Tag Archives: Oregon National Primate Research Center

Child health benefits from studies of infant monkeys – Part 1

Health research with nonhuman primates takes place at many universities and research institutions in the US, among them centers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  A broad range of research aimed at better understanding maternal and child health takes place at these centers and depends, in part, upon humane, ethical scientific studies of infant monkeys.

A sample of the research areas and findings are highlighted below and provide a view of the value of developmental research. What even a short list shows is that the scope of scientific and medical research that informs pediatric health issues is large. It ranges from autism to childhood diabetes to leukemia to mental health to stem cell therapies.

Together, the findings from studies of infant monkeys have resulted in a better understanding of prenatal, infant, child, and maternal health. The scientific research has resulted in basic discoveries that are the foundation for a wide range of clinical applications and have also improved outcomes for premature and critically ill human infants.

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery.  Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Studies of monkeys are a tiny fraction of all animal studies and are only conducted when studies of fish, mice, rats, or other animals are not sufficient to address the scientific question. Like all nonhuman animal studies, those of young monkeys are subject to rigorous ethical evaluation by scientists, by federal review panels, and institutional review boards that include veterinarians and members of the public.

The decision to conduct a study in nonhuman animals is one that rests on weighing both the potential benefit the work may provide and any potential for harm. The research below provides many specific examples of how and why the studies are conducted and their benefit. For each and every study, scientists, review panels, and ethics boards also consider the potential for harm that may result to the nonhuman animals that are involved. Whether there are any alternatives to the animal study is a requirement of the US system for ethical review and oversight. If there is no alternative, reduction in potential for harm is explicitly addressed not only by a set of standards for animal care, housing, handling, environmental enrichment, and medical care, but also by including only the number of animals needed to answer the scientific question. (You can read more about the review process, regulation, and care standards here and here).

Like other studies of nonhuman animals, those in young animals require serious and fact-informed ethical consideration. At the most fundamental level they challenge us to evaluate how we should balance work that ultimately can help children, the harm that may result from a failure to act, potential harm to animals in research. Consideration of how to balance the interests of children, society, and other animals is not an easy task. Nor is it one that is well-served by simple formulations.

Primate studies of early development have, and continue, to contribute valuable new insights and discoveries that improve the health and lives of many.  The examples below, from NIH-funded research programs across the US, demonstrate how the work contributes to public health.

Sources:  National Primate Research Centers Outreach Consortium. For more information about the NPRCs, see:  http://dpcpsi.nih.gov/orip/cm/primate_resources_researchers#centers

EXAMPLES OF PEDIATRIC RESEARCH WITH MONKEYS

Autism

Cerebral Palsy

  • One outcome of premature birth and accompanying brain injury can be Cerebral Palsy (CP). To date, studies at the Washington National Primate Research Center’s (WaNPRC) Infant Primate Research Laboratory (IPRL) have described the metabolome of normal birth and discovered new acute biomarkers of acute hypoxia‐ This multi‐modal approach will increase the likelihood of identifying reliable biomarkers to diagnose the degree of injury and improve prognosis by tracking the response to treatment after neonatal brain injury. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22391633, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21353677)

Childhood Leukemia

  • Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) scientists James Thomson and Igor Slukvin turned diseased cells from a leukemia patient into pluripotent stem cells, providing a way to study the genetic origins of blood cancers as well as the ability to grow unlimited cells for testing new drugs for chronic myeloid leukemia, childhood leukemia and other blood cancers. (http://www.news.wisc.edu/18933 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296996)

Diabetes and Childhood Obesity

  • Normal and obese marmosets were followed by Suzette Tardif at the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) from birth to 1 year. At 6 months, obese marmosets already had significantly lower insulin sensitivity and by 12 months, they also had higher fasting glucose, demonstrating that early-onset obesity in marmosets resulted in impaired glucose function, increasing diabetes risk. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23512966)
  • Infant marmosets were followed by Suzette Tardif at the SNPRC from birth to 1 year. Feeding phenotypes were determined through the use of behavioral observation, solid food intake trials, and liquid feeding trials. Marmosets found to be obese at 12 months of age started consuming solid food sooner and drank more grams of diet thus indicating that the weaning process is crucial in the development of juvenile obesity in both NHPs and human. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23512878)

