Tag Archives: baboon

Remembering a hero of the struggle against HIV/AIDS

December 1st is World AIDS Day, dedicated to raising awareness of the worldwide AIDS pandemic, to support people living with HIV/AIDS and to commemorate those who died.

The disease has claimed over 25 million lives.  Worldwide, over 33 million people are now living with HIV/AIDS.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first report of the disease, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of June 5, 1981. By 1984 scientists had isolated the virus that caused the disease – human immunodeficiency virus, HIV.

It was a terrifying and frustrating time.  A diagnosis was considered a death sentence.  There were few treatments and little hope.   “All our patients died – 100 percent,” said one clinician about the era.

In 1985 the first diagnostic test was licensed and in 1987 AZT, the first anti-HIV drug, was approved. Over the past two decades, scientific progress in developing new treatments has been steady as dozens of new drugs were developed and several new methods of prevention were proven to be effective.

Jeff Getty – a hero of the fight against HIV/AIDS

In a bold experiment in 1995, Jeff Getty, a prominent HIV/AIDS activist and research advocate, received the first bone marrow transplant from a baboon.  The hope was that the animal’s natural resistance to HIV-1 would develop in his system.

I’m going to die anyway,” Jeff told a reporter. “Let’s get on with finding some answers about the disease.  If this saves me, then I got lucky.”

Despite approval by the FDA after extensive deliberation, many researchers had concerns about the procedure.  The physician who carried out the marrow transplant, Steven Deeks, an HIV/AIDS researcher at UCSF acknowledged, “We have been accused of being desperate, and to some extent we are,” he said. “We’re seeing people die every day and the therapies that are currently available and those that are predicted to be available over the next several years aren’t going to substantially slow that down.”

Ultimately, the baboon cells did not engraft, but Jeff’s health improved greatly.  His doctors thought some treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy, that he received in preparation for the transplant, were likely responsible for his upswing. Jeff felt the procedure ‘bought some time’ – and indeed, he lived long enough to benefit from another novel treatment he was receiving at the time: combination antiviral therapy.

The development from the mid-1990’s of the first generations of antiviral drug combinations known as Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) was a breakthrough  that was to have a profound effect on the prognosis for HIV positive people, and was spurred by the arrival of HIV protease inhibitors, whose development depended in part on animal studies.

Jeff lived with HIV/AIDS for a total of 26 years, until October, 2006 when he died of heart failure.

While he was recovering in San Francisco General Hospital in December 1995 after the transplant, Jeff received a number of death threats from animal rights activists.  Jeff perceived PETA and other animal rights groups that opposed the use of laboratory animals as a direct threat to AIDS research.  He was not wrong: at the time PeTA had allied itself with ACT UP San Francisco* a malevolent organization that embraced HIV/AIDS denialism and attacked both HIV/AIDS researchers and other AIDS activists, including Jeff.

The following June, Jeff travelled to Washington DC  to work with Americans for Medical Progress in effectively speaking out against PETA’s anti-research stance, and the hypocrisy of Hollywood celebrities who supported PETA while wearing red ribbons in support of HIV/AIDS research.

He wrote the following commentary for the Wall Street Journal during that visit, and we reprint it in his honor on this World AIDS Day.

Sadly, while the options for successfully treating HIV/AIDS have improved dramatically since 1995 thanks to the efforts of scientists and of activists like Jeff, the animal rights anti-research agenda remains unchanged.


by Jeff Getty
The Wall Street Journal, June 13, 1996

Without animal research there will be no cure for AIDS. My life and the lives of millions of people with HIV/AIDS depend on scientists working with animals to develop new therapies.

Every single drug we are taking right now to stay alive until a cure is found has come about only because of animal research. Yet the advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) says it would oppose any cure for AIDS that involved research with animals.

Such extremists do not simply make animal research a matter of polite debate. One need not look far to find people with HIV or AIDS who have been targeted by the animal rights zealots. When I was fighting for my life in the hospital this winter, I received death wishes from so-called animal lovers. Cleve Jones, founder of the Names Project, received death threats after being a grand marshal for a gay rodeo. Peter Stahley of Treatment Action Group recently said that PETA is a direct threat to his life. He is right.

