Oklahoma University President Interferes with Federally Funded Health Research

 

Call for Support of Oklahoma Scientists and Research Programs

 

Speaking of Research, along with scientists and others across the country, were appalled to learn yesterday that Oklahoma State University’s President cancelled a research project for which his university had already accepted federal funding and which had been approved at all levels of review by both the federal funding agency, the National Institutes of Health, and the university’s own Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.  This grave threat to the academic freedom of researchers in Oklahoma should be a wake up call to investigators around the world.  Reported in the Daily Oklahoman newspaper yesterday by Susan Simpson:

“Veterinary medicine researchers were told by e-mail last month that OSU President Burns Hargis wouldn’t allow the National Institutes of Health-funded project, even though an internal faculty committee had spent more than a year setting out protocol for the care and use of the primates. Veterinary scientists say the decision was sudden and arbitrary, and now they fear the president may call for ending other projects involving animal research.”

All evidence appears to support the conclusion that OSU’s administrative decision was made unilaterally by the President and, most likely, without consultation of the faculty, scientists, or the broad community.  A university spokesman, Gary Shutt, explained the administrative reasoning as follows:

“this research was not in the best interest of the university. The testing of lethal pathogens on primates would be a new area for OSU that is controversial and is outside our current research programs.”

It may be the case that OSU’s administration is afraid to support what is perceives as controversial or novel research; however, as a growing number of people have pointed out, it seems more likely that Hargis may have been influenced by an animal activist agenda and the opinions of a wealthy donor.  Two science blogs responding to yesterday’s story provide more information and insightful commentary. In a post titled “OSU President Blocks NIH-funded Science to Appease Philanthropist,” science blogger Drug Monkey summarizes:

“OSU, you may recall, already caved to the threats of one Madeleine Pickens, wife of gazillionaire T. Boone Pickens. Earlier in the year she objected to the OSU Vet school using dogs for research and training and held a $5M donation to OSU over their heads. Now, the link to her own site is the best I could do for confirming the fact that OSU actually responded to her extortion (yes, I realize they were under no obligation to accept her money; this is still extortion) but it certainly sets a tone.

This recent move suggests that the OSU did indeed cave to Ms. Pickens’ demands. Furthermore it confirms exactly why it is inadvisable to accede to terrorist demands- it just encourages them.”

Faculty at OSU, speaking out in the local newspaper, also expressed belief that Hargis’ decision was influenced by a political animal rights agenda:  “Veterinary scientist Richard Eberle said the faculty believes Hargis’ ruling was influenced by an animal rights advocate or other organization. He fears the decision will jeopardize future projects as well.”

Hargis

They also point out that the research is part of a much larger investment made by the state of Oklahoma and other funding sources that contributed over the past several years to construct state-of-the-art biosafety laboratory facilities at OSU.  The facility was built with the express intent of supporting nonhuman primate research and under the condition that it would also be accessible to researchers at other Oklahoma institutions. Veterinary doctor Michael Davis said in yesterday’s newspaper account:  “The project was to be conducted in a multimillion dollar lab at OSU designed for research on bioterrorism agents. Davis said administrators have known for years that primates would be used in research in the new lab.”

An October 2006 press release from OSU announced the new facility and “recognized the Presbyterian Health Foundation for its investment in veterinary medical research at OSU. The result of a partnership marked by the foundation’s $1 million gift to the veterinary center, the facility greatly expands capabilities for biodefense and emerging infectious disease research.”

In the same release, Dr. Michael Lorenz, professor and dean of the veterinary center, explains the importance of the facility and research:

“We believe there is but one medicine, and it is comparative,” Lorenz said. “We offer the biomedical community in Oklahoma a cadre of comparative medical scientists capable of addressing a variety of important medical diseases. The zoonotic diseases and emerging infectious diseases are increasingly important to both animal and human health, and this facility greatly enhances our ability to study the pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of these agents.”

