Animal rights group wants cocaine-addicted rat research defunded

Cocaine Rats Update
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 3:09 PM EDT|Updated: May. 26, 2023 at 10:54 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - A national watchdog group wants federal funding pulled from a faculty-led University of South Carolina research project involving the electroshock of cocaine-addicted rats.

The project, aimed at studying how addiction affects the brain, is currently on hiatus after USC received an anonymous complaint in November. A subsequent investigation revealed the rats were being shocked for longer than allowed under protocols implemented by the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

USC modified the research protocol and said additional oversight will be required if the psychology professor resumes the study.

The nonprofit Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), which has called on USC to shut the research down permanently, is asking the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to revoke a new $248,216 grant awarded to the project on May 16. SAEN says they would like to see the money reallocated to a clinical project that does not involve animals being electrically shocked.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Rats, cocaine and electroshock: USC halts animal experiment after complaint

SAEN is also calling for an investigation into how the annual funding for the project has been spent.

The NIH database does not report any publications or clinical studies that have resulted from the experimentation so far, however, the professor leading the research co-authored an article in 2019 about a similar study. He has received more than a million dollars in funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of NIH, for research over the last five years.

“Since nothing has been produced, serious questions must be raised as to how the approximately $250,000 per year funding of this grant has been spent,” said SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie in the letter.

FOX Carolina has reached out to USC and NIH for comment. We are awaiting a response.

In a statement earlier this month, a spokesperson for USC said the university is committed to the ethical treatment and responsible use of animals on campus. USC has been continuously accredited for 39 years by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), a private nonprofit that oversees the humane treatment of animals in science.

The use of animals in scientific research is a topic of longstanding controversy.

Organizations like the NIH and the AAALAC support the ethical use of animals in research experiments when there is no alternative. The NIH says grant applications for animal research projects must include information on why another model or approach cannot be used and a plan to minimize “any potential discomfort, distress, injury, and pain the animals may experience.”

Groups like SAEN would like to see an end to all animal experimentation.

“Ethical treatment of animals does not include electric shock,” Budkie said.