Using tactics of distortion, intimidation, harassment and in some cases even violence, animal rights extremists have effectively delayed significant AIDS research. Here are some examples:

  • AIDS researchers at Stanford University in California were forced to build labs and complexes underground following attacks on university property carried out in the name of animal rights. According to one researcher there, the violent tactics of the animal rights fanatics’ violent tactics have added great costs to AIDS research, slowed certain projects and blocked other AIDS experiments from happening altogether due to high costs.
  • Recently, a prominent immunologist in the Northeast who is researching important immune restoration therapies for people with AIDS said that the biggest obstacle to his research was over-restrictive animal rights laws. In his research, this AIDS scientist is transplanting thymus tissue from infants to adults. After transplants are performed on animals, researchers are prohibited from conductnig further biopsies on any of these animals. On the other hand, human study subjects can and will receive biopsies over and over, as needed.
  • An animal rights group’s complaint to the National Institute of Health (NIH) about the appropriateness of the xenotransplant I received in December led to an expensive, time consuming paper chase for researchers. The NIH responded that there was no wrongdoing and that the experiment was approved to move forward. This bogus complaint caused people with AIDS needless waste of time and money.
  • The Progressive Animal Welfare Society, an animal rights group, targeted a Washington State researcher and successfully shut down, for a time, research involving mother-to-child transmission of simian immunodeficiency virus among macaque monkeys. This work later turned out to be the foundation for treatment of human newborns with AZT to block HIV. How many children are now needlessly dying of AIDS because information that could have prevented their disease was obstructed by animal rights extremists?

Certain Hollywood celebrities like to wear red AIDS ribbons while also supporting groups like PETA. It is time for the hypocrisy to end. You can’t be for AIDS, breast cancer and diabetes research and also support militant animal rights groups.

The only productive research approach is intensive, well-funded biomedical experimentation performed by scientists free to use animals in their work. Contrary to PETA’s rhetoric, computers have not replaced animals for drug safety testing and research. It will be many years before such a computer is ever programmed, simply because we now only dimly understand how the immune system works.

Meanwhile, animal rights groups continue to take donors’ money, promising to fight “for the animals.” In fact, their agenda is to stop all animal research forever, no matter what the human cost. Dan Mathews, an openly gay employee of PETA, has said publicly that he agrees with the group’s opposition to a cure for AIDS if it came through animal research. When asked about the fate of those currently dying of the disease, he said “Don’t get the disease in the first place, schmo.” Dan does not have AIDS, but he has shown that he has contempt for the men, women and children who do.

Many of the cures for diseases that are now long gone and out of the way came from animal research. If PETA had it way 50 years ago, we’d be talking today about hundreds of thousands of people dying from polio, as well as AIDS.

*ACT UP San Francisco should not be confused with the other groups within the ACT UP network who did much and more to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS crisis, drive forward research on new therapies, and improve access to effective treatment.

Speaking of Research

Is tissue engineering poised to transform heart bypass surgery?

Tissue engineering is one of the hottest fields in 21st century medicine, and last year I discussed how one leading scientist in this field, Professor Laura Niklason of Yale University, has made important strides in the development of artificial arteries. Now scientists led by Laura Niklason have announced another important milestone in the development of artificial blood vessels; blood vessels that she hopes will be suitible for many patients undergoing operations such as heart bypass surgery for whom no other suitible blood vessels are available for transplant.

Artificial blood vessel produced using human cells by scientists at Humacyte. Image courtesy of Science/AAAS

In a publication in Science Translational Medicine the scientists at Humacyte describe how atificial blood vessels were constructed by growing human  or canine smooth muscle cells on a tubular polyglycolic acid scaffold, and implanted respectively in baboons to to join an artery, and in dogs as a coronary artery bypass graft .  The success of these transplants, which demonstrated excellent safety and blood flow in dogs and baboons for up to one year after implantation, has generated quite a lot of media excitement. The MIT technology review has a good account of the study and the background to it, citing Professor David Putman of Cornell University who said concerning the study that:

The researchers’ use of baboons also provides important additional support before they move into human trials. The reason is that the dynamics of blood flow in baboons are a good model for what happens in humans.”

While most of the reports suggest that clinical trials of these articficial blood vessels will start in the very near future, a report on the NHS website highlights the observation by Laura Niklason and colleagues that the number of animals used in these studies was quite small, and that further animal studies of longer duration will be necessary before clinical trials in humans can begin. Nevertheless this is a significant medical advance, and I hope that the further animal studies, which are probably under way as I write, confirm the excellent results seen in this weeks report and allow clinical trials to commence.

Paul Browne

University Leadership and Animal Research: A Dean’s perspective

I am a former NIH program manager and have been a research dean for almost 20 years.  I first had to deal with the effects of animal activism on research in 1984, when I was at NIH, and have worked on the issue ever since through my role at NIH, my scientific societies and my university.  I also use monkeys in my own research, am listed on animal activist websites and have received death threats.  I’d like to comment on the behavior of the Oklahoma State University administration that has turned down an approved anthrax study.