Diet

Environmental threats

HIV/AIDS

  • Scientists at the CNPRC developed the SIV/rhesus macaque pediatric model of disease, to better understand the pathogenesis of SIV/HIV in neonates and test strategies for immunoprophylaxis and antiviral therapy to prevent infection or slow disease progression. Drug therapies used to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to infant were developed in nonhuman primate models at the CNPRC, and are now being successfully used in many human populations to protect millions of infants from contracting HIV. (http://www.cnprc.ucdavis.edu/koen-van-rompay/)
  • Development of topical vaginal microbicides to prevent babies from contracting HIV from their mothers during delivery was advanced by Eva Rakasz at the WNPRC and her collaborators. Dr. Rakasz was also a member of the National Institutes of Health study section, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Topical Microbicides Clinical Research Centers. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3032991/, http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/microbicides/microbicides/en/)
  • In a model of mother to child transmission, research at the WaNPRC and the ONPRC has shown that neutralizing antibodies can block infection at high doses and prevent disease and death at lower doses in one-month old monkeys exposed to a chimeric SIV that bears the HIV Envelope protein. Human monoclonal antibodies currently in clinical trials are in testing alone and in combination with drug therapy in this primate model as a less toxic alternative to supplement or supplant drugs in newborns. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952052/, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3807376/)
  • In women who are HIV positive, prenatal consumption of AZT is useful for reducing the risk that the unborn fetus will contract HIV. Research done at the WaNPRC IPRL demonstrated that the effects of AZT on maternal reproduction and infant development were minimal and at the doses studied, no significant adverse health effects from prenatal exposure to AZT were predicted for pregnant women. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23873400, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8301525)
  • A goal of Yerkes National Primate Research Center (YNPRC) infectious disease researchers is to identify the sources of the latent HIV reservoir so targeted cure strategies can be developed. A first step is to develop a novel model of SIV infection and cART treatment of nonhuman primate (NHP) infants to interrogate the SIV reservoir. The development of such a model will greatly facilitate future studies of SIV reservoirs and the design and testing of novel reservoir-directed therapeutic strategies before scaling to clinical trials in HIV-infected patients.
  • YNPRC infectious disease researchers found the percentage of CD4+CCR5+ T cells was significantly lower in all tissues in infant sooty mangabeys (SMs) as compared to infant rhesus macaques (RMs) despite robust levels of CD4+ T cell proliferation in both species. The researchers propose that limited availability of SIV target cells in infant SMs represents a key evolutionary adaptation to reduce the risk of mother-to-infant transmission (MTIT) in SIV-infected SMs. The researchers are applying their findings toward reducing the more than 300,000 cases diagnosed in children each year. (http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1003958)

Huntington’s Disease

  • YNPRC researchers have successfully created a transgenic, preclinical animal model of Huntington’s disease (HD). These animals, when followed from infancy to adulthood, show progressive motor and cognitive associated with neural changes similar with the disease patterns seen in humans. Not having such a model has been a major roadblock to developing effective therapies for the disease.
    (http//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18488016; http//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24581271)

Lung Development and Function

  • CNPRC research discovered a link between an infant’s temperament and asthma– research is leading towards the screening, prediction and prevention of lung disease in children. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21536834)
  • Research at the CNPRC has shown that exposure to high levels of fine particle pollution (e.g. wildfire smoke) adversely affects both development of the immune system and lung function(http://www.cnprc.ucdavis.edu/long-term-impact-of-air-pollutants/)
  • Childhood asthma research by the CNPRC focuses on understanding why children are highly susceptible to asthma, with the goal of identifying predictive biomarkers and discovering preventive treatments. These studies use a novel rhesus monkey model of house dust mite sensitization to investigate the pathogenesis of allergic asthma in pediatric and adult asthma. The goal is to define the relationship between pediatric asthma, development of mucosal immunity in the respiratory system, and exposure to the house dust mite allergen. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21819959)
  • Eliot Spindel at the ONPRC has shown that large doses of Vitamin C can protect developing lungs from the damage caused when mothers smoke. This work has been duplicated in clinical trials. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15709053)

Kidney Disease, Organ Transplants, Lupus

  • WNPRC scientists and surgeons at UW Hospital successfully tested a new compound, mycophenolate mofetil, in combination with other drugs in monkeys and other animals, and then in human patients in the 1990s. Their work has saved the lives of patients needing kidney or other organ transplants. These new therapies have also kept patients with chronic kidney diseases, including lupus nephritis, which strikes many children and teens, from needing transplants. (Hans Sollinger, Folkert Belzer, Stuart Knechtle, others.) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8680054, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9706169, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8821838


