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Vulnerability and Power: A Conversation with Dr. Alka Chandna on the Science and Ethics of Transforming Medical Research

by the PZI Team

January 24, 2023

Having come from an activist family, Dr. Alka Chandna has been advocating for the rights, health, and wellbeing of people, animals, and the planet for most of her life.

She started out working on human rights issues, and then, in college, she read an article about animal experimentation that “shook me to my core.”

Since then, Dr. Chandna has been working to advance human and animal rights, including through her work since 2003 with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Currently, Dr. Chandna works to transform medical research as PETA’s Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Cases.

Dr. Alka Chanda at a conference focused on transforming medical research
Dr. Alka Chandna at a conference, working to transform medical research.

Phoenix Zones Initiative’s mission focus is on structural solutions–dismantling exploitative systems and creating new ones that enable everyone to thrive–which is why we were delighted to talk with Dr. Chandna about the science and ethics of research using animals, and what we can do to transform medical research and end the use of animals in laboratories.

The Connection Between Animals and Social Justice

Dr. Chandna talks about the connections between efforts to end the use of animals in laboratories and other social justice efforts:

The Realities of Animal Testing

Dr. Chandna talks about the problems with oversight of animal experimentation and “the amount of violence and pain and agony and misery that is infused in that term”:

“I think we can easily find ourselves in a place where we think: How are we going to go up against this industry? We’re not that powerful . . . . But then I think about that monkey who did what she could, which was to reach out and try to stop the violence of that technician. And I think, who am I to say that I’m not powerful? . . . There is really no end to what we can do. And I think that by recognizing the vulnerability of the animals who are imprisoned in the laboratories, who are being tormented, who are being killed–recognizing their vulnerability, and then recognizing how much power we have . . . . What that means is that not only do we have this power, but we need to use this power.” ~ Dr. Alka Chandna

Vulnerability and Power

Dr. Chandna shares what she has learned from reviewing difficult information about the suffering and mistreatment of animals used in experiments, and what a brave monkey taught her about vulnerability and power:

The Translation Failures of Using Animals in Research

Dr. Chandna discusses the clear evidence that most experiments on animals don’t translate to helping humans, and the need to change the incentives that preference research using animals:

The “Echo Chamber” of Using Animals in Research

Dr. Chandna highlights the “echo chamber” that can make it challenging for researchers who use animals to step outside their comfort zones and recognize the necessity of transforming medical research to focus on human-centered methods:

Two Key Strategies for Transforming Medical Research

Dr. Chandna touches on two key strategies for advancing modern, ethical research methods:

Phoenix Zones Initiative is grateful to be working with medical, public health, legal, and ethics experts like Dr. Chandna to transform medical research so that it protects and benefits both people and animals.

Transforming medical research will lead to

  • A more ethical and just research paradigm.
  • Federal funding shifts.
  • Improved standards in academic research and publication standards.
  • More innovative and ethical education, training, and career pathways and pipelines.
  • A coordinated and strategic roadmap toward more modernization and innovation that protects and benefits people and animals.

Find out more about how you can take action.

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