Rights Group Criticizes UW Lab
Group's Executive Director Says
Monkeys Are Highly Stressed, But The Lab's Director Disagrees.
Wisconsin State Journal :: LOCAL/WISCONSIN :: C3
Wednesday, June 9, 2004
Ron Seely Wisconsin State Journal
A national animal rights group has released a report
critical of the treatment of primates at the Wisconsin National Primate
Research Center here.
The release of the report coincides with the annual
meeting in Madison this week of the American Association of
Primatologists, which started Tuesday and runs through Friday.
The report is from Michael Budkie, executive director
of a group called Stop Animal Exploitation Now. Budkie, who has a degree
in animal health technology, analyzed annual reports from the Madison
lab as well as necropsy (the animal version of an autopsy) reports on
monkeys that died in the lab during the reporting period May 2002 to
He concluded that the condition of the 157 primates
necropsied shows the monkeys housed in the laboratory -- rhesus macaques
and marmosets -- are "extremely stressed."
Budkie said five of the 157 primates that died during
the reporting period had begun to engage in self-mutilation, a sign of
stress. He also said 54.3 percent of the macaques that died exhibited
gastrointestinal diseases and 64 percent of the marmosets that died
showed "similar pathological conditions."
The primates at the center are so stressed, Budkie
charged, that their condition raises questions about the accuracy of
"Their bodily chemistry would be so substantially
altered," concluded Budkie "as would the immune system response for
these animals, that any results obtained from experiments using these
primates would be virtually meaningless."
But Joseph Kemnitz, director of the lab, said Budkie's
conclusion that primates in the lab are stressed is incorrect. "I think
the thought process is a little tenuous," he said.
Kemnitz said the lab is home to about 1,500 primates
and that 157 deaths during the reporting period is a relatively low
mortality rate. He also questioned Budkie's use of necropsy reports to
draw his conclusions. By their very nature, he added, necropsy reports
focus on what is wrong with the animal that died.
"They don't make for pleasant reading, but neither do
human autopsy reports," said Kemnitz.
Also, Kemnitz said, the laboratory's primate colony
has a very high reproductive rate and the lab is home to the largest
colony of elderly rhesus monkeys, including one in its 40s.
"If these animals were highly stressed, they wouldn't
be living that long," Kemnitz said.
At issue in the debate over use of primates for
research is whether the use of the animals is justified by the science.
Budkie said work on primates at the Wisconsin lab, especially research
involving treatments for AIDS, is ineffectual because the virus in
monkeys is different than in humans.
But Kemnitz said research on primates is necessary if
some treatments, including those for AIDS, are to be tested on humans.
He said the Federal Drug Administration requires testing of many drugs
on primates prior to human trials.
Of critical importance at the lab, Kemnitz said, is
work being done on the use of human embryonic stem cells - blank slate
cells that have yet to change into specific tissues - to replace
diseased cells in illnesses such as diabetes or nerve diseases.
"The potential is just tremendous," Kemnitz said.
That potential is unlikely to be realized without
research on primates, he added. In fact, he continued, UW-Madison's
James Thomson was the first scientist to get human embryonic stem cells
to grow and reproduce in the lab. Much of that work involved primates.
UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley agreed and said
research on primates at the lab is closely monitored to see to the
welfare of the animals.