File photo: AP

Rome - A veterinary medicine student in Italy has received death threats after posting a message on Facebook defending medical tests on animals, which she said helped save her life from a serious illness, local media reported on Sunday.

Caterina Simonsen, 25, suffers from four rare genetic diseases, which force her to use breathing machines to stay alive. On December 20, Simonsen posted a photo of herself on Facebook, with a message stating that without “proper (medical) research, which includes animal testing (...) I would have died aged nine.”

Simonsen, who is currently hospitalised for a lung infection, uploaded a YouTube video two days later, reporting that she had received “more than 30 calls for her death and more than 500 insults” because of her message.

“Nazi-animalists will not stop me. Mine is a battle for life,” she was quoted as saying in a Sunday interview with La Repubblica newspaper. “I want to get a degree so that I can save animals, but I have to tell you that today, experimenting on animals in Italy is necessary, as long as there are no useful alternatives,” she said in another video message broadcast by the SkyTG24 news channel. Simonsen launched her appeal in reaction to criticism by the European Animalist Party (Pae) - an Italy-based group -against Telethon, an annual fundraising TV campaign for medical research.

Pae urged people to boycott Telethon because of its support for animal testing. One person responded to her Facebook message by writing that her life was worth less than that of 10 rats.

Her reply was: “I don't know where you live, who raised you. These people, don't they take medicines, don't they cure their children and pets?”

Pae President Stefano Fuccelli reacted on Sunday by casting doubts on whether Simonsen had actually been insulted by “extremist animalists,” and suggested that her story had been whipped up by the media to discredit alternative, non-vivisection based treatments.

He mentioned the so-called Stamina Method, sponsored by Davide Vannoni, a former businessman with no medical training, which Italian authorities have refused to approve because so far there is no evidence of its effectiveness.

“I believe in (medical) research, while there are people like Davide Vannoni of Stamina, who attract the masses, but without any scientific results,” Simonsen told La Repubblica. - Sapa-dpa