National Institute for Medical Research, London




"The publicity forced them to take the action which they should have taken much earlier."

(MRC Inquiry Report page 41)

This project was instigated by Melody Macdonald. Horrified after reading scientific papers detailing experimental work with animals at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), London by aged Professor Wilhelm Feldberg (1900-1993) she phoned him and expressed fascination in his research. Flattered by her interest Professor Feldberg invited Melody to his laboratory at the NIMR in Mill Hill. She witnessed an experiment on a rabbit when she first visited on 18 May 1988. She visited again on 13 July 1988 and saw an experiment on a cat. Melody then tried to interest the animal welfare/rights movement, and the media, in her ability to gain virtually free access to this laboratory. Incredibly she found little interest. Her investigations continued.

In December 1988 Melody and a journalist went for dinner with Professor Feldberg. Throughout early 1989 Melody continually sought assistance with her investigations. In April 1989 an accident changed the course of the earlier experiments. A table lamp used to illuminate the operating table fell towards the abdomen of an anaesthetised cat. Subsequent tests showed that hyperglycaemia had occurred (raising of the blood sugar level). Professor Feldberg was intrigued and sought to investigate further. Despite it being well known that burns and other forms of trauma raise the blood sugar level the Home Office readily agreed to the new work and duly amended Professor Feldbergs' Project Licence in September 1989. The project was billed as being of relevance to Diabetes, i.e. Medical Research.

Meanwhile Melody continued her search for help and eventually in the Autumn of 1989 she found interest abroad. On 8 November 1989 she took Dr Michael Fox of the Humane Society of the United States into the NIMR. They witnessed an experiment on a tabby cat and Dr Fox took some excellent photographs. Dr Fox later described that experiment as "crude if not absurd". To this observation the Medical Research Council (MRC) Inquiry Report added their own: "Our view is that, applied to the methodology, the word "crude" is not inappropriate". (MRC Report, page 19).

ACIG gets involved

In November 1989 an ACIG supporter put Melody and myself in contact. We arranged another laboratory visit at the earliest opportunity. On the afternoon of 7 December 1989 we arrived armed with 35mm cameras and an ACIG videocamera.

We explained that Dr Fox had asked for more photographs. We also asked permission to use the videocamera ("to demonstrate animal experimentation in the UK to American students".) Professor Feldberg agreed. The animal selected on that day was a cat. First anaesthetised at 09.30hrs, its abdomen was heated by a table lamp being lowered to just above the skin and at 15.41hrs it died. The cat was then dissected and its heart cut out.

Experiment on a rabbit

On the morning of 15 December 1989 we returned to see an experiment on a rabbit. We saw the rabbit given its first dose of anaesthetic, Sagatal. The following incidents were recorded by the videocamera:-

10.43-10.45 : More Sagatal given. The rabbit jumps as Professor Feldberg attempts to inject Sagatal into the vein in the ear. Having difficulty piercing the vein Professor Feldberg remarks: "Can't see it, that's the trouble."

10.49-11.00: The technician, John Stean, attempts to string out the rabbit on the operating table. The rabbit, supposedly anaesthetised, moves and screams. More Sagatal is given.

11.09-11.22: Attempts to insert a venous cannula. (This is a tube inserted into a vein primarily for the administration of intravenous fluids and for the obtaining of blood samples). The rabbit jumps. Eventually, after 13 minutes, the venous cannula is in place.

12.09-12.10: Questioned concerning legal changes resulting from the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and its effect on his work, Professor Feldberg replies: "I don't know what the changes were."

12.18: Asked about others doing similar research to his Professor Feldberg replies: "I don't know because I never read other people's papers."

12.48: Professor Feldberg has fallen asleep at his desk.

13.21-13.23: The rabbit is now under the lamp that is placed very close to its abdomen. John Stean comments: "There is a faint smell of cooking" then laughs. The temperatures recorded from this living rabbit are: rectal: 38.8ºC; visceral: 41.4ºC; subcutaneous: 83.4ºC; epidermal (the outer layer of the skin): 131.5ºC

13.31-13.32: The camera records the scorched abdomen on the rabbit.

14.39: The rabbit is dead.

The MRC inquiry report said of this day "there was, possibly, a degree of avoidable pain."

Rabbit inflates

I returned to the NIMR, this time on my own, on 21 December 1989. The following incidents were recorded by my videocamera that day.

