A still image from a video from NZAVS which shows a mouse during a “forced swim test”. (File photo)
Animal rights group criticized University of Otago for using controversial and “unreliable” experiment in which rats or mice are put in a beaker of water to see how long they will swim before giving up.
The experiment, known as the âforced swim test,â was commonly used to test the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs.
The idea behind the experiment is that a rodent will swim longer before becoming downcast, if the antidepressant works, said Tara Jackson, executive director of the New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society (NZAVS).
The NZAVS requested information from eight universities under the Official Information Act (OIA) about their use of the test.
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Information provided to the group by the University of Otago showed that it had requested two animal use protocols since January 1, 2019, with the approval of the university’s animal ethics committee.
NZAVS said the “forced swim test” experiment was performed in at least one of the studies.
The company said the most recent request for the forced swim test was approved in May this year, but a spokesperson for the university said the approval was for an extension of a study approved for the first. times in 2018, rather than a new study.
According to Jackson, who called the test “cruel and unreliable,” the University of Otago is the only university in New Zealand to still use the test.
Jackson said the scientific community has recognized the test to be ineffective in predicting depression or human hopelessness.
She was not aware of any rodents left long enough to drown, but said they could stay in the water for up to 15 minutes.
“During this time, the animal cannot touch bottom, it cannot come out, and for all the animal knows, there is no way to escape this test, so it is a Quite traumatic experience, one might imagine, for an animal to be forced to swim with no way to escape.
Jackson said she had seen claims from some researchers that rats liked to swim and often swam in sewers. “But there is a different scenario between a rat choosing to swim and a rat suddenly finding itself in a laboratory situation where it is forced to swim in a beaker with no way to escape.”
Professor Richard Blaikie, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Otago, defended the institution’s use of the test, saying it was a “very effective method for the screening and identification of new treatments for the treatment of depression in humans “.
“This is not a generalized animal model for depression […] but it effectively models the aspect of stopping active coping strategies, âhe said.
Blaikie said the mice did not “swim for their lives” as claimed by the NZAVS, but were placed in the beakers for up to five minutes before being removed, dried and returned to their cages.
“They cannot immerse themselves because mice float very well, but after a variable period of time they will stop actively swimming and simply float.”
Jackson insisted the university needed to improve its methodology and replace the use of animals in its research. “The University of Otago has built a new lab, uses outdated tests that don’t work, and is doing just about everything possible to prove that it doesn’t take the issue of ethics in its science very seriously.” , she said.
Blaikie said all animal research undertaken was approved by an animal ethics committee made up of academics, as well as members not involved in the research to represent the community at large.
He said advances and breakthroughs in medical research would stop if animals could not be used in some of the university’s research “to supplement laboratory studies or computer simulation.”