Tag Archives: primate

The ethics and value of responsible animal research

This post, signed by over 90 scientists, is in response to an article published 09/04/16 in the New York Times titled: “Second thoughts of an animal researcher.” 

The ethics and value of responsible animal research

Last week we learned that in the first decade since its introduction the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine has cut the rate of cervical cancer by half. Experts estimate that the vaccine could eradicate cancer caused by the virus within the next 40 years. This is indeed good news, as today cervical cancer kills about 250,000 women every year.

Such breakthroughs are the result of decades of research that typically begin with the study of basic mechanisms of cancer in-vitro, the development of disease models and therapies in animals, and their translation to humans. In the particular case of the HPV vaccine rabbits, mice, cattle and human volunteers were used in the research dating back to the 1930s, when Richard Shope first isolated viral particles from wart-like tumors in the Eastern cottontail rabbit.

Medical history is replete with such stories and their contribution to human health is undeniable. A couple of generations ago a visit to a physician might have resulted in a recommendation to induce vomiting, diarrhea or, more commonly, bleeding. Diphtheria, mumps, measles and polio were common and untreatable. Treatment for mental health disorders included malarial shock therapy, lobotomy, lifelong institutionalization, and worse. Life expectancy in the U.S. was less than 50 years; it is now close to 80 years.

Animal research was instrumental in most of these past achievements, and the overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the use of animals in research is critical to make progress in many areas of biomedical and behavioral research. However, some members of the public and a few scientists express doubt about the moral justification for the work.

Such is the case with Professor John Gluck, a former primate researcher who conducted lab research decades ago, in the 1960s-1980s, during a time with different standards and regulations compared to contemporary practice. Gluck writes about his own ethical unease which eventually led him to abandon his work with animals and to argue that the existing system for reviewing and conducting animal research should be revised. Gluck appears to think that if others have not arrived at his same conclusion it must be because of their failure to engage in moral reasoning.

Studies in rhesus macaques first indicated that Tenofovir could block HIV infection. Photo: Understanding Animal Research

Studies in rhesus macaques first indicated that Tenofovir could block HIV infection. Photo: Understanding Animal Research

The fact is that most scientists and the public have wrestled with moral questions about the use of animals in research for over 100 years. The results of this ongoing, thoughtful reflection are personal and professional codes of ethics, laws and regulations in the US and other countries, and widespread societal changes in our views and treatment of other animals. Society as a whole considers as morally permissible the regulated and justified use of animals to advance medical knowledge, to improve the well-being of human and nonhuman animals alike, and to understand the health of the environment.

Had animal research leading to the HPV vaccine been banned, cervical cancer today would continue to kill women at a constant rate. Many of us believe that there is a moral imperative to use scientific knowledge and research skills to improve the lives of these women by means of well-regulated, responsible animal research. Opponents may argue that such research should be banned because all nonhuman animals deserve equal moral concern to what we offer human beings.

Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research

Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research

As a society we must grapple with and debate these questions and arrive at a democratic decision to such moral disputes. It is unfortunate that meaningful debate is impeded when critics attack the work by falsely claiming that animal research has no value for human health. They incorrectly assert that scientists can do as they please in their laboratories or, worse, that scientists, veterinarians and technicians do not truly care about the well-being of their animal subjects. And they mislead the public by claiming that alternatives exist (such as computer simulations, cell culture, human testing) that can fully substitute the goals of animal research. Indeed, Professor Gluck attempted to reinforce such falsehoods about animal research and animal researchers in his op-ed piece.

The truth is that the care and treatment of animal subjects is protected not only by carefully specified standards, but also by a well-developed federal oversight system that is transparent to the public. Alternatives are used when they exist and when it is possible. Scientists themselves have worked effectively to produce many of the alternative methods and to continue to refine practices to improve animal welfare. The weighing of scientific objectives with consideration of animal welfare is required by law before the approval of any experimental protocol.

