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Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Dawn of a New Age: Standing up, Proud and Tall, For Animal Research and The Oxford Lab

I will start by explaining how I became involved in a group PRO-Test, and how a nerdy science graduate student, quite content with her days spent in a lab, was thrust into the middle of a huge political battle in Oxford, and all of the UK .

It hasn't been easy, trying to get my lab work finished, while trying to promote why I think science is so important to humankind. But, losing a few hours in lab seems unimportant when I feel that if someone doesn't stand up for research, we will slowly lose the ability to perform it, as people like SPEAK take it away. And as we lose our rights to research we lose the ability to learn more about humans and the conditions that affect them. This issue has sparked a fire within me and reminds me why I wanted to do research in science and medicine. It has been my drive during those days where I haven't gotten much sleep and feel too tired to work, because I know that if I can educate people on the importance of this issue to EVERYONE, then I have made a small difference. And so I will continue to spread the word and show everyone why they should care about animal research.

I haven't been out in Oxford long (only about four and half months currently), but soon after arrival I got quite involved with a new group, named PRO-Test. The group was started in order to promote the benefits of animal research and it's importance in medicine. The fame of this group spread like wildfire after our first demonstration, held on the 25th of February, 2006. Members of our group were constantly being contacted for interviews and radio and TV shows. It was very unexpected, and I think we initially underestimated the support for a group like ours. I had always felt most people supported animal research, when conducted ethically and legally. But, I hadn't estimated that we would have THIS much support. I also hadn't expected media coverage for something like this, but being an American, I hadn't quite comprehended the magnitude of this issue in the UK.

It all began when I read somewhere about a group forming to show support for the new Oxford lab, unlike the protestors who were against the construction of the new lab. SPEAK is the name of the major group involved in protesting and organizing the demonstrations on South Parks Road, where the new lab is built. SPEAK, which I will admit I am biased of, because I obviously support the new lab and professional and ethical animal research. I support free speech, but SPEAK had gone far above and beyond any right to voicing their opinions and expressing them. I had witnessed people being shouted at by some of the SPEAK members, as well as the harassment they dealt out to the construction workers and passing scientists, researchers and scientists. So I didn't have much respect for them. Many of them seemed to be more concerned about how loud and disruptive they could be, than any actual animals. Most people would tend to forget the reason they were always out there, instead just complaining about how noisy they were. It seemed like SPEAK was always shooting themselves in the foot with their disruptive, annoying tactics, as well as the harmful and destructive ones which they have been associated with, like burning down one of Oxford's boathouses last summer. It may or may not have been SPEAK members who burnt the building but animal rights activists have claimed responsibility to it.

I disliked how negative the debate had become as well as the tactics employed by 'animal rights' activists and wanted to show the other side of the argument, those who were in FAVOUR of the lab. But I was warned again and again, I would be risking my life by standing up to them. But when I heard of this new group and a potential demonstration for the lab on February 25th, I emailed the group asking to get involved. I then sent out the following email to everyone I knew to publicize the issue and try to gain as much support as possible, as well as to several listservs:

As most of you probably know, I strongly support building the
new research facility in Oxford, as well as animal testing for
medical research. However, as many “animal rights” groups
would like for you to believe, I don’t support torture of animals
in any way, shape, or form, nor do I wish for any animals to
experience unnecessary pain or suffering. I have worked in
four different laboratories. Two conducted research using small
animal models directly and the other two collaborated with labs
that used animal models.

Needless to say, I have been exposed to animal research
in several different settings and have first hand experience
about what animal research is REALLY like.

In my six years of research experience, I have never once
worked with or even encountered a scientist that hasn’t
wholeheartedly pursued the ethical treatment of these
animals. Scientists treat all animal subjects humanely,
ensuring that these animals don’t suffer pain, and that as
few animals as possible are used. Just as they value
human life, scientists also value animal life and the
incredible service these animals are doing for humanity.

The animals are treated with respect and are given excellent
care.

Unfortunately, many of these radicals would like the public to
believe that there are alternatives to the use of animals, and
that there is absolutely no need for animal research
whatsoever.

They would like everyone to believe that researchers choose
animal testing to abuse animals or because we are too lazy or
cheap to use other alternatives. It’s true that there are
alternatives in the EARLY stages of biomedical research,
which is why the majority of research devoted to finding new
treatments is done through chemical, biochemical, biological
and pharmacological assays involving DNA, RNA, proteins,
and mammalian cells. But, in the end, drugs must be tested
in an animal model in order to see the effects of a compound
in the entire body, not just in a cellular environment. Testing
drugs in animals before doing so in humans helps researchers
find potential toxic side effects, as well as understand the
metabolism of drug compounds and consequent effects seen
throughout the body.

This CANNOT be replicated in cellular assays. I am personally
willing to take a stand and say that I would prefer to test these
drugs on animal models before I test them in my mother, father,
sister, best friend or ANY other human, who may be suffering
from an illness. I have been extremely disgusted with the animal
rights terrorist organizations that are personally attacking
scientists who perform any form of medical research on animals
here in Oxford.

