Pubdate: Thu, 01 Nov 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Section: A
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Edythe London
Note: Edythe London is a professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral 
sciences and of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David 
Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.


A UCLA Scientist Targeted by Animal Rights Militants Defends Her 
Research on Addiction and the Brain.

For years, I have watched with growing concern as my UCLA colleagues 
have been subjected to increasing harassment, violence and threats by 
animal rights extremists. In the last 15 months, these attempts at 
intimidation have included the placement of a Molotov cocktail-type 
device at a colleague's home and another under a colleague's car -- 
thankfully, they didn't ignite -- as well as rocks thrown through 
windows, phone and e-mail threats, banging on doors in the middle of 
the night and, on several occasions, direct confrontations with young children.

Then, several weeks ago, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle 
about the work I have been doing to understand and treat nicotine 
addition among adolescents informed readers that some of my research 
is done on primates. I was instantly on my guard. Would I be the next 
victim? Would the more extremist elements of the animal rights 
movement now turn their sights on me?

The answer came this week when the Animal Liberation Front claimed 
responsibility for vandalism that caused between $20,000 and $30,000 
worth of damage to my home after extremists broke a window and 
inserted a garden hose, flooding the interior. Later, in a public 
statement addressed to me, the extremists said they had been torn 
between flooding my house or setting it afire. Maybe I should feel lucky.

Having come to the United States as the child of Holocaust survivors 
who had lost almost everything, I appreciate that perhaps "only in 
America" could I have fulfilled my dream of becoming a biomedical 
scientist, supported in doing research to reduce human suffering. But 
it is difficult for me to understand why the same country that was 
founded on the idea of freedom for all gives rise to an organization 
like the Animal Liberation Front, a shadowy group identified by the 
FBI as a domestic terrorism threat, which threatens the safety of 
researchers engaged in animal studies that are crucial to moving 
medicine forward.

I have devoted my career to understanding how nicotine, 
methamphetamine and other drugs can hijack brain chemistry and leave 
the affected individual at the mercy of his or her addiction. My 
personal connection to addiction is rooted in the untimely death of 
my father, who died of complications of nicotine dependence. My work 
on the neurobiology of addiction has spanned three decades of my life 
- -- most of this time as a senior scientist at the National Institutes 
of Health. To me, nothing could be more important than solving the 
mysteries of addiction and learning how we can restore a person's 
control over his or her own life. Addiction robs young people of 
their futures, destroys families and places a tremendous burden on society.

Animal studies allow us to test potential treatments without 
confounding factors, such as prior drug use and other experiences 
that complicate human studies. Even more important, they allow us to 
test possibly life-saving treatments before they are considered safe 
to test in humans. Our animal studies address the effects of chronic 
drug use on brain functions, such as decision-making and 
self-control, that are impaired in human addicts. We are also testing 
potential treatments, and all of our studies comply with federal laws 
designed to ensure humane care.

While monkeys receive drugs in the laboratory, they do not become 
"addicted" in the same sense that humans become addicted. Still, we 
are able to see how changes in brain chemistry alter the way the 
brain works -- knowledge that is vital to the design of effective medications.

My colleagues and I place a huge value on the welfare of our research 
subjects. We constantly strive to minimize the risk to them; however, 
a certain amount of risk is necessary to provide us with the 
information we need in a rigorously scientific manner. Since the 
incident at my house, our research has gotten a lot of attention. 
Some anti-smoking groups have raised questions about the fact that 
our work was funded by Philip Morris USA. Is it moral to allow the 
tobacco industry to fund research on addiction? My view is that the 
problem of tobacco dependence is enormous, and the resources 
available for research on the problem are limited. It would, 
therefore, be immoral to decline an opportunity to increase our 
knowledge about addiction and develop new treatments for quitting 
smoking, especially when teens are involved. Few people are untouched 
by the scourge of addiction in their friends or family. It is through 
work like ours that the understanding of addiction expands and gives 
rise to hope that we can help people like my father live longer, 
healthier lives.

Thousands of other scientists use laboratory animals in other 
research, giving hope to those afflicted with a wide variety of 
ailments. Already, one scientist at UCLA has announced that he will 
not pursue potentially important studies involving how the brain 
receives information from the retina, for fear of the violence that 
animal rights radicals might visit on his family. We must not allow 
these extremists to stop important research that advances the human condition.
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