Memory Impairment

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Puberty Disorders

Prenatal and Mental health

  • Studies at the WaNPRC IPRL have provided important and therapeutically relevant information on the fetal risk associated with maternal exposure to antiseizure medication in infants born to women who have epilepsy (Phillips & Lockard, 1985, 1993). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23873400)
  • Human and animal studies at the SNPRC revealed that the intrauterine environment can predispose offspring to disease in later life. Mark Nijland showed that maternal obesity can program offspring for cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and obesity. This study revealed significant changes in cardiac miRNA expression (known to be affected in human cardiovascular disease) and developmental disorders in the fetuses of obese baboons. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23922128)
  • Studies in the WaNPRC IPRL have demonstrated that prenatal exposure to relatively high levels of ethanol (alcohol) was associated with significant changes in the structure of the fetal brain. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23873400)
  • Recent findings from nonhuman primates studied by Ned Kalin at the WNPRC suggest that an overactive core circuit in the brain, and its interaction with other specialized circuits, accounts for the variability in symptoms shown by patients with severe anxiety. The ability to identify brain mechanisms underlying the risk during childhood for developing anxiety and depression is critical for establishing novel early-life interventions aimed at preventing the chronic and debilitating outcomes associated with these common illnesses. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23538303, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23071305)
  • Developmental studies with nonhuman primates at the YNPRC have revealed that neonatal dysfunction of the amygdala, a key brain structure, has long-lasting effects on the typical development of brain circuits that regulate behavioral and neuroendocrine stress, resulting in long-term hyperactivity.  These findings may provide clues on the neural source of HPA axis dysregulation found in autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia and affective disorders.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23159012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24986273, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25143624)

Preterm Birth and Neonatal Outcomes

  • Current research at the ONPRC incorporates studies directed at understanding the mechanisms of parturition, with emphasis on therapeutic interventions for preterm labor associated with reproductive tract infections and the prevention of subsequent adverse neonatal outcomes. Intra-amniotic infection by genital Ureaplasma species is a predominant cause of early preterm birth. Preterm infants often have life-long health complications including chronic lung injury, often leading to asthma and neurodevelopmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Research by ONPRC’s Dr. Grigsby has shown that administration of a specific macrolide antibiotic delays preterm birth and reduces the severity of fetal lung injury and most importantly central nervous system injury. Recently Dr. Grigsby has expanded the infant care facilities at the ONPRC with the addition of a specialized intensive care nursery (SCN); this has enabled new research initiatives to expand beyond the maternal-fetal environment to a critical translation point between prenatal and postnatal life. This one-of-a-kind nursery has the look and feel of a human neonatal intensive care unit and supports the cardiopulmonary, (including mechanical ventilation), thermoregulatory, and nutritional needs of prematurely born infants. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23111115, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24179112)

Regenerative Medicine

  • Studies at the CNPRC have advanced the understanding of developmental timelines in the kidney, and applied these findings to new protocols and tissue engineering approaches to someday regenerate kidneys damaged by obstructive disease. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23997038)

Stem Cells and Gene Therapy:

  • The first pluripotent stem cell derived clinical trials to treat childhood blindness are now underway, using stem cell technologies discovered using monkeys first, then humans, by WNPRC scientist James Thomson in the 1990s-2000s. (https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=juvenile+macular+degeneration+stem+cell&Search=Search, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18029452, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9804556, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7544005
  • To successfully treat human disease with stem cells, physicians will require safe, reliable, and reproducible measures of engraftment and function of the donor cells. Innovative studies at the CNPRC have revolutionized the ability to monitor stem/progenitor cell transplant efficiency in fetal and infant monkeys, and have used new noninvasive imaging techniques that demonstrated long-term engraftment and safety. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24098579)
  • Studies at the CNPRC have proven critical in gaining approval for investigational new drug (IND) applications to the FDA and conducting first-in-human trials of (1) an expressed siRNA in a lentiviral vector for AIDS/lymphoma patients,, and (2) achieving the overall goal of utilizing adeno-associated virus (AAV) expression of human acid alpha-glucosidase in 3 to 14-year-old Pompe patients who have developed ventilator dependence.

