Rabbits used in invasive spinal cord injury experiment

Leonard A.V., Thornton E., Vink R. ‘NK1 receptor blockade is ineffective in improving outcome following a balloon compression model of spinal cord injury’. PLoS One. 2014 May 23; 9(5): e98364. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098364

The Experiment

In an attempt to investigate traumatic spinal cord injury, 88 rabbits were used in an experiment by the University of Adelaide.

All 88 rabbits were subjected to a balloon-compression technique to artificially produce spinal cord injury.

The procedure involves the insertion of a catheter (a tube) into the dorsal epidural space through a small hole made in the vertebral arch (part of the spinal column). This is used to inflate the balloon for 5 minutes, with the increasing volume of saline used to inflate the balloon causing spinal cord damage.

The spinal cord damage is graded according to balloon volume and neurological and histopathological outcomes that present. For example, 15 microliters produces complete impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower extremities (‘paraplegia’).

Thirty minutes after having spinal cord injury induced, all rabbits were administered intravenously either with a drug (NK1 receptor antagonist), or saline (placebo).


  • Five hours afterwards, 16 rabbits were injected with dye, and then killed and had their spinal cords dissected.
  • Three days afterwards 13 rabbits were killed, then had their spinal cords dissected and dried in an oven.
  • 16 rabbits underwent a tracheotomy (an incision in the front of the neck), and the right and left femoral artery were dissected. A probe was then inserted into the left artery to monitor blood pressure and spinal cord pressure for five hours.
  • 18 rabbits had their sensor and motor ability measured 3, 7, 10 and 14 days post- induced spinal cord injury.
  • 55 rabbits were assessed for histological outcomes using immunohistochemicaltechniques.

Relevance to Humans

Rabbits differ greatly from humans in their anatomy, genetics and metabolism, making them inappropriate for use in studying human spinal cord injury.

In fact, within the conclusions of the publication, the researchers themselves do not mention any benefits of the study specific to human health outcomes. Using rabbits to study human disease can result in erroneous data, which is unable to be extrapolated to humans.

Given the widespread presence of spinal cord injury among human individuals, one must seriously question why the researchers engaged in this study did not utilise a human sample to conduct this study, and/or advanced human biology-based methods of research, in order for results to be directly relevant to human health outcomes.

“Rabbits are widely used for experimentation and testing mainly due to practical, rather than scientific, considerations. They are small and usually docile, easily restrained, cheap to maintain, and breed prodigiously.”

– American Anti-Vivisection Society


The experiment was funded by the Neil Sachse Foundation and the University of Adelaide.

What You Can Do

Please use the form below to tell University of Adelaide, how disappointed you are with their use of animals in this experiment. You can use the text provided or compose your own (remember personalised messages carry more weight).

Your message will be sent via email to the Vice-Chancellor.

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And contact the Neil Sachse Foundation, asking that they no longer fund unscientific animal-based experiments:

Neil Sachse Foundation
Level 3, 141 Ifould Street
Adelaide SA 5000
Email: contact@nsf.org.au


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