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UNI LAB TESTS ON KITTENS IS 'CRUEL AND UNACCEPTABLE' Eyes sewn up in experiments.

Byline: SIMON GASKELL

ANIMAL rights campaigners have condemned a Welsh university for conducting "cruel" experiments in which kittens' eyes were sewn up and newborn litters raised in total darkness.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) said it had uncovered evidence of the trials being undertaken by academics from Cardiff University.

The chief executive of the group - which opposes all forms of animal experimentation - labelled it "unacceptable cruel research".

But the university denied the research was cruel, saying it was carried out under the terms of strict Home Office licence with the aim of understanding medical conditions in humans.

Results of the tests were published in a research paper unveiled earlier this year called the European Journal of Neuroscience. In it, the research team describe their quest to find answers on how the brain functions in relation to vision in both eyes by subjecting 31 cats to differing degrees of "sensory experience and deprivation". The scientists raised one group of kittens, from the moment they were born, in total darkness with their mother - in some cases for up to 12 weeks.

A separate group was raised normally before going into surgery under anaesthetic for monocular deprivation - meaning an eyelid was sutured.

And in their paper, the experts indicated they captured optical imagery with similar methods used previously - including opening the skull and placing a camera in the brain.

One vet working for BUAV raised his concern that the sutures could have caused pain and questioned how relevant the tests were for treatment in humans.

Meanwhile the deputy leader of Cardiff Council said such tests were "reprehensible".

Wales on Sunday was informed of the experiment - publicly-funded through the Medical Research Council - by BUAV who are now raising awareness on the increasing number of procedures on cats in medical science.

Michelle Thew, BUAV chief executive, said she was shocked to hear of the research.

She said: "We know the public will be shocked to learn that such research involves publicly funded experiments at Cardiff University in which kittens have been subjected to unpleasant procedures such as depriving them of light or sewing up an eyelid before invasive brain surgery and death. This is unacceptable cruel research."

BUAV's own veterinary adviser Dr Ned Buyukmihci - an Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California Davis - said the same information could be gleaned from humans.

He said: "The eyelid sutures would have been painful, at least for a short period after the surgery.

"From a scientific perspective, there are substantial differences in structure and function of the visual system in cats versus human beings.

"More to the point, there are established methods of obtaining essentially the same information in a humane way from people."

And Deputy Leader of Cardiff Council Ralph Cook, a former animal rights campaigner, said experimentation of this nature troubled him.

He said: "It's about somebody who's an academic producing a paper which is generally meaningless and can't be transferred to humans anyway.

"The way cats perceive the world is different to the way we do and if you were a pet owner you will know that.

"These things are done on volunteers and there are various people who would be quite happy to volunteer, possibly in exchange for a few pounds. Without wanting to do anything invasive it can be studied how the body works with CT scans and things.

"My position has always been the same: ever since I discovered vivisection is completely wrong and couldn't be applied to human beings. I think morally it's totally reprehensible and scientifically it's virtually indefensible." But the university launched a staunch defence of its position, saying the experiments were sanctioned with a strict licence from the Home Office and had valid purposes for helping learn more about human conditions like crossed eyes and lazy eyes.

In a statement it added it was involved with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research and that the experiment in question finished in 2010 but had only just been written up.

A spokesman said: "Cardiff University research involving animals is aimed at the alleviation of human and veterinary disease through the advancement of medical, dental, biological and veterinary understanding.

"The work was demonstrated to be justified in an assessment of its benefits by both the local ethical review process and the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit as part of the licensing process. It was established there was no alternative procedure to obtain the same information as an integral part of the review process that leads to the Home Office granting a licence to carry out the experiment.

"Research deemed 'unacceptable' or 'cruel' would not have been permitted under this system and it is therefore inaccurate for the BUAV to claim otherwise."

According to Home Office statistics released on scientific procedures on living animals last week, the number of experiments carried out on cats during 2011 rose by 26% to 235 - up 48 from the previous year. 153 cats were used.

Of those, 48 procedures were carried out for research on the nervous system and 151 procedures on cats targeted multiple systems.
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 22, 2012
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