Erin Bailey takes part in a virtual alien abduction at 36th and Walnut Streets on Friday. The experience is designed to parallel the sci-fi scenario with medical research on animals.

The PETA Virtual Experiment at Penn equates animal medical research with human testing. Scientists are unsure of the analogy.

On Friday, animal rights activists staged a virtual reality alien abduction on the University of Pennsylvania campus to encourage people to consider lab animal experiments.

A virtual reality helmet and earphones immersed the participants in a a first-person perspective centered on a story in which X-Files-style bug-eyed aliens pushed and experimented on captured young couple after a flat tire left them stranded in the desert. During the experiment, participants sat in a reclining chair in the back of a truck as they watched the close encounter.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals hosted the roughly six-minute virtual experience as part of a tour of colleges, including other Ivy League schools, in recent weeks. The next stop is the University of Virginia. The exhibit was not affiliated with the university.

Marnie Chambless, a PETA spokeswoman who ran the van at 36th Street and Walnut Streets with “Abduction” written across the front, noted that attendees found the experience an illuminating metaphor for the animal experience in captivity.

“People are just letting us know that the analogy is right,” she said.

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PETA encourages researchers to move from animals to computer modeling or human volunteers for their trials. But in the real world, experts say, animal testing serves a valuable purpose.

Animal research at the University of Pennsylvania “aims to find treatments and cures for some of the most challenging diseases of our time, both for humans and animals,” said Ron Ozio, spokesman for the University of Pennsylvania. university.

The university’s laboratories are monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture, which conducts spot inspections to ensure that ventilation, nutrition, and veterinary medical care meet federal standards.

Penn’s animal research programs and facilities are also accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International.

Computer modeling still isn’t comparable to testing on live animals, according to an explanation on the Stanford University School of Medicine website. The complexity of the pulmonary and circulatory systems means that animal testing remains the best way to understand the effectiveness or harm of potential treatments.

“Pending such a discovery, animals must continue to play a vital role in helping researchers test the efficacy and safety of potential new drugs and medical treatments, and in identifying any undesirable or dangerous side effects, such as infertility, birth defects, liver damage, toxicity, or carcinogenic potential,” the Stanford website states.

Animal testing has been a component of developing a COVID-19 vaccine and is commonly used in trials of new treatments and drugs.

PETA has reached approximately 500 people with its traveling exhibition since mid-October. people participate for different reasons, Chambless said. On a recent visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she said, some visitors seemed more interested in experiencing an alien abduction than grappling with the deeper meaning.

During Penn’s layover on Friday, nearly a dozen people had strapped on the virtual reality headset by noon to take a trip aboard the unwelcoming alien craft. The experiment put the users in a cage with the human couple, both now naked and injured, while the aliens waved a bright light at the user’s face.

“It’s pretty scary,” said Erin Bailey, 35, an animal rights-minded Penn employee, after her experience.

“I’m already vegan, so it wasn’t really anything new to me,” she said.

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Joyce Ben, 19, came to University City from Swarthmore to experience it. “I’ve never been in a virtual reality,” she said. “I was like really horrified.”

The president of that school’s vegan club, too, came in with strong concerns about animal testing.

“I think it might not be worth it,” she said.

Lissette Patterson, another Penn worker, said she used to be a vegetarian and now eats meat from time to time. She was drawn by curiosity, she said.

“I want to know what they feel,” she said of animals in labs, “what they experience.”

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