I find it both astounding and scandalous that an institution of higher education would surrender a research project in the face merely of anticipated animal activism, as the administration at OSU has intimated.  That this was a thoroughly reviewed biodefense study that could potentially contribute to national security, among the strongest possible research justifications, makes this action even more troubling.

This is a failure on several levels.  The OSU administration has failed to live up to its broad national duty to support biodefense research, even after receiving funds to build one of the scarce large animal BSL3 facilities in which such work can be safely carried out.  It has failed in its obligation to both its local and the broader scientific community by encouraging the violent tactics of animal extremists and not clearly articulating a defensible rationale for this unprecedented action.  And it has failed its duty to its faculty by not consulting with them before undertaking a potentially far-reaching move that can’t help but threaten their morale and weaken the overall research environment.

Universities should and can resist animal activists.  If nothing else, permitting emotionally driven activists to interfere with highly vetted and appropriate research challenges the very foundations of the university as a place of discovery, free inquiry and enlightened teaching.  One of the first goals of university leadership should be to uphold those principles.  But this strategic failure is only part of the picture.  The decision is ultimately self-defeating, both for OSU and the larger biomedical research community.  Giving in to terrorists, which is what animal extremists are when they abandon reasoned argument and resort to threats and violence, only reinforces their belief that violence can be effective against animal research.

Remarkably, OSU has capitulated to (of all things) imagined threats. The activists, of course, want universities to censor their own behavior, and to the extent that extremists feel that the use of violence will lead other institutions to behave like OSU, they will only be emboldened.  University leadership should be standing up to activists to enable their faculty to do the research that benefits us all, not trying to figure out how to avoid that role after the least provocation.

The University of California, Los Angeles eventually learned this lesson.  After several unfortunate instances it finally stood up for its faculty and to the activists, who were using public threats and physical violence to get their way.  UCLA took legal action against the extremists, it provided security for faculty who came under attack, and perhaps most importantly the chancellor delivered a strong statement in support of biomedical research.

Many institutions already knew these things had to be done and others have learned the lessons of UCLA and are moving proactively to protect their faculty and research programs.

I know university research administrators are often not loved by the faculty.  But there are many institutions where the deans use their resources to fully support appropriately reviewed and approved animal research, no matter what the species. This, frankly, is what you should expect from all of us.  We should work to supply an environment that fosters research and that supports you if the going ever gets tough.  Abandoning our faculty and mission in the face of animal extremist tactics should never be an option.  To do so because of something that just might be over the horizon shouldn’t even enter into the conversation.

David P. Friedman, 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.

OSU President Yet to Explain Decision to Cancel Primate Project

The rapidly growing controversy over Oklahoma State University’s President Burns Hargis decision to cancel a research project has attracted national attention for a number of reasons.  The November 30th Daily Oklahoman report on Hargis’ decision has ignited discussion and calls for both reversal of the decision and accountability in addressing the many questions that have been raised about decision-making at OSU. Science bloggers—including ERV, Drug Monkey, and Scicurious at Neurotopia— and commentary by their readers highlight the range and type of concern. Speaking of Research provided analysis that places the single research project into the broader context of OSU’s efforts to grow its research program over the past several years. Science magazine’s Greg Miller reported on the story in Science Insider. On December 2nd, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States, representing 22 scientific societies and more than 90,000 members, released a statement:

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) finds the reports of the cancellation of an anthrax study involving nonhuman primates at Oklahoma State University (OSU) to be troubling. ‘We are concerned that this undercuts the role of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and blocks the use of appropriate animal models in crucial biodefense research,’ said FASEB President, Mark O. Lively, Ph.D.

Animal activists groups have also joined in.  Hargis has been praised for his action by Madeleine Pickens, wife of wealthy donor T. Boone Pickens, on her website. Re-posting a story from DVM Magazine, Pickens places her commendation in the article’s title, adding to it “Kudos for a Great Decision!” and underscores the statement within:

a ‘generous benefactor’ to OSU and her ties to the Humane Society of the United States may have played a role in the termination of the project.

Speaking of Research encourages interest and public dialogue about the role of responsible use of animals in research.  We also call for attention to the major issues raised by this situation, which are:  Who should be empowered to interfere with funded research, and by what process should this occur?