Tuberculosis and HIV

  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is the causative agent of human tuberculosis (TB) with an estimated 8.8 million new TB cases and 1.4 million deaths annually. Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in AIDS patients worldwide but very little is known about early TB infection or TB/HIV co-infection in infants. SNPRC scientist Marie-Claire Gauduin and colleagues have successfully established an aerosol newborn/infant model in nonhuman primates (NHPs) that mimics clinical and bacteriological characteristics of Mtb infection as seen in human newborns/infants. Aerosol versus intra broncho-alveolar Mtb infection was studied. After infection, specific lesions and cellular responses correlated with early Mtb lesions seen on thoracic radiographs were observed. This model will also allow the establishment of a TB coinfection model of pediatric AIDS. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24388650)

 

Part 4: Many voices speaking of animal research

We recently wrote about the many existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts, and also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the fourth in a series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

The National Primate Research Centers Outreach Network

The eight National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) are riding a wave of unprecedented communication, thanks to a new National Institutes of Health/Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (NIH/ORIP) outreach consortium. This consortium helps our members work together more effectively to educate the public on our many and varied educational programs.

Reaching thousands at the USA Science and Engineering Festival

One exciting result of the new consortium occurred April 27 to April 29 this year in Washington, D.C. Representatives from the National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) spoke to an estimated 4,000 people who visited the NPRCs’ booth at the 2nd annual USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival, which included a learning station hosted by the National Primate Research Centers, drew 150,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., this April.

Billed as “the largest celebration of science in the U.S.,” the festival featured more than 3,000 interactive exhibits, more than 100 stage shows and 33 author presentations. More than 150,000 people attended. President Barack Obama promoted the festival in keynotes and public service announcements. Special visitors to the festival included The Myth Busters and Bill Nye the Science Guy, plus Nobel Prize winners, best-selling authors, astronauts, and even a rock guitar performance by NIH Director Francis Collins.

The NPRCs’ booth featured a set of touchable and inflatable real pig lungs representing healthy and cigarette smoke-riddled lungs. Our activity not only demonstrated how smoking harms the smoker, but also helped us convey how the Primate Centers have discovered that second hand smoke can stunt infant lung development. Our interactive display also included a flip board with questions and answers about animal research and care.

Volunteers from the National Primate Research Centers educated the public about the effects of smoking on infant lung development at the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival.

– The California NPRC outreach team spearheaded the NPRCs’ participation at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Some of the consortium’s other recent activities   have included the following:

–  The Yerkes NPRC continues to host a booth on behalf of all of the NPRCs at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

– Jordana Lenon (Wisconsin NPRC) represented the consortium at a PR/Media Forum sponsored by the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research last October in Newark, N.J.

– Consortium participants plan to meet for the first time as a group this fall.

To share updates, materials and communicate effectively with one another­ — whether we’re planning for large events such as the USA Science and Engineering Festival, or sharing news releases and other announcements — center outreach specialists, supported by the NPRC directors and consortium facilitators, use a variety of websites and other e-media tools. We heartily contribute our share to the 188 billion emails still sent every day… and we still talk on the phone. So, although we’re working in three different time zones, from one coast to the other, we feel closer than ever in our working relationships. We plan to meet for the first time as a group this fall, and we all look forward to building new partnerships when we meet.

Students, lifelong learners benefit from many engaging programs

What are some of the many other outreach activities we plan and share? For one, we are fortunate to have developed thriving visitors programs at our centers. We host year-round K-12+ programs such as afterschool programs, campus science fairs, family science nights, science Saturdays, science teachers days, and many more activities, both on site as well as at schools and community venues. A few examples follow:

The Oregon NPRC’s tour program welcomes more than 3,000 people each year. The center also provides opportunities for young scientists to experience authentic research by supporting high school students and undergraduates in labs for summer apprenticeships.

At the California NPRC, many classroom outreach activities and lectures introduce K-12 students to nonhuman primates, biomedical research programs and careers. The center offers a large curriculum and classroom resources for teachers.

The Wisconsin NPRC provides lab demos and hands on activities for middle school and high school students participating in the annual State Science Olympiad, as well in the National Science Olympiad hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison last summer.

The Yerkes NPRC promotes an  active speakers bureaus and tours of its large indoor/outdoor facility. Yerkes also sponsors an eight-week summer internship program for high school students. The center received more than 130 applications this year for 10 spots.

In addition to tours and community outreach programs, the Tulane NPRC hosts programs for college honor societies, summer scholars, biomedical students and career tech students. Every summer, the TNPRC mentors students who work with research technicians.

The Washington NPRC recently participated in a three-day science education event at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. In July, WaNPRC will again host science teachers participating in the annual CURE (Collaborations to Understand Research and Ethics) tour and seminar, a program funded by an NIH Science Education Partnership Award.