According to a report made to the Oklahoma State University/A&M Board of Regents in Stillwater, Oklahoma in July of 2007 by OSU’s Stephen W.S. McKeever, vice president for research and technology transfer, and titled “State of Research 2007: OSU growing a national, competitive research program:”

“OSU has the highest concentration of Biosafety Labs in Oklahoma (13) and state-of-the-art labs located in Venture I at the Oklahoma Technology & Research Park. OSRHE funds supported 21 new faculty in physics, microbiology, electrical engineering and chemical engineering. The National Institutes of Health awarded up to $40M task funding to the College of Veterinary Medicine as a result of these world-class facilities (approximately $8M to date).”

The report concludes with:  “Bottomline: Investment in research pays off-educationally for students, financially for the university and economically for the state.”

Hargis’ decision to cancel a research project at this time–after accepting the funding for a multimillion dollar construction project and federal research funding—should merit more explanation to his faculty, his community, and the public that supports federal research funding than the explanation he offered yesterday via his spokesperson.

According to the U.S. government website that tracks federal research funding, the state of Oklahoma received $68,050,369 from the National Institutes of Health in 2008.

It is unclear whether the Oklahoma’s board of regents has full knowledge of Hargis’ decision and whether it is supportive of this kind of behavior.  We hope that the regents will speak out on this issue and clarify their position.  Furthermore, the regents could introduce a new policy whereby in cases the where university administration wishes to change its stance on some types of animal research it should do so only after full consultation with the departments and individual scientists who would be affected, and such changes should only apply to project applications initiated after the change in policy has been announced.

OSU and its partner institutions, including other universities and medical research facilities in Oklahoma and beyond, are home to scientific resources and leading scientists that are important to many areas of research aimed at improving human and animal health.  We hope that the scientists in Oklahoma who now face this attack on their work receive visible, vocal, and immediate support from their local community—including other faculty, but also students, the public, and administrators.

Certainly, it is hard to believe that the citizens, elected officials, and others in Oklahoma would be untroubled by what appears to be an open threat to the integrity and strength of their university system.

Support from the broad scientific community in the US and growing media coverage also means that the decisions and actions taken by OSU and its President will receive attention nationally from many scientists and others who are concerned not only about biomedical research, but also about academic freedom and our nation’s commitment to science.  The manner in which this case is handled has implications that go well beyond Oklahoma, but unfortunately President Hargis’ actions have already drawn negative attention to the university and have the potential for long-lasting negative consequences to its reputation. As one of its faculty pointed out in the Oklahoma newspaper:

“OSU is now seen by researchers at other institutions as an unreliable research partner and afraid of animal rights demonstrators,” Eberle said. “It is sad that such a golden opportunity for OSU and the state of Oklahoma to attain national recognition has been missed as the result of a single individual’s decision.”

Finally, the events that transpired at OSU highlight the need to ensure that investigators hired to conduct biomedical research with animals have an assurance that they will be supported by their institutions and its officials.  One obvious problem is that university administrators change over time and, what one administrator considers acceptable research may not be viewed as such by another.   The only viable solution to this problem seems to be some type of enforcement from NIH.  While NIH cannot dictate the policies of each institution regarding animal research, it could certainly ask from each institution for an assurance that once the IACUC has approved a protocol and a grant has been awarded, that the institution will support the research throughout its funding period.  Such an assurance could be made part of the same compliance assurance filed by each institution with NIH in order to obtain funds for animal research. Failure to comply with the assurance could result in similar penalties as those incurred in violating compliance issues, including the potential loss of future funding and the renewal of existing projects.   Unfortunately, it seems that only when an institution sees risking their entire biomedical research enterprise that they will decide to defend it as a whole.

Speaking of Research calls on all those who support OSU’s scientists and the broader community engaged in collaborative research with OSU to offer their support and encouragement for a rapid resolution of this problem.  Contact information for President Hargis, the Board of Regents governing OSU, and Oklahoma’s elected official are provided below.