Disagreement about the use of animals in research, about specific procedures, allocation of resources, and national funding priorities are all issues that merit national, public dialogue with an engaged citizenry.  These issues should not, however, be settled by the actions of a single individual who seeks to overturn the decisions and interfere with the processes of the many that are involved in distribution of federal and state monies, scientific review, and institutional oversight of research.

On Friday, an opinion piece by Hargis, formerly a businessman, appeared in the local newspaper and appeared to have the goal of reassuring Oklahomans and others that his decision was in the best interest of his university. The piece is titled “OSU’s best interests at center of decision.”  Others have provided analysis of potential problems with his statement and have called for him to address questions that still remain unanswered. Speaking of Research agrees that there are many questions that Hargis has dodged in his statement and we will return to more detailed analysis of those in a subsequent post if they remain unresolved.

Of immediate concern however, is the fact that Hargis appears to feel confident that he is not only competent to make decisions about scientific research, but is also correct to do so based upon consideration of narrow interests.  We disagree.  Hargis is interfering with research that is part of a much larger family of work that addresses essential questions with relevance to human health. The research at the center of this controversy is a line of work undertaken because it reflects research priorities identified not only by the scientific community, but by state and federal agencies.

The line of research that Hargis is interfering with is aimed at evaluation and development better vaccines to protect our troops and our citizens against bioterrorist agents.  Although Hargis is attempting to focus attention on a single project, the implications of his decision-making about this project are much broader.  Allowed to stand, the consequences of this decision will go well beyond the local community and have the potential to influence the course of bioterrorism research.

It is possible that Hargis does not understand the process by which decisions are made about dedicating resources and funds for research by federal and state agencies. It is also possible that he does not understand the process that moves science and health research forward.  Scientific progress and advancements in medicine most often depends upon interconnection between research projects, collaboration between scientists at different institutions, and sharing of resources and facilities.  The project at OSU appears to exemplify this, with collaboration and sharing of resources and facilities between scientists at OSU and other institutions.  Rather than recognize this strength, Hargis has leveraged it to explain his action, saying:  “The financial impact to OSU would have been minor and OSU’s role would have been limited…”

Burns Hargis

It is hard to believe that Oklahoma’s citizens and elected officials would support Hargis’ decision to act according to such narrow interests.  Although Hargis is charged only with leading OSU, it would seem that he should also be held responsible for serious consideration of how his actions affect the broader public, including the state and federal interests that underlie funding for OSU’s facilities.

Clarification and explanation of many aspects of the OSU situation remain to be provided by OSU’s administration.  We hope that this clarification is forthcoming and that Hargis will make himself available for an open public discussion of the situation rather than issuing statements or op-ed pieces with scant information.  Thus far, to our knowledge, Hargis has failed to hold an open press conference, nor have state officials or regents addressed the issue publicly.

Of the many questions that remain to be addressed, one is whether Hargis has used his office to subvert public processes in an attempt to support the agenda of animal activists. In his op-ed, Hargis appears to deny animal activist influence in his decision:

It has been suggested that this decision was reached arbitrarily and it was influenced by animal rights activists as well as a donor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The appearance of the congratulatory post on activist Madeleine Picken’s website, along with a previous controversy involving OSU and Pickens, conveys, however, the impression that Hargis’ attention is to wealthy donors rather than to national priorities for public health research.  Applauding Hargis’ action is, in many ways, applauding a course of action that is in opposition to democratic process.

If Hargis wants to make his office the arena for both dialogue and debate about animal research, Speaking of Research will applaud his desire to engage in an essential discussion.  What should be understood by Hargis and others is that interfering in a line of research already endorsed at federal, state, and local levels is an action that is deeply troubling and will receive widespread attention until it is reversed. Hargis is presumably accountable to the state legislature and citizens of Oklahoma.  If he is unwilling to provide clarification about this situation in a manner that addresses the many questions raised, we ask that others step in to do so.  Contact information for state officials is below.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

Speaking of Research

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.


Oklahoma’s two Senators are:
Tom Coburn, M.D. http://coburn.senate.gov/public/
James M. Inhofe http://inhofe.senate.gov/public/
and their Congressional Representatives are:
Dan Boren  http://boren.house.gov/
Tom Cole  http://www.cole.house.gov/
Mary Fallin  http://fallin.house.gov/index.html
Frank Lucas  http://www.house.gov/lucas/
John Sullivan http://sullivan.house.gov/
The appropriate people to contact in the Oklahoma State legislature are
probably the members of the Higher Education and Public health
committees in the House of Representatives
and the Public Safety and homeland Security committee in the state
Senate, who can be found starting from.