Southwest NPRC is hosting “Science Teachers Day at Texas BioMed” this summer, with bus and walking tours, demonstrations, and an “Ethics of Animal Research” panel.

More than 4,000 people participated in activities at the National Primate Research Centers’ booth over the festival’s three days at the end of April.

Specific programs for life-long learners are also growing, such as Oregon’s Road Scholar Week, and Wisconsin’s Grandparents University and College Days participation, and Yerkes’ coordination of eight-week series for two university-based life-long learning programs. In addition to coordinating active speakers bureaus that reach business, patient advocacy and other civic groups, the NPRCs’ outreach specialists themselves are also sought after as invited educational speakers at national and international conferences.

As far as outreach and higher education, most of the NPRCs are located at major research and teaching universities. They have active veterinary care training programs, in addition to offering undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral research training programs. The New England NPRC’s commitment to education is reflected in its summer programs for pre-baccalaureate and veterinary students. The Oregon, California, and Washington NPRCs host two to three dozen veterinary and vet tech students throughout the year in two-week externships.

Learn more about the National Primate Centers and other National Institutes of Health nonhuman primate resources for research starting here.

Jordana Lenon is the Public Information Officer and Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

OHSU Rhesus macaque embryo research to improve Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis

Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis is used by parents to screen embryos produced through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in order to ensure that the baby will be free of specific genetic diseases.  New research from Oregon Health and Science University on the inheritance of the mitochondrial genome indicates that screening for genetic mutations that are located in the genome of the mitochondria – which is outside the nucleus of the cell where the much larger chromosomal genome id found, and is inherited only from the mother – can be made more accurate by carrying out the screening procedure slightly later than is now the practice.

Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who led this research project, explains what the project involved and its implications

A press release from OHSU highlights the importance of the Rhesus macaque to this discovery about the inheritance of mitochondial genomes:

“This latest breakthrough, which was conducted in rhesus macaque monkeys because of their similarity to humans, demonstrates the specific stage of early embryonic development when genetic mutations are passed from mother to fetus. This stage, referred to by scientists as “the bottleneck,” occurs when an early embryo called blastocyst, transitions into a fetus.

To conduct the research, Mitalipov and colleagues needed to design a way to mark and track specific mitochondrial genes as they transitioned from egg, through fertilization, to embryo and then to fetus. This was accomplished by combining two separate mitochondrial genomes into one egg cell. More specifically, one-half of an egg cell from a species of Indian-continent rhesus macaque monkey was merged with one-half of an egg cell from a Chinese-continent monkey. Because these animal species have distinct mitochondrial gene sequences (like breeding two distinct species of dogs), their genetics could be tracked closely.

The microscopic manipulation of splitting and uniting two halved egg cells takes specialized skills and expertise, which the Mitalipov lab has developed over a period of several years.

By studying the development of these joined and then fertilized eggs, scientists were surprised to see that eggs transitioned from containing a 50/50 split of genetics to a fetus that contained a nearly 100 percent either Indian or Chinese-based genome.

 We discovered that during early development, each individual cell in the eight-cell embryo would contain varying percentages of the Indian and Chinese rhesus genes. Some would be a 50/50 split. But others would be 90/10 and so on,” explained Mitalipov. “When these percentages were combined as a whole embryo, the average genetic split between the two species was about equal as initially created. However, later during the transition from a blastocyst to fetus, the genetics would swing one way or another. The resulting offspring would have always a genome that is predominantly Chinese or Indian. Our study tells us precisely when this mitochondrial gene switch occurs and how this can lead to disease.”

This finding raises significant questions about validity of currently methods for genetic diagnosis in early embryos, when a woman is known to carry a mitochondrial gene mutation may pass a disease to her children.

The current pre-implantation genetic diagnosis method is to examine genetic disease risk is by taking one cell from an early eight-cell embryo, and then looking for mutations in that one particular cell. This is done to predict if the remaining embryo is mutation-free,” explained Mitalipov.

The problem with this approach is that you may choose a cell that may not have mutations. But that does not mean the remaining cells in an embryo are mutation-free. Our research suggests that such approach could be flawed because diagnosis takes place prior to the stage when an offspring’s mitochondrial genetics is truly established.”

With this new information and with additional data gathered through further research, Mitalipov and colleagues believe that new methods for genetic diagnosis for mitochondrial disease should be located. The research also demonstrates that the Mitalipov lab’s previously developed method for preventing the passing of mitochondrial mutations from mother to child is highly successful.”

