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Articles and Reports

The Primate Experimentation Scandal, 2005: An Investigative Report
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN

The University of Washington, Seattle/Washington National Primate Research Center

The University of California, Davis (CNPRC) is not unique in performing this kind of research. The University of Washington, Seattle/Washington National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) also performs a substantial amount of neurological research. The overall procedures are very similar. 11 studies from WNPRC were examined. Of these 11 projects 10 subjected the primates to multiple survival surgeries; food/water deprivation, behavior training and restraint chairs were each used 9 times in these eleven studies.

The multiple survival surgeries used in all of these studies establish the apparatus on the primates. Typically restraining bolts/bars are attached to the skull in one surgery. In another surgery openings are made into the skull and recording cylinders are bolted in place to allow electrodes to be lowered into the brain to measure electrical activity.

To assess the effects of highly invasive research, such as the project listed above, on primate populations health care records for primates from the WNPRC were examined. Health care records for 886 primates of several different species were examined. The expected issues were obvious: multiple surgeries, bacterial infections around experimental devices, etc. However, several other issues were uncovered.

Primates can manifest psychological stress in many ways. Some will develop gastro-intestinal tract issues. This was present in the WNPRC primates at a level of 7.7%. Hair loss, often self-inflicted, is another sign of stress in primates. 5% of the primates at WNPRC demonstrated hair loss during one year. However, there is one much more clear way that stress is manifested in captive primates – violent behavior. Violent behavior can take two forms attacks on other primates or self-directed attacks. Primates at WNPRC received 166 separate traumatic injuries, effecting 115 separate animals. 13% of the 886 primates for whom medical records from the WNPRC suffered from traumatic injuries in the 2002- 2003 reporting period, many of them multiple times. In total, 25% of the primates at WNPRC illustrated some characteristic associated with severe stress.

In most instances there was no reference to how the injury had been caused, “etiology unknown.” So, there is no way of knowing if these were self-directed injuries or if they were caused by other primates. Either way, the result is the same, the primates at WNPRC are highly stressed and suffer from the consequences of highly invasive procedures.

The consequences of these kinds of procedures are illustrated in the post mortem information in the appendices for primate health care information. These documents clearly illustrate instances of multiple surgeries, restraint chair confinement, etc. and the deleterious effects these practices have on the primates.

Similar projects and procedures are used at other universities, especially those that are part of the primate center system. Emory University has 15 studies in the area of neurology utilizing very similar protocols. A small facility like the Salk Institute who housed only 38 primates in 2004, had 6 separate projects in this area.

When reading the projects at these laboratories it is impossible not to be struck by their similarity. In fact, it becomes very difficult to differentiate them from one another. Apparently the researchers and those that evaluate the protocols at the laboratories are aware of the duplicative nature of these projects. One of the staff at the University of Washington, Seattle/WNPRC (apparently a member of the IACUC -- Institutional Animal Care & use Committee – the internal body that approves research projects) was emailing one of the researchers expressing some concerns about the protocol:

“I’m a little nervous that your protocol is basically identical to (name withheld)’s protocol. For example, both protocols now include terminal surgeries whereas previously your protocol did not include that surgery. Is it really now a part of your protocol as well?’

The recipient of the email later responds to this issue:

“With regard to the similarity of Dr. (name withheld) and my proposals, we use essentially identical procedures in our experiments. In deed, Dr. (name withheld) [le}arned many of them from me when he was my postdoc.”

These quotes illustrate the basic mechanism of the spread of research procedures. Once a project is established a pre-existing framework comes into play. Graduate students of Postdoctoral associated participate in research procedures and learn the intricacies of the methodology. Later, these non-primary investigators apply for their own grants. They apply to do examinations that they were trained in by the principal investigator under whom they previously studied.

The bottom line is that people in scientific fields want to do research. It is how they make a living, gain prestige and tenure. The “Publish or Perish” mentality is a major factor in this situation. So, research is performed not because it is ground-breaking, cutting edge, or important. It is performed because scientists want to do research, and this methodology is simply what they know how to do.

The reality of this situation has many very serious effects on our scientific system. We have limited resources. The average NIH research grant is now funded at $350,000. When this is multiplied by the number of research projects looking at neural information processing in macaque monkeys (158) the total is $55,300,000. Similar areas (drug addiction, memory, behavior learning, etc.) waste over $266 million (see Appendix K). And we must remember, the figures in this table take into account only two species of primates. The potential ramifications of this situation when spread out over all species and all government agencies could reach into the billions of dollars.

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