Addiction Research Unit
Department of Psychology/University at Buffalo

Use of Laboratory Animals for Biobehavioral Research

Studies conducted at the ARU use laboratory animals (i.e., rodents). There are many misconceptions about the use of laboratory animals in biobehavioral research. This section briefly addresses several common misconceptions about animal research investigating the effects of addictive drugs.

Animal Housing & Care

Animals are housed in a temperature and humidity controlled enviornment. In fact, the only facility in the building with 24-hour per day, 365-day per year environment control is the research animal facility. (Faculty, staff, and students are subjected to fluctuations in ambient conditions, except when working with research animals.) These conditions are monitored locally by research facility staff and centrally by the university's environmental control facility. Maintenance staff are on call 24-hours per day to correct any problems with environmental control.

Some animals self-administer drugs that can have immuno-suppressive effects. These animals are housed in a specially designed HEPA environmental unit that ensures removal of pathogenic agents and other particles normally found in air. Their drinking water is specially treated to reduce the bacterial count below that found in the local drinking water supply. This level of care far exceeds that usually found in hospital environments.

The quality of animal care, like stress and discomfort (see below), is a primary consideration for all investigators using animal models. It is critically important for the integrity of the scientific studies that the influence of these potentially confounding variables (e.g., fluctuations in environmental conditions, food availability) are eliminated from the experimental studies.

Stress & Discomfort

Stress has a major influence on behavioral measures and can have an important effect on drug-taking behavior. It is essential to the scientific merit of the research that stress and discomfort are minimized. (Few studies specifically investigate the effects of controlled stress on behavior.) All surgical procedures use appropriate surgical anesthetic, and the condition of the animal is constantly monitored. Behavioral testing is begun only after full recovery from the surgical procedure (usually 7 to 10 days post surgery).

Morbidity from Addictive Drugs

Both cocaine and heroin produce very few deleterious effects when tested using the conditions typically employed in this research program. The image of a heroin addict portrayed by the media or the crack addict witnessed on the street does not reflect the condition of laboratory animals self-administering these drugs. There is little inherent morbidity in low to moderate dose heroin or cocaine administration. There is, however, an important caveat.

Most intravenous self-administration studies use limited-access testing. This involves testing the animals for a limited number of hours each day (usually 3 to 10 hours daily) and then removing the subject from the test apparatus and returning it to its home cage. Animals are permitted to self-administer as much drug as they wish, but the duration of their self-administration session is limited by the experimenter. Under limited-access testing, few deleterious effects are seen even with chronic drug administration.

A few studies have tested animals under unlimited-access conditions. Here, animals are permitted to self-administer a drug 24-hours per day, 7-days per week. Psychomotor stimulants such as cocaine produce a rapid deterioration in the animal's health and a high fatality rate. For this and other reasons, this testing schedule is seldom used.

Studies employing unlimited-access conditions have been important for establishing the potential toxicity of some compounds such as cocaine (see Bozarth & Wise, 1985). Humans ultimately control their own access to addictive drugs, and the conditions of human drug use can closely resemble that seen in unlimited-access animal studies. Experimental animals have no choice but to abstain from drug use when removed from the test apparatus (i.e., limited-access testing). But humans can acquire more money for drug purchase to continue their drug-taking binge. Many cocaine addicts consume all of their drug supply and then collapse from exhaustion. The limited cocaine supply immediately available protects some addicts from the toxicity inherent in continued use.

Independent Protocol Review

All studies conducted at the ARU are reviewed by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at the University at Buffalo. Externally funded research projects are further reviewed by the granting agencies. And manuscripts submitted for publication are reviewed by journal reviewers who evaluate animal welfare as well as scientific merit of the submitted work. Three independent levels of review assure the proper use and care of the research animals used in these projects.

Current Research Projects

The ARU does not conduct toxicological screening. Although carefully designed, well controlled studies investigating toxic effects are important, our research focuses on the positive reinforcing (e.g., mood elevating) effects of compounds.

Current research projects include:

Additional Links

Americans for Medical Progress / Medical Research vs. Animal Rights


Mouse and Rat Research Home Page

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