11.09-11.16: Professor Feldberg uses a scalpel to cut into the rabbits' leg to insert a venous cannula. The rabbit moves. Professor Feldberg comments: "It is light" (he meant that it was lightly anaesthetised) but he does nothing to alleviate this situation and continues using his scalpel. The rabbit moves again. John Stean warns: "I don't think you're going to get away with it Prof." The rabbit struggles furiously on the operating table then screams. More Sagatal is injected into the rabbit. (This sequence of film was widely shown on television soon after the investigation ended.)

11.48-11.50: A sequence of film leads to John Stean commenting about the rabbit: "the belly looks distended Prof." The rabbit lifts its head twice. John Stean warns: "probably a bit on the light side Prof........lifting its head a bit."

11.58-12.08: During these ten minutes the rabbit is beginning to inflate and is dying. John Stean remarks: "something must be leaking, it must be." The rabbit dies.

The MRC inquiry noted the struggles of this rabbit on page 13 of their report but made no observation in their findings as to it suffering.

New Year new rabbit

Christmas 1989 passed and I returned to the laboratory, again on my own, on 10 January 1990. There were again problems with the anaesthetic and the rabbit struggling. The anglepoise lamp was first placed over the abdomen of the rabbit at 14.38. Soon afterwards the rabbit kicked out so violently that all four thermometers were ejected. More anaesthetic was administered. The lamp was placed back above the abdomen. Soon afterwards I pointed out to John Stean that part of the intestines were hanging out of the rabbit and were directly under the lamp. These intestines were pushed back in. The recorded visceral temperature rocketed, too high for the scale of their thermometer to record. The rabbit died soon after 15.30.

The MRC inquiry reported that this rabbit "probably suffered unnecessarily."

Here is a clip from the video taken on 10 January 1990:-

I tried, without success, to visit the laboratory again in February. Firstly John Stean was off sick, then Professor Feldberg was away on holiday.

Avoidable pain

On 30 March I returned to the NIMR. This day they tested the effects of an alpha-adrenergic blocker on the rabbit. There was no heating of the abdomen. The MRC inquiry notes (page 13): "one incident when a sample of blood is being obtained from the rabbit. It struggles, obviously distressed." They found that this rabbit suffered "a degree of avoidable pain."

Advocates for Animals

My next visit was on 5 April 1990 with Les Ward, Director of Advocates for Animals. A rabbit was used, and killed, but it was purely a control experiment, there was no heating employed.

Unnecessary suffering

My final day in the NIMR was when I visited on my own on 23 April 1990. Again a rabbit was used. The following account is based on the Advocates for Animals report of that day.

11.35-11.36: Sequence shows Professor Feldberg informing me (Huskisson) that he is about to insert a tracheal cannula......I tell Professor Fedlberg: "I think you'll need some more anaesthetic. It's a bit light." Professor Feldberg replies: "Let me have a look" and promptly attempts to insert the cannula into the base of the neck. The rabbit jumps. Professor Feldberg uses the scalpel four other times. Each time the rabbit jumps. Professor Fedlberg comments: "I think we might get it without difficulty." He then uses surgical scissors. As he snips the rabbit moves. As he continues snipping the rabbit is constantly squirming and lifts its head off the operating table. This continues for some time while the rabbit moves violently. Professor Feldberg slips his finger into the hole he has cut in the rabbits neck. He then cuts a bit of tissue out. He uses the scissors again and the rabbit moves. More tissue is taken away. He snips again and the rabbit attempts to get up off the operating table. Professor Feldberg snips again and again following which there is a violent reaction from the rabbit. Professor Feldberg, by now operating beyond the chest wall, is snipping away with the rabbit still moving. As the cannula is tied on the rabbit struggles violently and jumps numerous times.

Later, as we are all due to depart for lunch, I comment that the rabbit has again moved. John Stean reports this: "I think it's a little on the light side possibly Prof." The rabbit then attempts to get up on the operating table and John Stean observes: "Yes, oh gosh, it's getting up Prof." John Stean holds the rabbit down. More Sagatal is injected into it. In the afternoon, when the lamp is lowered to just above the abdomen in the usual way the rabbit again struggles. It dies around 14.30. Of these events the MRC inquiry report is unequivocal: "unnecessary suffering was caused to a rabbit on 23rd April 1990."

