Unbeknownst to many students, UBC Okanagan has its very own animal research lab. Supposedly located in the Arts and Science building, the lab operates as part of UBC’s wider “animal care” program, a program dedicated to supporting “the dedicated scientists who work with animals and respect[ing] the unique contribution these animals make to benefit the health of humans and animals” (quote taken from their website).
Upon becoming aware of the lab, I reached out to a previous volunteer for more information. According to the volunteer, the lab primarily focuses on lung disease as related to radiation therapy. Although Dr. Haston, the professor in charge, did not respond to inquiries, her UBCO page states that, “The goal is personalized medicine… We are collecting data and studying why some patients get very sick from radiation. We want to know why these patients’ bodies react this way and if there’s a mechanistic basis to this reaction.”
UBC does release statistics regarding the animal usage in research. As well, the animal care website makes it clear that ethics and transparency are a large focus of the program. But how do UBCO students feel about having an animal research clinic on their campus?
After asking a few students around the campus on their thoughts, it became clear that few were aware that UBC even used animals in their research. One even commented “it’s weird that I never heard about it”, while another responded with an incredulous, “there’s an animal research lab here?”
For those who shared an opinion after I explained some background information, the responses seemed to be positive. Many students commented on the benefit the research might have for humans. One student said that it seemed justified, and while sacrificing a few rats isn’t ideal, we don’t necessarily live in an ideal world. Another commented, with a fair point that, “you don’t really need to get a purchase of a rat trap approved by an ethics board to snap the rats neck, you know?”
Some students were aware, and many of these students commented on the strictness of the ethics process the research has to go through. A student who had previously looked into it stated that she feels it is okay “because [she] heard the process is very strict, as in like they have to go through a lot of steps and protocol to approve ethics.” This view seems to be supported by the animal care program website, which lists the process researchers must undergo, including applications, training, ethics approval, supervision, and more.
So, the clinic doesn’t necessarily seem like a bad thing. For those who were unaware of the clinic, including myself prior to this article, perhaps the lack of awareness comes from the lab’s worry of criticism. Seeing as multiple anti UBCO animal research pages popped up during my research, this seems well founded. Students on campus, however, seem to largely support the research being done, since it will likely benefit humans greatly. Hopefully from here, awareness of the lab will rise, and the level of secrecy surrounding it will decrease.