Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter
From 10 December 2001 Issue
The California Aggie
Eyes on Primate Center:
Medical research continues as moral principles are questioned
By My Ngo
Aggie Features Writer
December 04, 2001- The California Regional Primate Research Center at
UC Davis makes medical breakthroughs, but its use of animals in research is a
major point of contention for animal-rights activists who question the costs
and benefits of testing on animals.
In a recent audit, the Stop Animal Exploitation Now organization
charged the UC Davis Primate Center and 49 other national laboratories with
misconduct and inhumane care of the primates.
SAEN designed the audit to assess the use and treatment of animals in
the laboratories. The audit was developed based on information gathered from
the United States Drug Administration website and the Animal Welfare Act.
According to the evaluation, 94 percent of the laboratories reviewed
failed to follow the USDA guidelines for proper research. In addition, SAEN
alleged in a press release that the primate center abuses primates during
experimentation by denying them food and water and confining them to
"Primates are being used in highly invasive procedures that are
obviously contrary to the best interests of the animals themselves," states
Michael Budkie, the executive director of SAEN and a former
laboratory worker, said that "50 prestigious institutions [including Davis]
are systematically violating federal laws and abusing thousands of animals in
sadistic, wasteful testing."
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," he added.
However, Dr. Dallas Hyde, the director of the primate center, denied
any wrongdoing or inhumane treatment.
"We are dedicated to giv[ing] them the best care possible and do not
expose them to any unnecessary harm," he said. "Every one of the monkeys gets
a physical examination and vaccinations. They are probably healthier than you
Dr. Jeff Roberts, a scientist at the center, explained that the
primates' feeding is not compromised. He said the primates have proper diets.
However, in accordance with USDA guidelines, the primates are restricted from
certain foods at times.
"We give them food rewards as positive reinforcements," he said.
To ensure that the primate center maintains proper guidelines, bigger
watchdogs carefully oversee it.
"Everything has to be approved by the Institutional Animal Care and
Use Committee in Davis before it goes to the National Institutes of Health,"
"We go through a lot of checks and balances before the animals get
tested," said Hyde.
The IACUC reviews all protocols and ensures that the research is
humane and that the procedures comply with USDA guidelines. They may help
modify procedures to further protect the primates and minimize any distress
they may experience during research. After the committee approves the
protocol, it is submitted to the National Institutes of Health, which reviews
the scientific relevance and impact of the research and allocates grants.
"The standard is that the primates cannot lose weight during the
research experiment," said Dr. Phil Tillman of the IACUC. Throughout the
research, scientists must measure the weights, blood parameters and appetites
of the primates involved in the research. Any discrepancies or changes in
these measurements are handled and reviewed by the IACUC and the USDA. They
then make appropriate and necessary amendments to the experimental procedures.
Dr. Virginia Koch of the USDA does not recall having any major
problems with the Davis primate center.
"No action has been taken against them," she said.
Koch explained that any laboratory dealing with animals must submit a
detailed report of the progress of the research experiments. Researchers are
to report the kinds of food the primates were deprived of, the time and
frequencies of food and water deprivation and the reasons for the
In addition to the reports filed by the researchers themselves, the
USDA performs unexpected annual inspections to make sure that the research
experiments are conducted and the primates are treated according to the
One of the guidelines ensuring the welfare of the animals includes
minimizing any distress. The USDA states that "procedures with animals that
may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress should be performed
with appropriate sedation, analgesia or anesthesia. Surgical or painful
procedures should not be performed on unanesthetized animals."
According to Roberts, it is sometimes necessary to take a monkey off
analgesics for the purpose of the research because signs of discomfort can
reveal the progress and effects of the experiments.
"Monkeys are stoic," said Roberts. "It is hard to say when an animal
is in distress."
"We do try to minimize as much distress as possible. After surgery,
the primates automatically gets two days of analgesics," he said.
Those who oppose animal research often question the specific need for
"They look at the animals as inventory," said Budkie. "We're hoping
that people will begin to see and understand what these laboratories are
"We're here to save someone's life," Hyde said in response to that
argument. "That's exactly why we're here."
Roberts explained that biological mechanisms in one animal might
differ from those in another animal, resulting in different effects in each
"It's important to see how things work in mice and in monkeys to get
a complete picture of how things actually work," he said.
Animal research has contributed to many significant medical advances.
For example, researchers discovered that the drug thalidomide causes birth
defects in primates and humans, but not in mice, according to Roberts.
Thalidomide is a sedative agent that, when taken during pregnancy,
can cause infants to have short or missing arms and legs, missing ears (both
outside and inside) and deafness, according to the website for the Teratology
Society, which studies causes and prevention of birth defects. Other risks
include heart defects, missing or small eyes, paralysis of the face, kidney
abnormalities and mental retardation.
One of the current projects at the center involves gene therapy for
Alzheimer's disease. The goal of this research is to slow the loss of neurons
and restore their normal function. According to Roberts, in a normal brain
memory loss is due to the shrinkage of cells, causing them to be less
efficient. However, in Alzheimer' patients the cells expire and are useless.
The research focuses on inserting hormones into developing embryos to sustain
and promote the growth of the neurons.
Another area of research that has received a lot of attention looks
into AIDS and antiviral drugs and vaccines to slow and prevent transmission
of the virus. According to researchers at the primate center, an alarmingly
high number of newborns are infected with HIV from their mothers. In a study,
researchers tested the effects of phosphonomethoxy propyl adenine on rhesus
macaques infected with the simian immunodeficiency virus, which is similar to
In this experiment, researchers tested eight SIV-infected macaques,
half of which served as the control group and the other half of which were
treated with doses of PMPA before and after injection of SIV. Results show
that the control group which did not receive doses of PMPA became
SIV-positive. However, the group that was treated with PMPA showed no
symptoms of SIV.
The findings from this research suggests that giving PMPA to
HIV-infected pregnant women at the onset of labor would reduce HIV
transmission to newborns.
The primate center currently has approximately 125 active protocols
in its four research units: Brain, Mind and Behavior; Reproductive and
Genetic Sciences; Respiratory Diseases; and Virology and Immunology. It
houses approximately 4,000 monkeys including rhesus macaques, long-tailed
macaques and titi monkeys.
Researchers at the primate center understand that working with
primates is a sensitive issue.
"It is important to weigh the ethical cost with the ethical gain,"
Roberts and Hyde said they hope that people will understand the
impact animal research has on medical discoveries.
"We all enjoy a better life because of medical research," said Hyde.
Roberts added, "We hope to educate people about the value of what we
do, which is providing the best possible opportunities and the best care."
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