It’s an important discovery, one with important implications for preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and we congratulate Dr. Mitalipov and his colleagues at OHSU on their success!

Lee, H., Ma, H., Juanes, R., Tachibana, M., Sparman, M., Woodward, J., Ramsey, C., Xu, J., Kang, E., Amato, P., Mair, G., Steinborn, R., & Mitalipov, S. (2012). Rapid Mitochondrial DNA Segregation in Primate Preimplantation Embryos Precedes Somatic and Germline Bottleneck Cell Reports DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2012.03.011

Defending Against the Inaccurate (and sometimes downright false)

Each year, as the rainy season returns to Oregon, so too does another all-too-predictable event: new claims of abuse leveled against my employer the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Nearly every fall, a small animal rights organization called Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) fuels their yearly “National Primate Liberation Week” with alarming press releases accusing my institution and others of abuse.

This of course would be understandable and acceptable if the facts were indeed true. However, in my decade of working at one the country’s eight national primate centers, I’ve learned that most SAEN claims are based on misunderstandings or misstatements. Their goal: to cause anger and hatred of scientists attempting to end suffering for both humans and animals.

SAEN’s most memorable headlines over the past few years include:

In 2010: “Group Names OHSU 6th Worst U.S. Primate Lab; Government Records Document Federally Sanctioned Animal Cruelty”

In 2003: “Research Labs Under Reported Primate Use, Broke Law, Says National Watchdog Group”

and perhaps the most alarming:

In 2004: “’Epidemic’ Sweeping Oregon Primate Center, Hundreds of Infant Monkeys Dead, Charges Watchdog Group”

Any person with a pulse will certainly react to such news with anger and disgust. The problem however, is that none of these claims are true.

Just last week, SAEN accused Oregon’s primate center of depriving monkeys of food and water, allowing animals to live in uncleaned cages and forcing animals to live in housing that was too small. Here’s the release: Group Names OHSU 6th Worst U.S. Primate Lab; Government Records Document Federally Sanctioned Animal Cruelty. (SAEN release Oct 19)

SAEN said that federal documents prove their case. So do they? We’ve posted them online and as you can see for yourself…the allegations and the truth hold little resemblance:

SAEN Claim: Animals were deprived of food

What the records show: In one study animals would not receive fruit or vegetables for a short period because they were receiving these vitamins in another form. In another health diet study, animals were given a smaller portion of food. In a third case, animals underwent temporary change in feeding schedules so animals could be trained.  Food was provided after daily training. Clearly SAEN’s claims of starving animals are inaccurate.

SAEN Claim: Animals were forced to live in dirty cages

What the records show: Cage washing was delayed for one day because it would have interfered with the research study. In another case, the cage washing was delayed briefly to limit stress for the animals.

SAEN Claim: Animals were forced to live in housing that was too small.

What the records show: Monkeys were temporarily placed in a slightly smaller group housing to better encourage socialization.

While reasonable people can debate what is truth and what is a lie, few can deny that at best, SAEN’s allegations are a gross exaggeration of the facts.

As for our previous experiences in responding to SAEN’s inaccurate claims:

In 2003, SAEN claimed that the Oregon primate center was lying about the number of animals in its care. Read the claims for yourself.

Again, not true.

SAEN leveled this claim by juxtaposing two reports to two separate federal agencies. One report contained in the NIH Annual Report lists all animals at the Oregon primate center. The other report, the USDA Annual Report of Research Facility lists all animals involved in research. Because a large number of our animals live outdoors in one-acre breeding habitats (meaning they are not used in research), these two reports clearly measure two entirely different things.

Of course SAEN’s allegation of fraud is very serious, but in this case it was based on either a complete misunderstanding, or a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts

In 2004 SAEN leveled its most incredible charge. That year, SAEN reported that an epidemic had killed almost 400 monkeys at the Oregon primate center.

How did this happen?

The simple answer: It didn’t.

SAEN based this claim on an annual census report provided to the National Institutes of Health annually.

Here’s the report belowIn making it’s claim, SAEN pointed to column 5 of the report – a reduction of 394 infants that year. So where did these animals go? See the additions just two columns to the left. 304 of these animals became adults. The rest were temporary transfers to other locations in and outside of the center and as for SAEN’s epidemic, it never occurred.