Speaking of Research

CURRENT MEMBERSHIP of the BOARD OF REGENTS for the
OKLAHOMA AGRICULTURAL AND MECHANICAL COLLEGES

Mr. Calvin J. Anthony (Stillwater) – Chairman
Mr. Greg L. Massey (Durant) – Vice Chairman
Mr. Fred L. Boettcher (Ponca City)
Mr. Douglas E. Burns (Norman)
Mr. Joe D. Hall (Elk City)
Mr. Jay L. Helm (Tulsa)
Mr. Andy Lester (Edmond)
Mr. Terry L. Peach (Mooreland)
Mrs. Lou Watkins (Stillwater)

EXECUTIVE SECRETARY – Dr. W. Douglas Wilson

OSU/A&M Board of Regents | 2800 N. Lincoln Boulevard | Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Voice: 405-521-2411 | FAX: 405-521-2501 | E-mail: board@okstate.edu

16 responses to “Oklahoma University President Interferes with Federally Funded Health Research

  1. Matthew DeVries

    Were NIH or other federal funds used to construct the new facility?

  2. blah, blah, blah………you’ve got way too much time on your bud.
    snore………….go to bed.

    • That sounds really intelligent and well-reasoned, Suze–NOT. And no, you cannot have it both ways and be *ethical* and *honest*–by taking advantage of advances made through results of animal research for your own health (or that of those you love, assuming there are any you love) and blather on about no animals to be used for research.

      The AR industry is using their “propaganda mill” BIG LIES [google this for the strategy] to vilify ANYONE who uses animals in any way. Current major targets are animal breeders, animal researchers, and animal agriculture. It is frustrating when people in high places, like the Pres. of OSU gets brainwashed and bamboozled into supporting their anti-human (and anti-animal) agenda and campaign.

      There are many articulate and well-researched sites now that refute and expose these AR industry deceivers, if people will just explore them instead of falling for the “feel-good” anti-human lies that the AR industry leaders (e.g., H$U$) spout.

  3. John, I may be arrogant but your ignorant. If, by some unimaginable manner, scientists could somehow mate a jellyfish with a monkey the least of it’s problems would be that it glows green under black lights. You’re right that you can find all kinds of information on animals that have been genetically engineered to express GFP, but that still isn’t the same as cross breeding or mating. If you’re going to argue, at least have the info right. Again, you’ve opened your mouth and removed all doubt.

  4. My appologies to John. My response should have been addressed to Suze. Apparently she doesn’t understand breeding either.

  5. Whew, I thought I was going to be in trouble there for a minute from Suze. However, I don’t advocate the torture of animals so I think I’m safe. I do however advocate the responsible use of animals in biomedical research. I think it takes an incredible amount of…well insanity, to claim that it’s the scientists that are harassing the animal rights people. When was the last time you heard, “Scientist blow up PETA members car.” or “ALF member assaulted by biomedical researcher.”? If that happens THEN you can claim we’re harassing you.

  6. Suze,

    Do you agree to forgo any and all advances obtained from animal research? Are you willing to deny treatments developed through animal research to your family? You can’t have it both ways you know. You can’t on the one hand ferociously oppose animal research and then run to the hospital for medications when your sick or ask for treatments to other problems. If you do there is a word for that type of person, it’s hypocrite.

  7. jack, YOUR RIGHT!!!! you ARE arrogant and that arrogance shown by MANY so called “heros” that are using animals in the most unethical ways are on the verge of extinction, so enjoy your faux hero status because it will be short lived. And then you’ll have all the time in the world to put people in their place with your exaggerated self importance.

    • Mice are on the verge of extinction? Anyway, better arrogant than ignorant. At least I don’t think scientist are going around mating monkey’s and jellyfish. I’m also not sure how having an animal model that expresses GFP is a “most unethical way”. My guess is you have no idea what’s going on and are just spouting off absurd indignation.

  8. Before the discussion here gets any more surreal I’d like to point out this post from a few months back on marmosets expressing GFP.

    http://speakingofresearch.com/2009/05/30/the-monkey-of-the-baskervilles/

    It was good to see Hargis speak up for animal research at OSU in the newspapers today, though he still doesn’t seem to appreciate how bad his decision making looks to the scientific community.

