19 Jan 2019

Animals 'tortured' pointlessly in depression research, says NZ group

9:58 am on 19 January 2019

A group campaigning against animal experiments is appalled mice and rats are forced to swim until they almost drown in studies on depression.

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Experiments on rats and mice at some New Zealand universities are "cruel" and unnecessary, says Tara Jackson. Photo: 123rf

The New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society has found evidence the forced swim test has been used recently by researchers at Victoria and Otago Universities.

The society's executive director, Tara Jackson, said the test method had no relevance to human depression and should be banned.

The test involved mice or rats being dropped into a vessel of water they could not escape from and being forced to swim until they were close to drowning, Ms Jackson said.

It was used to model human depression, based on the assumption that a depressed animal would give up trying to escape sooner than one that was not depressed, she said.

"Cruel and horrific experiments happen in New Zealand and we've known about them for years, but we didn't actually know that the forced swim test was happening here," Ms Jackson said.

"Researches are torturing animals with the aim of learning more about human behaviour, but the reality is it's a waste of time and innocent animals are paying for it."

Staff from Victoria University and the University of Otago declined to be interviewed.

Victoria University said two applications to use the swim test had been made to its animal ethics committee in the past five years, but the test was not currently being used.

University of Otago deputy vice-chancellor research and enterprise Richard Blaikie said animal-based research was strictly controlled by its animal ethics committees.

"The university is also committed to reducing the use of animals and finding alternatives wherever possible," Professor Blaikie said in a statement.

Ms Jackson said each year in New Zealand, about 300,000 animals were used for research, testing and teaching.

Over the past few years, researchers at some New Zealand universities had used "invasive" testing methods that led rats to become addicted to cocaine, she said.

They drilled into rats' skulls, attached a syringe of cocaine and allowed the rats to press a level to self-administer the drug, Ms Jackson said.

The group wants the government to review the validity of all animal tests for psychological research.

It has started an online petition against the forced swim test.

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