Now, the scientists aren’t the only targets for harassment. The
fanatics have declared that everyone in Oxford, as well as all
property here, will be specifically targeted. (The link to the
article posted on one of their websites: http://www.animalliberationfront.us/ALFront/Actions-UK/OxfordWar.htm)

A statement circulated to all activists this month said: "The
ALF
is calling out to the movement to unite and fight
against the
university on a maximum impact scale.
We must target
professors, teachers, heads,
students, investors, partners,
supporters and
anyone that dares to deal in any part of the
university
." These extremists stand outside of the
construction site, right next to the building in which I work,
the Chemistry Research Laboratory, shouting that animals
will be tortured inside this new building and that the
scientists conducting this research have malicious, cruel
agendas for these animals.

They use megaphones, whistles, screaming, banners,
harassment and other scare tactics to try to terrorize anyone
who walks by into believing their uninformed and
uneducated stance on animal testing. They disrupt the work
and studies of all the students, professors, employees and
researchers in the nearby area, even though the majority of the
people in the surrounding area conduct research that has
nothing to do with animals.

They have been holding massive demonstrations that have
prevented me from being able to go into my lab on particular
days because the University believes that our safety is in danger
during these rallies. It is a sad sight to see the construction
workers building this new facility, wearing masks to conceal
their identity, because their safety, as well as that of their
families, is endangered simply because they are working on
the construction of this building. Some of the recent crimes
committed by these militant groups in the UK include:

  • Intimidating the last construction company working on the
    site in Oxford until they withdrew from the project in summer 2004
  • Setting fire to the Hertford College Boat House that caused ₤500,000 in
    damage
  • Vandalizing property at an Oxford firm of architects
    who work for the University
  • Stealing the buried body of Gladys Hammond, because
    she was a memberof a family that bred Guinea pigs Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/staffordshire/4176446.stm
  • Torching the Corpus Christi pavilion
  • Sending threatening letters to people involved in any aspect
    of construction or research

One of several animal extremist groups claimed responsibility for
each of these events. I was offended from the moment I began
my work at Oxford by these protestors, but, when I wanted to
speakout against them, I was consistently told that I would be
risking vandalism, stalking, and potentially even my life by
standing up to these “animal rights activists”.

However, these crimes and the harassment will continue unless
we do something about it. I refuse to stand by and do nothing.
If everyone continues to fear these extremists and allow them
to terrorize the citizens of Oxford, then the protestors are
succeeding.

It’s time for those of us who believe in the scientists
and doctors
who have dedicated their lives to saving
the lives of others, to stand
up against these people.

I will be in the front row of the peaceful demo scheduled on
Saturday February 25th (see information below), which will
coincide with another one of the animal activist group’s
(SPEAK) protest rally. It is in collaboration with the local
police and will be completely legal. I hope I will see some of
you there, too. We could make a colossal statement if we
had more supporters for the new building than protestors.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope
everyone will continue to educate themselves so that they
can learn more about this issue and make an informed
decision on animal testing and the organizations that
harass the very people who are working to find cures for
diseases that many of us may be afflicted with someday.


Kristina Cook PRS D.Phil. Student; Dept. of Chemistry
National Institutes of Health/ Oxford University
Biomedical
Research Scholar

For more information: Website supporting the new Oxford
building:
http://www.pro-test.org.uk/
To join the email list, send an email to: mailing@pro-test.org.uk
An article from Animal Liberation Front (ALF) threatening EVERYONE and their safety at Oxford:
http://www.animalliberationfront.us/ALFront/Actions-UK/OxfordWar.htm
An article by the BBC on animal testing and Oxford:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/animalexperiments/protests.shtml

And there is how the whole story began, and my life in Oxford wasn’t going to be the same ever again……..

posted by Kristina Cook at 5:33 PM  

About the author

Kristina Cook Name: Kristina Cook

Location: Oxford, United Kingdom


My name is Kristina Cook and I am a first year DPhil (PhD) student in a mix of Chemistry/Biochemistry and Pharmacology at Oxford University. I am 23 years old. I just moved to Oxford from Washington DC, where I lived for two months as part of the graduate program I am in. Before this I had lived in San Diego, California for five years where I went to San Diego State University for my undergraduate education. In those five years I had the opportunity to further my science education by working for a wonderful small biotech/pharmaceutical company for three years, in the in-vitro pharmacology department. I also worked in an academic lab in synthetic chemistry, for two years. I am now out in Oxford, researching cancer angiogenesis, specifically some of the proteins involved, and looking for potential new ways of treating cancer.

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This page has been set up to promote scientific research and show support for animal research conducted ethically and intelligently. Recent news in science, discussions on science and animal research and guest writings by fellow scientists are just a few of the things you can expect to find here. Build the Oxford Lab!

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