The forced swim test is an abhorrent experiment that uses animals to study depression in humans. The test has been duly criticized as being exceptionally cruel and of limited applicability to human depression. It involves trapping mice and rats in inescapable cylinders of water and observing them while they struggle to stay afloat, with the dubious assumption that those who “give up” are depressed.
Now, a state parliamentary inquiry and report by the New South Wales (NSW) government in Australia is the latest to recommend that the forced swim test “be rapidly phased out” because it causes “extreme harm” to animals.
Please join CAARE is calling on the U.S. National Institutes of Health to heed the conclusions of the NSW report and decommission the use of the forced swim test in NIH-funded research.
The findings of the report are compelling. Testimony by Dr Sarah Toole, Animal Welfare Officer and Veterinarian at the Wollongong University, noted that animals have been observed to drown during the test, including some who were later shown to have died from aspiration of water in the lungs.
As a result, several Australian universities have made a voluntary commitment to cease using the forced swim test. Importantly, the forced swim test has been withdrawn by numerous global pharmaceutical companies, including Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and AstraZeneca because of animal welfare concerns and lack of applicability to human depression.
A growing body of evidence shows that the forced swim test is not an accurate screening tool for antidepressants. The director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Joshua Gordon, has said that NIMH discourages the use of the forced swim test because “these tests in particular are recognized by many scientists as lacking sufficient mechanistic specificity to be of general use in clarifying the neurobiological mechanisms underlying human depression.”
And yet the NIMH funded nearly one-third of the 27 NIH projects that employed the forced swim test in 2022, subjecting animals to emotional and physical trauma in scientifically questionable experiments.
Despite Dr. Gordon’s statement that the NIMH discourages the test, his agency awarded over $4 million in grants for studies using the forced swim test, while NIH’s total cost financing studies using the test amounted to over $11.7 million in 2022.
Many other divisions at NIH use this cruel test, including one study funded by the National Institute on Aging that used the forced swim test on aging mice with induced stroke through arterial occlusion, requiring these disabled and vulnerable animals to fight for their lives in merciless and ineffectual research.
These cruel animal experiments add nothing to our ability to treat the estimated 300 million people worldwide who suffer from depression. Such treatments can only come from quality, human-relevant research, such as brain-imaging studies, human tissue analysis, pharmacogenomics, and clinical surveys, to name a few.
The New South Wales report highlighted the significant harm to animals caused by the forced swim test and recommended it be phased out. The NIH should follow their example and that of numerous pharmaceutical companies that have made the commitment to stop using the forced swim test.
Please send your polite letter today to officials at NIH and NIMH to take steps to end the use of the forced swim test in federally funded research.
Thank you for speaking up for animals suffering in labs!
Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research and Experimentation (CAARE), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, established to highlight and promote research without animals.
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