A lab at the University of Milan was raided by animal rights activists this past weekend, taking nearly 100 mutated mice (and one rabbit) with them and mixing up cage labels to confuse researchers. It could take years for the facility to recover.
As Nature News reports, no arrests were made after the 12-hour standoff, but the University of Milan is planning to press charges against the group responsible, Stop Green Hill (the name is a reference to an Italian dog-breeding facility the activists are opposed to).
The Milan facility is used to experiment on genetically altered animals for research into autism, schizophrenia, and other psychiatric disorders.
During the raid, and as hundreds of animal-rights sympathizers demonstrated outside, five individuals made their way into the facility, likely with an illegally acquired electronic card.
Alison Abbott tells us more:
They pried open the reinforced doors of the facility on the fourth floor, and two of them chained themselves by the neck to the main double doors such that any attempt to open the doors could have endangered their lives.
They posted pictures of themselves on their organisation’s website, where they also declared that they would stay for as long as it took to get agreement to leave with all the animals. The facility hosts around 800 animals, mostly genetically modified mice but also some rabbits, according to Martino Bolognesi, a structural biologist at the university. The activists had brought supplies of food and sleeping bags.
Here's the video taken by Stop Green Hill:
And what the demonstration outside the facility looked like:
Some of the mice that were taken are “delicate mutants” and immunosuppressed “nude” mice that will most assuredly die outside of the lab’s controlled environment. Moreover, because many of these animals are models for psychiatric conditions, they may also be suffering from undue psychological stress (though a case could also be made for the opposite).
Stop Green Hill issued an official statement to explain its actions (translation by Google):
With this unprecedented action we want to document the conditions in which animals live and experiments that are conducted, showing them to the whole society with photographs and films; give visibility to the problem of vivisection and the places where it is practiced, thus giving a name also those who practice it, to start a peaceful siege inside and in front of the laboratory with the request that the animals are released and that the Ministry and the Palaces put an end to the false promises and truly start to take steps towards the abolition of animal testing.
The researchers say that "vivisection" is not practiced at the facility, but that they're conducting "basic research aimed at discovery of therapies for diseases that are incurable and severely disabling that plague our society."
Here’s how the Italian Researchers responded (translation by Google):
The damage done is difficult to quantify, but it’s in the order of hundreds of thousands of euro...it goes far beyond the loss of animals illegally removed...they took the cards to all the cages, making it no longer possible to identify the animals thus sending in smoke the work of years of scientific research and its funding...[our] research focuses largely on diseases of the nervous system, for which there is a desperate need of care, which is currently not available: autism, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Prader-Willi syndrome, nicotine addiction, and our research is funded by national and international bodies including Telethon, AIRC, NIDA, Cariplo Foundation, Fondazione Mariani, Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, European Community, the Ministry of Research, Ministry of Health, Region Lombardy. The loans are obtained through rigorous evaluation processes and results are published in top international journals in the field.
The incident on Saturday creates a precedent of unprecedented severity. Animal rights activists have claimed the right to block the research approved by the competent offices of the Ministry of Research, conducted in accordance with all national and international standards on the treatment of experimental animals, financed by public authorities but also by non-profit foundations, the latter supported by donations of generous citizens interested in public health. The enclosures of the Department of medical biotechnology and translational medicine meet all the requirements of the applicable European legislation, and animals (mice, rats and rabbits, bred for the sole purposes of research and unable to survive in the environment different from that of the laboratory) are maintained with the utmost care.
It’s true that animal testing represents a delicate ethical problem; public awareness about this problem has led to the adoption in recent years of the legislation regulating the use of animals in research, resulting in a huge improvement of housing conditions and with the elimination of unnecessary suffering which they may be subjected. However, it is equally undeniable that the great advances in medicine and the development of therapeutics, has only been possible through the use of laboratory animals, you will need to use also desirable for future developments.
The researchers say it could take up to one year for a team of three scientists to build up the colonies of mouse models of different psychiatric diseases.