People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has come out against the work of University of Delaware professor Dr. Tania Roth, who studies the biological effects of childhood mistreatment using rats.
The animal rights group has sent letters of complaint to UD President Dennis Assanis and Diana Bianchi of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a funder of Roth’s research.
Roth, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, researches how caregiver mistreatment and childhood trauma change gene expression in the brain, and whether this affects behavior. The University says Roth’s research has led to advancements helping at-risk children heal from abuse and overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
But Roth uses rats as her model organism, and Dr. Alka Chandna of PETA says they are put through cruel experiments.
The animal rights organization’s Dr. Ingrid Taylor thinks inducing stress in rats as a proxy for human children is not just cruel, it’s bad science.
“While rats are complex beings, they are not small humans, and it’s not possible to replicate the complexities of human trauma and abuse in a controlled laboratory setting,” Taylor said.
The UD professor’s research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, and cited by hundreds of other scientists. A UD spokesperson says University researchers use alternatives to live animals whenever possible, and follow all guidelines from the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.
But PETA representatives who spoke in Newark Thursday say such regulatory standards for the treatment of animals are part of the problem.
They’re pushing for a change to the Delaware Criminal Code, which penalizes cruelty to animals, but exempts animals used in lab research from that protection.
According to Chandna, PETA hopes to put pressure on research institutions and lawmakers through social media campaigns and drumming up student support for their cause on campuses like UD’s.
“To be perfectly plain, we would like to see that laboratory shut down,” said Chandna. “We also think this is a good opportunity for the University of Delaware and, frankly, research institutions across the country to take a good long look at their evaluative processes when they determine what experiments are going to be greenlighted.”
PETA representatives say a protest of Dr. Roth’s lab is still in the planning stages.