UBC Support for Professor Emerita Joanne Weinberg’s Research

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The research of Professor Emerita and Distinguished University Scholar, Joanne Weinberg has recently been the focus of animal rights activist petitions and posters on campus.

The petition and poster campaign is focused on the use of the forced swim test. Dr. Weinberg has no active research studies utilizing the forced swim test, and any future use of the test, like all research with animals at UBC, would be subject to approval from the UBC Animal Care Committee. This committee has public and academic membership, and approval involves multiple factors, including a determination of whether the research goals can be achieved without the use of animals.

Dr. Weinberg’s research is focused on reducing the devastating impact of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and other adverse early life experiences on brain, biological and immune system development. FASD has an estimated prevalence in the general Canadian population of 4%, and much higher in more vulnerable groups (https://canfasd.ca/topics/prevalence/). Dr. Weinberg’s groundbreaking clinical work is underpinned by her research in the laboratory, which has provided information critical to understanding the impact of alcohol and early life adversity on the brain, the stress system, and the immune system, and how these changes impact brain development, behaviour, health and well-being from birth to adulthood. Her work illustrates how research can move from bench to bedside and back, to advance knowledge of a disorder such as FASD, which has devastating effects on child health and resilience.

UBC researchers make every effort to replace research animals with inanimate systems, reduce the number of animals involved, and refine husbandry and experimental procedures to minimize pain and distress. While mathematical and non-animal models are becoming increasingly sophisticated, in many circumstances they are not able to replicate the complexity and unpredictability of living biological systems. When replacement with non-animal resources is not possible we strongly encourage reduction in numbers of animals used and the use of animals at a lower evolutionary level through careful design of experiments and continual refinement as new technologies arise.

UBC has numerous safeguards in place to ensure responsible research. Peer review ensures scientific justification for the use of animals in research studies and all procedures must be reviewed and approved by the university's Animal Care Committee. Research is carefully reviewed by veterinarians trained in laboratory animal medicine and ultimately overseen by the Canadian Council on Animal Care.