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'Monkey Business' Ends At UConn Health Center


UCONN DAILY CAMPUS

'Monkey Business' Ends At UConn Health Center
By Andrew Porter
Issue date: 1/24/07 Section: News

The controversial research on non-human primates at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) has been stopped.

The research, which involved implanting coils into the eyes of rhesus macaque monkeys and drilling a hole into their heads, has been the subject of many protests, led in large part by UConn graduate student Justin Goodman.

According to documents from the USDA and the UCHC Animal Care Committee, the USDA made an inspection of the research facility on Aug. 29. Two days later on Aug. 31, Dr. David Waitzman, who was in charge of the research, voluntarily stopped his experiments. Then, on Sept. 6, UConn's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee revoked Waitzman's ability to continue the research.

The committee's decision came more than four months after UConn President Philip Austin said in a May 2 letter to the university community that UConn has "dealt successfully with problems related to research animal care."

According to Goodman, the USDA has now launched a formal investigation into the research, which can result in a formal charge with the Secretary of Agriculture as well as fines for the UCHC.

The UConn Animal Care Committee also formed a subcommittee to review the research. The subcommittee reviewed USDA inspection reports as well as an anonymous letter which alleged that one of the researchers assisting Waitzman was unfit to work with the monkeys and was cruel to the animals.

The subcommittee's final report included six recommendations. One suggested that Waitzman should receive a letter of reprimand signed by the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, Dr. Peter Deckers, while another suggested that any future animal use by Dr. Waitzman should be reviewed monthly.

"I feel this is a step in the right direction," said Goodman. However he cautioned that he didn't feel his work was done. "The school hasn't agreed to permanently stop the research ... The next phase is to encourage the school to place a permanent moratorium on non-human primate research."

Goodman also added that the stoppage of Waitzman's research felt "bittersweet" because "In the last year or so three monkeys died and one got sent to research elsewhere." According to Goodman, he had acquired funds to transfer the final monkey, as well as locate sanctuaries willing to house it, but the school declined his offer.

"I think when most people think of animal research they think of lab coats, Petri dishes and sterile white rooms," Goodman said. "In reality, it is demonstrably bloody and violent ... the animals don't want to be there."

The Daily Campus contacted the UCHC for this story, however, no member of the UCHC would comment.

The UCHC did release a statement that broadly defended its research practices and said in part, "Researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center are in the forefront of developing vaccines, treatments, and cures that will improve, prolong, and save human life. Part of this research effort involves the humane and ethical use of animals, including primates. The UConn Health Center is committed to full compliance with all relevant animal welfare laws and guidelines followed by major research universities throughout the country. We constantly monitor and evaluate our use of animals in research to remain in compliance and improve the quality of our animal care activities."

"David Waitzman has had $1.7 million to do his research and he produced no useful data," Goodman said. "And that is because the animals won't give him the data he wants."

"The public support shows people don't like [the research]," he added. "And the administration's continuous denial to engage us in debate shows that there is no scientific, moral, or ethical way to defend it."

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UCONN DAILY CAMPUS

LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Justin Goodman
Jan 24, 2007

In the Jan. 22 Commentary section of The Daily Campus, an editorial was published lauding UConn for its decision to discontinue David Waitzman's nonhuman primate research at the Farmington Health Center. While the piece acknowledged the most immediate methodological concerns that ultimately ended the project, the authors fail to recognize the decidedly problematic nature of research on non-human primates, and all non-human animals, in general.

An abundance of evidence shows animal models to be poor predictors of human maladies and drug treatment. Further, accepting animal testing entails failing to recognize the moral and ethical implications that years of intensive research on non-human animals now presents - ones that threaten to trump the potency of frequently uncontested appeals to the scientific efficacy of animal research.

The scientific community includes many researchers who not only question the ethical nature of animal experiments, but their validity altogether. For example, a literature review of over 2,000 scholarly articles that was recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (296:14, 2006) found that of the 76 animal studies identified, only eight were successfully replicated in humans and led to a therapy being subsequently approved for human use. Similarly, a December 2006 literature review article published in the British Medical Journal (Dec 2006) reported that "many studies in animal models are of poor methodological quality" and that "lack of concordance between animal experiments and clinical trials may be due to the failure of animal models to adequately represent human disease." These results, of course, do not account for the plethora of studies that fail and remain unpublished in perpetuity.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) estimate that for every 1,000 drugs that are tested on animals, only one reaches human clinical trials. Two salient examples of dangerous drugs that made it to human clinical trials were recently hot topics of discussion in mainstream media: TGN1412 and, more currently, Pfizer's torcetrapid. Both were shown to be safe in animal models but ultimately led to deaths in human subjects. Of the drugs that make it to these human trials, only one in five are eventually approved by the FDA.That's a staggering failure rate of roughly 99.99 percent! And, adding insult to injury, the drugs that reach the shelves cause over 700,000 hospital visits (i.e. Vioxx, Paxil) (AP, 10/17/06) and 100,000 deaths every year (JAMA, 279: 1200-5, 1216-7, 1998) making them the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. These data must not be taken lightly.

Echoing the above concerns, in January 2006, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt expressed the need to encourage earlier use of human drug trials stating that, "Currently, nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies." Fundamental biochemical and genetic differences between species render animal models of human disorders futile. In the specific case of non-human primates, witness the continued failure of researchers to find effective treatments or effectively identify the pathologies of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke using monkeys as models. In the case of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, despite pouring billions into animal research, effective treatments for these have arisen from non-animal in vitro and in silico methods. There is a battery of such non-animal and human-based tests that provides us with valid information that can be reliably and safely extrapolated to the clinic.

So, when researchers claim, as they invariably will, that they have happened upon, via animal experimentation, some isolated scientific breakthrough that is of direct relevance to human health, it is important to remember that the overwhelmingly majority of such studies fail and they will most certainly not tell you about all of those.

Animal research is not essential as many scientists commonly espouse. In fact, the use of animal models represents a conscious decision to engage in an enterprise that is both ethically and scientifically at odds with what empirical data and common sense would have us believe.

In a 2005 Nature piece titled "Natural Symmetry," Gay Bradshaw and Barbara Finlay raised the issue of what they called unidirectional inference.

That is, given the wealth of rich, empirical data that scientists have accrued about the interspecies continuity of behavior, psychology, physiology and emotion, serious consideration must now be given to deconstructing the arbitrary wall that science has continually erected between animals, human and non. What scientists have found is that amongst all of these similarities there exist no morally relevant differences between species that would justify the subjugation of nonhuman animals in biomedical research any more than it would, say, justify the forcible use of orphaned babies in biomedical research. If, as we continually discover, human and many non-animals suffer and experience the psychological and physical effects of pain in similar ways, it is therefore morally unacceptable to inflict physical violence, whether in a lab or factory farm, upon either.

Finally, while scientists who advocate for the use of non-animal models are marginalized and animal rights activists are villified, who will protect us and our non-human brothers and sisters against, as Sarah Wolfensohn put it in a recent Nature piece, the "over-zealous scientists who are single-mindedly pursuing their scientific goal" with little regard for the advancement of ethical, useful medicine?

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