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MIT Committee Regulates Experiments On Animals

By Eun Lee


Animal research, which is performed by several laboratories around MIT, has emerged as a sensitive and difficult issue for both researchers and protesters alike.

MIT’s Committee on Animal Care (CAC) was established to ensure that all Institute researchers working with animals comply with federal, state, local and institutional animal care regulations.

The CAC is responsible for inspecting animals, animal facilities and laboratories, and reviews all research and teaching exercises that involve animals before experiments are performed.

President Charles M. Vest appoints the 13 to 15 members of the committee, who represent an equal mix of both researchers and non-researchers. Dr. Barbara O’Pray of the Medical Department has headed the committee since 1994.

“The main point I’d like to get across is that we take this very seriously,” said O’Pray. “All of this research is tightly regulated.”

Included on this committee are an ordained minister, two veterinarians, an animal technician, and an outsider with no affiliation with MIT who is required by law to be on the committee.

“There are very few minority opinions because we work to make everyone happy,” said O’Pray.

Professor Harriet Ritvo, head of the History Department, served on the Committee on Animal Care for six years.

“I was very impressed by the seriousness and integrity with which the committee operated,” she said. “If you look back 150 years, it hasn’t always been that way,” said Ritvo.

Much of the CAC-approved research which is performed at MIT is medical in nature. Some examples of ongoing projects are clinical cancer research, nerve regeneration studies, and cardiac tissue studies.

“The committee doesn’t make judgments on science, per se, but on the treatment of the animals and if the number of animals were appropriate,” said Ritvo.

After a proposal is passed by the CAC, the researchers must take a course on handling animals before they are allowed to do research. If any specialized procedures are to be performed, the researchers are instructed by trained veterinarians.

“We do not allow painful procedures on animals without medication for the pain or anesthetizing the animals,” said O’Pray. “We do not allow death as an endpoint to any experiment. If an animal is not doing well, it has to be euthanized.”

Although research is performed on a variety of animal species, the majority of all animal research at MIT is performed on rodents such as mice and rats.

“We get inspections from the federal government, the state of Massachusetts, and the city of Cambridge,” said O’Pray.

The animals are monitored by both the technicians who take care of them, and by veterinarians, who see to their health. If any violations in animal care or research are found, the research stops until the CAC can fully investigate.

If a major violation is found, the CAC must report this violation to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. “We [the CAC] have been approved at the exemplary level, which is the highest level of accreditation given by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. We also received grants to make two videos sold worldwide on general animal care and anesthesia,” said O’Pray.

There are many animal rights organizations that oppose animal research, but opposition can come on a number of different levels.

“There are a number of viewpoints represented in our group on the use of animals in science, and many people are against animal experimentation outright,” said Laura C. Dilley G, president of the Sudents for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (SETA) at MIT.

This organization focuses on issues of ethical issues involved in human-animal interactions, including animal experimentation and tries to promote alternatives to animal experimentation whenever possible.

“Our group tries to focus on issues where animal abuse is widespread, such as the food animal and fur industries,” said Dilley. “Lab animals constitute only about one-hundredth of one percent of the animals killed in the U.S. every year, so animal experimentation has not been a major focus of our group’s efforts.”

Anyone with information about inadequate animal care or treatment should contact the CAC at 253-9436 or call Vice President and Dean of Research J. David Litster at 253-6801. More information on the CAC and animal testing at MIT can be found at <>.