Melody and I acquired other evidence. I recorded a telephone conversation that I had with John Stean on 29 April 1990. Questioned as to Professor Feldberg's willingness to take professional advice John Stean comments: "The last person in the lab he worked with was (Professor) Gordon Bisset. They did a number of experiments together but I think in the end Gordon decided that it, again this is in confidence, that it was just too difficult to work with him you know." John Stean develops this theme: "It's a great pity really....this last five years, you know, has seen a marked deterioration in him, you know at first physically I now mentally to quite a degree." Later in our conversation I returned to this matter of failing faculties and asked about the response of the Home Office Inspectors. John Stean explained the situation to me: "There was an Inspector before Dr Brouwer....we saw him oh it must have been at least two years ago....when we were regularly doing recovery animals.....Prof. took him over to see everything....cats with the venous cannulas and everything, and he made a comment, the Inspector to me afterwards, that Prof. had had great difficulty in getting the needle in the cannula, you know because of his eyesight....but I said he always manages you know to cannulate them. A little strange isn't it, you know, that this one, sort of three Inspectors ago, not on his mental ability but on his physical ability, you know cos his eyesight wasn't very good, did notice that, but neither of the other two did." John Stean also explained to me the problems caused to Professor Feldberg by his own urinary incontinence. I had queried this with John Stean because it had seemed so shocking and degrading to me to see the Professor sat in a pool of his own urine then going for his lunch break in urine soaked trousers and being as a result the cause of some mirth for his junior colleagues. John Stean also confirmed that the NIMR authorities had allowed them to continue their experiments at least until September 1990.

With the evidence gathered to end these experiments we set about doing that. The matter was raised at the Animal Procedures Committee on 3 May 1990. The next day, less than five months after my initial visit to the NIMR laboratory, Professor Feldberg and John Stean handed in their Home Offices licences and gave up. On 9 May Advocates for Animals publicised the investigation. The MRC responded by setting up an inquiry to which I gave evidence on 26 September 1990. The inquiry published their report in February 1991. In addition to the findings previously quoted some other findings of interest were as follows:

"Professor Feldberg: When the Professor started his experiments of heating the abdomen of animals, that work was not covered by the project licence. That was a breach of the Act.

After the point had been drawn to his attention, he, nevertheless, continued with one or two more experiments. That was a deliberate breach of the Act.

On a number of occasions he failed to maintain an adequate level of anaesthetic. That constituted an inadvertent breach of his personal licence conditions. It also meant that the work was unauthorised by the project licence.

The Home Office: The Home Secretary failed to weigh adequately the likely benefit of the research against the likely adverse effects on the animals involved, as he is required to do under Section 5(4) (of the 1986 Act). If he had done so, it is reasonably certain that the amendment to the project licence which allowed the heating of animals abdomen would not have been granted. The Home Office Inspectors failed to comply with their statutory duties when they did not act as promptly and effectively as they should have done when they were becoming increasingly aware of difficulties involving Professor Feldberg. The publicity forced them to take the action which they should have taken much earlier."

I add the following comments:

1). Professor Feldberg committed a deliberate breach of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. In my opinion he should have been prosecuted for this. No-one, however old, should be above the law. If he was not too old to do the experiments he was not too old to answer for them in court.

2). According to a report in the London Standard 9 May 1990 Home Office Inspectors made 14 visits to check on Professor Feldberg's work in 1989 alone. This surely made his laboratory one of the most closely scrutinised and supervised of any in the UK. John Stean had revealed that the incompetence of Professor Feldberg had been detected years before the work ended. Why had this cruelty been allowed to continue for so long? What goes on in the other UK laboratories?

3). Professor Feldberg believed as we had told him that our video was to be used as a teaching aid for students in America. It is surely fair to assume that he performed at his best for the camera that he knew and could see was filming him? If in the alternative we had used hidden cameras what manner of incompetence might we then have recorded? Just what suffering was inflicted on animals on the many occasions when we were not there to record it?

4). Underfunding of the NHS continues to cause immense suffering. That by contrast there is seemingly no shortage of public money to fund the futile animal experimentation that I filmed at the NIMR is abhorrent.

5). Vivisection continues thanks to enforced public ignorance. The public invariably, in one way or another, fund such cruelty and frequently suffer from the side-effects of inaccurate and haphazard animal studies. Where there is public funding there should be real public accountability. The public have a right to know just what is happening within these laboratories.

The book Caught in the Act The Feldberg Investigation by Melody MacDonald gives a detailed account of this investigation. It was published in 1994 and has the ISBN 1-897766-05-X

Here is a link to a Newsnight report from July 1990 that makes extensive reference to this investigation:-

Professor Feldberg died on October 23rd 1993.

Mike Huskisson

(Founder ACIG)