  9. The Oklahoma State University decision may be correct for a different reason: The design center for first, second, and third generation human anthrax vaccines is to interfere with the anthrax disease process – while not teaching the human immune system to kill anthrax bacteria. The current human anthrax vaccine provides temporary 1-year tolerance to anthrax bacteria, at the risk of incurring severe auto-immune disease and releasing malignant cancers when it subverts the human immune system by inducing the creation of antibodies which will sequester the FURIN protein. Such antibodies can also cross the feto-placental barrier and cause severe birth defects. Temporary tolerance allows live humans to be anthrax delivery agents. OSU is correct to not support the research for any drug masquerading as a vaccine which supports the unethical use of humans, or any other living thing, as a bioweapon delivery system. See Scott Miller’s documentary “A CALL TO ARMS 2009 EDITION.”

    • Still better than dying from Anthrax though. Don’t worry, if you’re ever exposed to Anthrax, we won’t give you the vaccine. I won’t lose any sleep over it.

      • You really don’t need the vaccine after exposure to anthrax: Doxycycline is all you need – and you can get that as a generic for less than 10-cents a tab – compared to the over $25 a dose fee for the human anthrax vaccine. Most dentists will prescribe doxycycline as a prophylactic against infections after minor gum cleanings. What people don’t get is that anthrax is all around us. Only if t is prepared as a coated dried spore bioweapon is inhalation anthrax likely to be lethal, and then, only because exposed persons fail to get the necessary doxycyline within 48-hours of exposure – because they assume they have the flu. The VACCINE WILL NOT HELP ANYONE WHO IS EXPOSED. Post-exposure use of the vaccine is not recommended. It is too late. The vaccine requires a series of 5 initial injections over 6 months just to get to a usable concentration of antibodies against the anthrax protective antigen. And then, an annual booster shot is required because the memory B-cells that produce the antibodies are destroyed by the immune system because the antibodies produced are not safe. To attain lifetime immunity, memory B-cells are cultured by the body and are allowed to clone their immunity into future generations of cells. Evidence of FURIN sequestering antibodies is in the over 685,000 cases of auto-immune disease being tracked by the Veterans Administration and the over 20,000 deaths that have resulted from cancers of the thyroid, skin, nerves, lymphoma, leukemia, breast, etc. Because these antibodies can cross the feto-placental barrier to harm unborn children, they have caused hundreds of birth defects among military personnel in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Israel. The human anthrax vaccine program has to be stopped. It has killed and maimed too many people to be ignored anymore. US Army microbiologists should not be allowed to dictate the safety of a drug that is masquerading as a vaccine without conforming to FDA drug licensing safety testing requirements. Afterall, they are not medical doctors – are they?

    • LOL, the current human anthrax vaccines (anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA; BioThrax) and anthrax vaccine precipitated (AVP) ) target an anthrax protein known as the protective antigene (PA) which binds to cells in the body via the Furin protein, they do not target furin.

      The binding of PA to Furin starts an enzymatic process that enables anthrax toxins to enter the cells and to suppress the immune system, both damaging tissue and depressing the ability of the immune system to fight the anthrax infection. The current vaccines work by inducing the immune system to produce antibodies to PA, thus preventing illness and enabling the immune system to attack the anthrax bacteria. The idea that the vaccine turns humans into anthrax delivery systems is conspiracy theorist nonsense, even if the vaccine did turn people into anthrax carriers person-to-person transmission is extremely inefficient (and might not happen at all for inhalational anthrax) so as a weapon it would be useless.

      • Gothcha lookin “Doxycycline is all you need” Well it isn’t, at least not with the inhalational anthrax that people are worried about. For example in the 2001 bioterrorist attacks only 60% of those with inhalational anthrax survived* despite treatment with combination antibiotic therapy, clearly better treatment regimes are required.

        http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no6/jernigan.htm

        While your claims about the side effects of the current anthrax vaccines are wildly inaccurate (though it does have side effects) you are at least correct in saying that it is not helpful if given after exposure. That is one of the reasons why scientists are working on developing vaccines that can be used in post-exposure prophylaxis, as well as the benefit of having a generally improved vaccine that can be given to the few individuals (e.g. soldiers) considered to be at a higher risk of exposure to anthrax.

        * still a lot better than the less than 10% that would be expected to have survived without antibiotic treatment.