So when SAEN is made aware of their errors are they quick to set the record straight? Based on the fact that all of this information remains posted on their Web site – clearly not.

Of Course Oregon’s primate center is not alone in combating SAEN’s frequently inaccurate claims.

Speaking of Research has written about this issue on many previous occasions.

So why are these many untrue allegations such a serious issue for health research institutions such as ours? Because, many times these unverified claims are reported as fact meaning that those who wish to mislead the public are often quite successful. We should all be disturbed when the media reports only one side of the issue and places the burden of proof solely on health researchers.  The validity of claims made by organizations such as SAEN deserves the same sort of skepticism and study as our responses.

So, who will pay the ultimate price for all of this inaccuracy? Everyone.  Every single person on the earth has benefited from animal studies. Thanks to animal-based research, we have vaccines, medications and new surgical approaches. But despite these successes, SAEN and others want us to reject this important method for treating disease by repeatedly bombarding the public with inaccurate claims of abuse.

Hopefully Speaking of Research and can continue to shed light on the matter and convince Americans to wait for both sides of the story before making judgment. In the meantime, we’ll start preparing for SAEN’s next press release.

Jim Newman

“What Drives ‘animal researchers’ Like Me?”

As World Week for Animals in Laboratories (a week of animal rights misinformation) comes to a close, we have a guest post from Nancy Haigwood, director at Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC). This piece reflects well the frustration felt by many scientists about animal rights activists misrepresent the noble cause of scientists who work on lifesaving research. Tom

I’m a health researcher who studies animals in order to develop new treatments and cures. When you hear protesters claiming that research animals are mistreated, they are yelling about me.

So what drives “animal researchers” like me?

Simply put, our view is that because animal studies lead to improved human health, they should be considered acceptable – provided the studies are highly regulated, the animals are well cared for, and suffering is not allowed. This is not a unique view. It’s also shared by the National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What have these guiding principles resulted in? Here are advancements from various labs in the past three weeks alone:

  • Mouse research has revealed how a genetic mutation may cause Parkinson’s disease (link)
  • Research in ducks has revealed a gene that might potentially shield humans from the flu (link)
  • Researchers studying mice learned that insulin-producing cells can be reborn in the body – a significant finding for those with Type One diabetes (link)
  • A blood-flow study in zebrafish has highlighted a possible method for suppressing cancer tumor growth
  • A mouse study suggests a new theory for the cause of Down syndrome: missing proteins in the brain (link)
  • A rodent study reveals that the anti-nausea drug Dramamine could be used during a heart attack to prevent heart damage.
  • And finally, as The Oregonian reported on April 2, monkey studies here at OHSU have solved one of the key mysteries about infections resulting from the virus cytomegalovirus (CMV), a disease that causes brain damage to 8,000 newborns each year.

Animal activists often reject these kinds of discoveries claiming that animal studies are outdated and that all of these breakthroughs could be made in test tubes or with computer models. But in reality, no test tube can simulate the complex immune response of an animal and no computer can mimic a real, breathing lung. Before we can try therapies in real human patients we must study a similar living system first.

In response to our studies, local organizers of World Week for Animals in Laboratories have promised us a wide range of activities. They’ve announced plans of legal protests but also some more menacing-sounding acts too.

According to a Web posting by the anonymous Portland Animal Defense League, the week will include “daytime demos” (we’ve learned that’s usually code for harassing a researcher’s family at home), “office demos” (code for invading a lab or office) and a “surprise action.” The activists also plan to protest the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies which raises funds to prevent premature births and their devastating impacts to a child who comes too early.

I fully understand and support each person’s right to legally protest when they have concerns. But Illegal actions are different. OHSU researchers have had our homes and cars vandalized. Our children have been terrorized by masked individuals who show up on our doorsteps. We’ve received threats from the Animal Liberation Front that our houses will be firebombed.

As Portlanders, we take pride in the city’s activist culture. However, surely we all agree that harassment, stalking and death threats have no place in our city. Especially when the core issue – health research – benefits so many.

Nancy L. Haigwood, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist/Director, Oregon National Primate Research Center
Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute
Professor, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology
Oregon Health & Science University

Who’s Afraid to Talk about Animal Research?

Part 1:  Outreach and Education Programs by the Nonhuman Primate Research Community

One of the misleading claims often made about members of the community of scientists and others engaged in, or supportive of, animal research is that they don’t talk with the public about their work. To the many scientists and others actively involved in a broad array of both formal and informal education, outreach, and community engagement efforts it is obvious that there is, in fact, a great deal of talking about animal research. At the same time, as with any other aspect of science or area of public interest, there is always a need for more outreach and more public engagement.

