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 From the Los Angeles Times

Firebomb attacks anger, worry UC scientists who use animals in research

Despite fears, most academics say they will not be intimidated by 
violent tactics.

By Richard C. Paddock
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 10, 2008

Two firebomb attacks last week on UC Santa Cruz scientists who 
conduct animal research have angered and worried academics throughout 
the UC system, who said their work has broad public support and that 
they will not be intimidated by bombers who crossed the line by 
targeting families.

"It is outrageous when people's families are targeted," said UCLA 
Chancellor Gene Block. "This is incredibly serious because it could 
have led to loss of life. It's chilling."

But Block, a biologist who uses mice in his research on circadian 
rhythms, said he expects the violent attacks to deter few scientists 
from working with animals.

"There is deep concern in our community," he said. "People are 
concerned about their safety, but that is not affecting their work. 
They are going to continue doing the research."

The incendiary devices that went off in Santa Cruz struck three 
minutes apart just before 6 a.m. Aug. 2. One destroyed a car outside 
the home of a researcher who has not been publicly identified. The 
other exploded on the front porch of researcher David Feldheim's 
home. As smoke filled the house, he, his wife and their two children 
fled down an emergency rope ladder. Feldheim injured his feet when he 
hit the ground.

A sprinkler over the front door helped suppress the blaze and, 
university officials said, kept it from spreading to other houses in 
the suburban neighborhood of attached dwellings.

"This is the first attack on animal researchers we are aware of where 
there were children in the home," said Bruce Margon, UC Santa Cruz's 
vice chancellor for research. "Everyone agrees that is totally 
unconscionable."

Investigators said they have collected a large amount of forensic 
evidence from the two bomb sites and are treating the cases as 
attempted homicides. The city and university police departments, the 
FBI, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and 
the state fire marshal's office are participating in the 
investigation.

For the last few years, University of California scientists who use 
laboratory animals in their research have been harassed and 
threatened by activists who contend that the researchers are 
torturing animals.

Protesters, sometimes wearing masks or wielding bullhorns, have 
confronted researchers in public or shouted obscenities outside their 
homes in the middle of the night. They have set a van ablaze at UC 
Irvine and flooded a UCLA scientist's home with her garden hose. And 
they have planted bombs outside UCLA researchers' homes that caused 
minor damage or didn't explode.

In 2006, a UCLA neurobiology professor announced that he was stopping 
his primate research because of harassment and threats to his family.

Scientists and university leaders say the use of laboratory animals 
in biomedical research has broad public support and is financed in 
large part by taxpayer money.

They say the use of animals in such research is essential to develop 
treatments and cures for many ailments, including cancer, AIDS and 
Alzheimer's disease.

Virtually all Americans -- and their pets -- have benefited in some 
way from medical research involving laboratory animals, supporters of 
such research say.

The majority of the animals are bred specifically for that purpose 
and regulations govern their use and treatment, university officials 
said.

Few of the animals are primates. At UCLA, for example, more than 95% 
of lab animals are rodents, said campus spokesman Phil Hampton.

But some animal rights activists contend that the use of any animals 
in research is morally wrong, and that aggressive tactics, including 
violence, are justified in attempting to end the practice.

Jerry Vlasak, a Los Angeles physician and frequent spokesman for the 
animal rights movement, maintains that researchers bring the violence 
on themselves and that any harm to humans is minimal compared to the 
suffering of lab animals.

"UC Santa Cruz may consider themselves an institution of higher 
education, but they are also an institution of animal torture and 
killing," Vlasak wrote on his website, the North American Animal 
Liberation Press Office, after the latest attacks. "It's regrettable 
that certain scientists are willing to put their families at risk by 
choosing to do wasteful animal experiments in this day and age."

Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, was 
among those who condemned the latest bombings. He defended the 
research being done by Feldheim, who receives funding from the agency.

"Terrorism against researchers and institutions as well as their 
children and other family members is not to be tolerated," Zerhouni 
said in a joint statement with Norka Ruiz Bravo, the agency's deputy 
director for extramural research. "Threats to research using animals 
also threatens the health of the nation."

Feldheim's research focuses on mice brain abnormalities that occur 
during prenatal development and could lead to knowledge about how to 
"rewire" the human brain or spinal cord after damage from injury or 
disease, National Institutes of Health administrators said. They also 
emphasized that federally supported scientists who use animals in 
biomedical research must meet rigorous standards governing their 
treatment and use.

At the University of California, most of the incidents have occurred 
at three campuses -- UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz.

The UC system is sponsoring legislation aimed at reducing the 
harassment by strengthening trespassing laws and making it easier for 
police to arrest protesters on a researcher's property.

Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo), who is carrying the bill, said 
the measure would prohibit trespassing that has "the intent to chill 
or interfere with academic freedom."

He noted that researchers' homes have increasingly become the target 
of protests as universities have strengthened security at campus labs.

"It's going to stop masked people from interfering with children's 
birthday parties or masked people on someone's lawn with bullhorns," 
he said. "It's a signal and it gives local authorities a little more 
oomph."

Nicole Baumgarth, an associate professor at UC Davis, is one of 
thousands of UC faculty members and graduate students who use animals 
in their research.

Baumgarth said she uses mice to study the basic mechanisms of 
infectious diseases, and hopes her work will lead to a cure for 
ailments such as malaria, which kills 1 million children a year. She 
said she believes the potential benefit of her research outweighs the 
death of the mice.

"We use mice and we kill mice every day," she said. "I haven't done 
it lightly and it wasn't easy for me to do, but I have made the 
decision for myself."

Baumgarth said she sympathizes with the animal rights movement, which 
she believes has improved treatment of lab animals and helped ensure 
that they are not used needlessly.

"I consider myself an animal rights person," she said. "The use of 
live beings, just because we are bigger and stronger and we can put 
them in a cage, I don't think it's something anyone likes doing."

But she said she was appalled by the attack against a researcher and 
his family, especially one who was using mice, not primates, and 
predicted that the bombings would prove to be a setback for the 
animal rights movement.

"It really crossed a line," Baumgarth said. "I think that everybody 
who is alive in the West has probably benefited from medical research 
-- yourself or your kids. They shouldn't see us as horrible people 
who enjoy killing animals."

richard.paddock @latimes.com