Peter Sylvan: UMass misses the point

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

On Wednesday, Feb. 9, community members and students gathered at UMass to protest the use of female marmoset monkeys in university labs. The monkeys are used to study early menopause in women.

Specifically, according to Dr. Agnes Lacreuse, the research is aimed at “developing a marmoset model for menopausal symptoms in order to understand potential interactions between cognitive deficits, sleep disturbances and thermoregulation impairments that are associated with estrogen loss.”

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to undertake this research, “Experimenters cut out their sex organs, drill holes into their skulls, thread electrode leads through their bodies, zip-tie them into restraining devices, and — absurdly — overheat them with hand warmers to mimic menopausal hot flashes”.

Marmosets do not even experience menopause. At least for the sleep deprivation part of the research, it would seem much more useful to do a study of sleep habits of actual humans who do experience early menopause. Scientists from PETA met with Chancellor Subbaswamy in July to discuss commonsense measures that UMass could take to improve animal welfare and bring its research methods into the 21st century, including eliminating the school’s use of monkeys in experiments, implementing higher animal welfare standards and oversight, and establishing a center for non-animal research alternatives.

Continued discussion was assured at that time. However, Subbaswamy recently told PETA that UMass would not address any of their concerns nor implement any of their suggested changes because of pushback from tenured faculty. Moreover, in response to the protests, UMass released a statement saying that animal research is often the basis for important medical advances, UMass is committed to caring for laboratory animals with the highest ethical standards, and the school follows all applicable federal and state laws.

But here is where UMass really misses the point: as the flagship university, a place of innovation and progress, it is incumbent upon them to evolve. Simply following state guidelines (keep cages clean, don’t do unnecessary harm to laboratory animals, etc.) is not enough. UMass needs to be proactive in vetting animal-based experiments and considering non-animal alternatives. They need to be innovators and leaders in animal welfare.

If the chancellor cannot see this, I encourage the community to be a voice for the Marmosets and advocate on their behalf. PETA’s website has all the info you need to know to get involved, write of your concerns, and join the next protest.

Peter Sylvan