AVMA condemns threats against animal researcher

Cites policy on responsible use of animals in studies that benefit animal, human welfare
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Dec 03, 2010
By dvm360.com staff
Schaumburg, Ill. -- A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) neuroscientist who studies biochemical factors leading to certain addictions in non-human primates is allegedly being terrorized by an animal rights group, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has issued a strong response condemning the threats against him.

Dr. David Jentsch is the target of what UCLA says are two separate claims of terrorism, currently under investigation by UCLA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“Law enforcement officials confirmed that David Jentsch, a UCLA neuroscientist, received a package at his home containing razor blades and a threatening note,” UCLA says in its statement on the threats. “On numerous websites, extremists have claimed responsibility for mailing a similar package to a graduate student researcher working in Jentsch’s laboratory.

“These claims and threats are reprehensible criminal acts designed to intimidate UCLA researchers, and I deplore them in the strongest possible terms,” Chancellor Gene Block says in the statement. “The campus is unwavering in its commitment to the safety of our researchers and their work toward a greater understanding of human physiology and behavior, and toward treatments for a wide variety of ailments, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, schizophrenia, AIDS and cancer.”

The school has emphasized the strict oversight it exercises on the use of animals in research, and the AVMA has come to UCLA’s defense.

AVMA condemned the threats, citing its policy on the use of animals in research, testing and education that allows for animal research when necessary for the “continue improvement in the health and welfare of human beings and other animals.”

“Rigorous standards have been established to protect the animals involved in biomedical research and to assure they are treated humanely. Institutions and researchers are subject to federal oversight to confirm those standards are appropriately applied and that such research is not only valuable but necessary,” says Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA’s chief executive officer. “Our nation was founded on principles that encourage open and honest debate. But America has no room for terrorist activities that threaten not only that discourse but the lives of our scientists and their families. We condemn all acts of violence, vandalism and intimidation directed toward individuals and facilities engaged in the ethical use of animals for research.”

UCLA says extremists also claimed responsibility for setting fire to Jentsch’s vehicle outside his home in March 2009. Jentsch says he has no plans to discontinue his research, despite the threats against him. A UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, Jentsch utilizes vervet monkeys in research that focuses on genetic and neurochemical mechanisms that influence cognition, impulse control and decision-making, says UCLA. Much of his work is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Responsible use of animals in research aimed at improving the health and welfare of the mentally ill is the right thing to do, and we will continue because we have a moral responsibility to society to use our skills for the betterment of the world,” Jentsch says in a joint statement with UCLA on the attacks.