OHSU’s Stimulus Recovery Act Request:
More Money for Monkey Experiments

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OHSU’s Stimulus Recovery Act Request:
More Money for Monkey Experiments

From Willamette Week Online
August 2009

The stench of monkey shit is thick at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, scenting the air long before you hear the screeching of the center’s 4,200 nonhuman primates.

On a guided tour of the 237-acre Beaverton facility, employees show off a tribe of Japanese macaques munching carrots inside a two-acre fenced corral. Indian macaques play with swinging toys in large group cages with heated floors. But the center’s research facilities, with their much smaller cages for experiments, are off limits to reporters who haven’t been tested for tuberculosis.

An estimated $1 billion in federal stimulus money is being injected into projects elsewhere in Oregon like solar-powered freeway lights and new Amtrak trains. But Oregon Health Science University, which runs the primate center, wants a hefty handout for a different kind of “shovel-ready” project.

The school has requested $14.8 million in stimulus funds for a new building with more monkey cages, allowing scientists to conduct additional experiments on everything from “suppression of menstrual bleeding” to the “role of serotonin in mediating stress-induced infertility.”

The new building would include amenities that may win over progressives. It would attain a LEED silver certification, for example.

Funding would come from $10.4 billion in stimulus money allocated nationwide to the National Institutes of Health. Nancy Haigwood, director of the primate research center, says the goal is to permit more experiments and improve monkeys’ lives with a new hospital and nurseries.

“We’re offering the animals a better situation,” Haigwood says.

But activists critical of the primate center say OHSU’s altruism is all monkeyshines.

“More monkeys will be housed in cages. I don’t think you can say in the same breath that you’re improving their quality of life,” says Matt Rossell, a former primate center employee who went public with allegations of animal mistreatment there (see “The Spy Who Loved Monkeys,” WW, Feb. 7, 2001). Rossell is now Northwest director of the nonprofit In Defense of Animals.

OHSU’s grant application says the new building would alleviate a “severe shortage of cage space” at the primate center and promote “the rapid growth of [nonhuman primate] research.”

As part of its plea for money, the grant application notes the center’s monkey population has “significantly increased” over the last five years. But in an interview, Haigwood said the center actually wants to decrease the number of animals next year by about 14 percent, to 3,600.

So why build?

Haigwood says the additional 108 cages would help meet a growing demand for experiments. The grant application describes a 20 percent increase in animals assigned to experiments in the past five years. According to the application, the center is “currently unable to keep pace” with demand.

The new building would have dedicated facilities for animals free of herpes and other pathogens common to monkeys. And it would help baby monkeys who have been rejected by their mothers or suffered trauma.

Instead of being raised in isolation, those babies could be raised with their peers at special nurseries in the new building. The grant application says there are about 60 such infants each year out of 550 born at the primate center, and those raised in isolation face greater risk of abnormalities and “self-injurious behavior.”

“There is increasing need and desire to maintain research animals in social settings to enhance psychological well-being,” the application says.

The new building’s healthcare facilities would be barely distinguishable from a human hospital, including an integrated diagnostic and treatment center, $20,000 surgery tables, ultrasound machines, and a dental room for root canals, extractions and cleanings.

Last year the primate center gave its monkeys 264 ultrasounds, 7,917 physical examinations and 154 dental procedures, the grant application says.

In other words: OHSU’s lab monkeys may have better access to health care than 46 million uninsured Americans.

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