especially sad example of basic scientists draining funding away from human-based research which is far more likely to improve human health.”

More productive research into improving cochlear implants is carried out through human clinical research, utilizing CAT scans, computer modeling, and psychophysical studies which measure the relationship between physical stimuli and perception, all done non-invasively on people who can benefit from the research.

Ironically, the principal investigator also uses psychophysics in his work, but he’s also been cutting up cats for this line of research since at least 1996. Funded by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the research received $443,000 in 2012.

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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Hancock KE, Chung Y, Delgutte B. “Neural ITD coding with bilateral cochlear implants: effect of binaurally coherent jitter.” J Neurophysiol. 2012 Aug 1;108(3):714-28.