Animal Rights

Activists Release Milan University’s Laboratory Animals, Set Research Back Years

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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Five animal-rights activists trashed a lab in the University of Milan’s pharmacology department, destroying research, releasing mice and rabbits, and mixing up labels to confuse researchers. They chained themselves to doors and had to be negotiated with by police and the lab director. Activists left with animals, some of them with very fragile health. 

Scientists say it will take years to recover their research, much of which relied on genetic models for psychiatric research on disorders like autism and schizophrenia. Much of the lab’s funding is for research into incurable illnesses like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and Prader Willi syndrome.

“It will take three people at least a year to build up the colonies we had of mouse models of different psychiatric diseases,” said University of Milan neurobiologist Michela Matteoli, who researches autism and lost most of her own work in the attack.

The break-in took place on Saturday morning. No arrests have been made. There were no signs of forced entry, which suggests the activists had an electronic key card to the building, said pharmacologist Francesca Guidobono-Cavalchini.

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On the fourth floor, the activists pried open reinforced doors. Two of them chained themselves by the neck to the main doors so that if someone attempting to stop the intruders opened the doors it would endanger their lives.

The group that staged the break in, calling itself Fermare Green Hill (Stop Green Hill), also wants to shut down the Green Hill dog-breeding facility new Brescia, Italy.

They posted pictures and video of the Milan break-in to their website. Translated from their Italian website, the group said, “These animals did not choose to be there and have no chance to leave.”

“Each of us is the voice of those captive animals and we purport liberation.”

Activists brought sleeping bags and food, planning to stay at the lab, while many other activists reportedly demonstrated outside.

Guidobono-Cavalchini said scientists coming to work found dozens of military and civil police at the lab. Deputy director of the department Paola Viana tried to help police negotiate with the activists. Fermare Green Hill left with fewer than 100 animals on the condition that they could return for the rest later.

Some of the mice they took are immunosuppressed “nude” mice and delicate mutants, which will die rapidly outside of the controlled lab environment.

On Sunday, 60 scientists demonstrated in Milan against the misinformation and bullying tactics they say Fermare Green Hill uses, according to Italian media. In an open letter they say the activists not only destroyed years of scientific research but also wasted hundreds of thousands of euros in funding.

Sources: TheScientist, Nature.com