'Hideous cruelty': Call to ban mouse smoking experiments

Experiments that force live mice to inhale smoke are in the spotlight with some medical experts calling for them to be banned in Australia.

Research has involved forcing rodents into individual tight plastic tubes for extended periods, and exposing them to smoke drawn from a central tower, as part of research into respiratory illnesses.

Government documents obtained by the Animal Justice Party, which generally opposes animal testing, show experiments have been undertaken in NSW in recent years.

A stock image of white mice in a glass cage.
There are calls for smoke inhalation experiments to be banned. Source: Getty / File image

The party's Emma Hurst said she believes these smoking devices should be "banned immediately" and has vowed to take a petition to state parliament urging action.

“This is hideous cruelty, and I’m sure the community would be horrified,” she said.

Ms Hurst raised concerns that taxpayer funds have aided this animal experimentation through grants.

“It’s hard to imagine the hopelessness these animals feel, but imagine being stuck in a tube and having toxic cigarette fumes pushing into your nostrils twice a day,” she said.

“On top of that they are experiencing the pain and chronic health effects of the disease they have been given as part of the experiment itself.”

University says experiments conducted with 'integrity and scientific rigour'

Smoke inhalation experiments have been used internationally on both mice and rabbits to understand the effect smoke has on a number of illnesses including Crohn’s disease and asthma.

The University of Newcastle is one facility that has conducted these experiments in the past and they say while medical experimentation on animals is a “challenging subject”, such research is key to finding better ways to treat illness.

A stock image of a mouse in a glass tank.
While some mice are placed in containers for smoke tests, others are placed in thin tubes. Source: Getty / File image

The university’s Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Sullivan said in a statement that the experiment has been used in research to help treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease as there currently is no cure.

We remain firmly committed to the ethical treatment of animals involved in research, and we ensure that approved studies are conducted with integrity and scientific rigour,” she said.

“Our independent Animal Care and Ethics Committee and Animal Welfare Officer are there to oversee the welfare of the animals in our care.”

Expert believes forced confinement stressful for mice

Veterinary Professor Andrew Knight, who specialises in animal welfare and ethics, spoke to Yahoo News Australia from the UK, and said he had general concerns about using smoking towers.

He believes long periods of confinement could lead rodents to become stressed and forced smoke inhalation would add to their discomfort.

“Being confined in a tube where you can't breathe very well, and you're not getting enough air and feeling yourself asphyxiate is not likely to be dramatically different to experience for a mouse as it would be to a person to be honest.

“We're all mammals, we have the same sensory systems and the same reactions to those sorts of stimuli.”

Scientists concerned about smoking mouse test

Medical experts who have witnessed mouse smoking experiments, and spoke to Yahoo News Australia on the condition of anonymity, say an alternative must be found.

One expert said international pharmaceutical companies are moving away from animal experimentation, as computer modelling is often more reliable, and Australia should do the same.

Another researcher stressed they are not calling for an end to all animal experimentation, but want to see this particular device outlawed.

“I've been in animal research since the late 80s and I’ve never seen anything like this,” they said.

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