Speaking of Research encourages new outreach efforts and increased participation in dialogue about the responsible use of animals in humanely-conducted and ethical research. For those seeking to become more involved in speaking out about animal research there are many sources of information and existing programs that provide good ideas, models, and assistance in setting up new efforts.

This post will begin a series that highlights different approaches to science outreach and education, particularly those focused on research with nonhuman animals.  We begin with community outreach and education programs at primate research centers.  Many primate centers have active outreach programs built around educational objectives and service to local schools, including programs that provide opportunities for K-12 students to learn about research, internships for college students, and tours of their facilities.  The focus on educational outreach and opportunities for students is in keeping with the role of scientists as educators.

The California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) is one with a long-standing educational program.  Initiated in 2003, “the Education Outreach Program (EOP) was developed as a free, public-service program to introduce K-6 students to nonhuman primates, general health science concepts, animals in research, and biomedical research programs and careers. It supports the California Science Content Standards. This program has been a huge success with the classes visited since it began in June 2003. Comments we have received indicate that the children, as well as the adults, have a greater understanding of primates and health sciences, and the positive benefits that the primate center has on their lives.”  The CNPRC website includes links to the curriculum for their outreach program as well as many resources for teachers.

The Oregon National Primate Research Center also has an active outreach program, with its mission described as:  “Scientists have a responsibility to communicate their research findings to the public, and ONPRC scientists and administration take this responsibility seriously. The Office of Education Outreach hosts tours for over 3,000 visitors to the Center each year.”  As well, “ONPRC scientists speak to Center visitors, serve as mentors for teachers and students, and visit area classrooms. In addition, they participate in various programs through OHSU’s Science Education Opportunities Office (SOAR), and collaborate with several local and regional institutions, including Saturday Academy, OMSI, and the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR).”

Rhesus Monkeys at ONPRC

Outreach programs at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Tulane National Primate Research Center also support interactions between local schools and scientists engaged in primate research.  At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, a description of outreach programs illustrates an approach that, like others, includes many different audiences:  “The Department of Veterinary Sciences plays a vital role in helping to develop an appreciation for and an understanding of biomedical research by offering teachers, regional youth and the public a unique avenue to actively participate in the research process. Our formal education programs provide opportunities for individuals to dramatically increase their content knowledge in the sciences; access to scientists, veterinarians and other career role models in the sciences to both educators and students; practical hands-on student activities that coordinate with national science standards and curricular frameworks; and professional development for employees.”

At the Wake Forest University Primate Center the community outreach and education program “serves the community by providing children in grades K-12 and their teachers with opportunities to visit the WFUPC and learn about biomedical research. These tours are designed to give visitors educational information about nonhuman primates and the unique role that they play in translational research, to highlight the wide range of human health disorders that are addressed by the Translational Science Institute and the WFUPC, and to educate children about careers in science.”

Among the sources for educational and outreach materials about nonhuman primates are those provided by the American Society of Primatologists (ASP). ASP has a long history of encouraging and supporting “the development of educational programs in primatology” and “promoting improved instruction regarding primates.”  Their website includes helpful links and materials for teachers and others “looking for ideas on incorporating nonhuman primates into their lesson plans and anyone interested in learning more about nonhuman primates.”

Finally, the Primate Info Net (PIN), begun in 1995, provides many resources, links, and helpful educational material to those interested in primates, primate research, and outreach activities.  The PIN is maintained by Lawrence Jacobsen Library at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC), University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Primate Info Net is designed to cover the broad field of primatology, providing original content and links to resources about nonhuman primates in research, education and conservation. Through email lists and other resources, PIN also supports an informal ‘primate information network’ comprised of thousands of individuals around the world working with nonhuman primates in a variety of roles.”

There are many other ongoing outreach, education, and community engagement efforts. Those highlighted here provide just a few examples of the types of programs that encourage interaction.  Speaking of Research encourages scientists and others supportive of animal research to get involved in public outreach activities through the broad range of existing programs such as those highlighted above, but also by developing new initiatives.  Members of the Speaking of Research Committee work actively in many different types of public outreach and education and are available to share advice and experience with others.  We encourage you to use the comments section or to write posts to share your own experiences and programs and, by doing so, help to continue to build networks for supporting and increasing these efforts.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.