Harvard Medical School (HMS) is reviewing the treatment of mice and rats in its laboratories. An anonymous whistleblower had contacted PETA with disturbing photographs and reports of mice and rats used in deadly pain, itch, and other neurological (or brain) experiments.

harvard mouse after surgery

A mouse is seen post-surgery at HMS. Documents revealed that more than 74 animal-welfare violations occurred at HMS between December 2012 and October 2015.

Experimenters injected mice and rats with caustic materials and also killed and decapitated them. The whistleblower’s photographs reveal a freezer filled with plastic bags stuffed with the bodies of mice, mice whose ears are pierced with metal tags so heavy that they appear to cause the animals’ heads to tilt, and mice wrapped in gauze and left lethargic after surgeries.

The whistleblower's photographs reveal a freezer filled with plastic bags stuffed with mice's bodies.

The whistleblower’s photographs reveal a freezer filled with plastic bags stuffed with the bodies of mice.

These experiments, which have received almost $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have resulted in little clinical progress, and the use of mice to develop treatments for human neurological disorders has an extremely high failure rate.

Some mouse's ears were pierced with metal tags so apparently heavy that their heads appeared to tilt.

The ears of some mice were pierced with metal tags so heavy that they appear to cause the animals’ heads to tilt.

PETA is calling on HMS and NIH to reevaluate their approval and funding, respectively, of these experiments. In our correspondence with the school and NIH, we noted that there are more reliable research methods that can be used instead of testing on animals:

Humane and modern non-animal research methods, such as neuro-imaging techniques in human volunteers, … systems using human cells and tissues, state-of-the-art organs-on-chips, and computational models all can generate data that are directly relevant to humans and can replace animals in these specific studies.

Documents that PETA obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed more than 74 animal-welfare violations at HMS from December 2012 to October 2015, including incidents in which animals endured pain, were injured, or died as a result of neglect and incompetence.

These documents detail that mice in HMS laboratories died from dehydration when their water bottles ran out of water and no one bothered to refill them. Mice in other experiments died from radiation overdoses or suffered when laboratory workers failed to notice that they had grown tumors larger than what was permitted in the experiment, and one mouse was found dead in a cage after being left unattended for months. Elsewhere at the school, a marmoset monkey sustained a broken leg as a result of abusive capture methods, and in just one incident, 200 zebrafish died after the aquaculture life-support system was accidentally shut off.

Despite making up more than 95 percent of animals used in experimentation, rats and mice are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which means that they have little protection from abuse, pain, and suffering. While PETA welcomes the news that HMS is investigating our concerns, the only way to ensure that animals don’t continue to suffer in wasteful, ineffective experiments is to end them and switch to superior non-animal research methods. 

baby albino rat held in hand with a glove by researcher
© iStockphoto.com/lculig 

Animals used for experiments are suffering at universities every day. Here’s how you can help them: 

  1. If you or someone you know works in your school’s lab, contact us if you see something wrong.
  2. Write a letter to the editor of your campus paper about the cruelty behind animal experimentation.
  3. Join or start an animal rights group on your campus.
  4. Spread the word about animal experimentation! Share this story with your friends and family.

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