Gluck argues that the US government should convene a national commission to consider the ethical treatment of nonhuman animals in medical research. However, he must recognize that animals in research studies are just a small fraction of all animals used by humans for a wide range of purposes that include food, entertainment, labor, clothing, and companionship.

The comparison is particularly true with respect to the number of chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, and fish that are eaten. But even restricting the discussion to nonhuman primates (the topic of Gluck’s essay) it is also the case that nonhuman primates are a small, but important, fraction- generally less than 1%- of captive animals involved in research. Furthermore, in the US, there are just over 1,000 facilities that house nonhuman primates and that are licensed or registered with the USDA. Of those, fewer than 20% are research-registered facilities. The gross majority are licensed zoos, or various entertainment venues for the public.

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Dr. Gluck and others have called on NIH to review its ethical practices when, in fact, following their logic, they should be asking the FDA for a moral justification for the production and consumption of filet mignon. Eating a steak has never saved a life; vaccines and therapies developed with the use of animals in research do so every single day. When such inversion of priorities is made evident, one must conclude that it is not those seeking to advance knowledge and human health via carefully regulated work who are at fault in their moral reasoning.

Moral decisions about the use of animals in research require consideration of the fact that science does not provide a recipe that will lead us directly to a cure for an illness. Instead, it provides a recipe to understand incrementally the physical and biological processes in nature, which we can then apply to make this a better world by reducing suffering for humans and for other animals.

Scientists, students, veterinarians, and staff who engage in biomedical and behavioral research with animals do it not because they have failed to consider the moral issues. They do it precisely because they have thought about them carefully and arrived at the conclusion that failing to do the research would prevent us from developing new cures, such as the HPV vaccine that now stands to eradicate cervical cancer, or being prepared to face new threats, such as confronting the Zika virus.

As the National Institutes of Health convenes this week to examine the science and ethics of research with nonhuman primates, one must remember the important contributions the work has made to the study of child health and development, diabetes and obesity, mental health, transplant tolerance, vaccines, HIV/AIDS, deep brain stimulation (DBS) and the development of brain-machine interfaces, among many other areas. Evidence for the contributions of animal research to such advances is widely available, including most recently, in a white paper. It is this evidence that provides the foundation for why animal research — occurring within an ethical and regulatory framework that requires consideration of both scientific objectives and animal welfare — is endorsed by a wide range of scientific and medical organizations.

Dario L. Ringach, PhD, Departments of Neurobiology & Psychology, University of California Los Angeles

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Megan R. Gunnar, PhD, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

Mark A. Krause, PhD, Department of Psychology, Southern Oregon University

Mary Dozier, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware

Aaron Batista, PhD, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh

Bijan Pesaran, PhD, Center for Neural Science, New York University

Brittany R. Howell, PhD, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

Greg Horwitz, PhD, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington

John P. Capitanio, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of California-Davis

Jose Carmena, PhD, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley

Robert A. Shapiro PhD, Department of Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Koen Van Rompay, DVM, PhD, California National Primate Research Center

David Jentsch, PhD, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University

George F. Michel, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina-Greensboro

Chana Akins, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky

Ian Nauhaus, PhD, Center for Perceptual Systems, University of Texas at Austin

Kimberley A. Phillips, PhD, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Program, Trinity University

Drake Morgan, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Florida

Michael Shadlen, MD/PhD, The Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, Columbia University

Ed Callaway, PhD,  The Salk Institute for Biological Sciences

Eliza Bliss-Moreau, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of California-Davis

Mehrdad Jazayeri, PhD, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT

Wayne E. Pratt, PhD, Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University

Ken Miller, PhD, Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, Columbia University

Kristina Nielsen, PhD, The Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, Johns Hopkins University

Mary E. Cain, PhD, Department of Psychological Sciences, Kansas State University

Mar Sanchez, PhD, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Emory University

Anthony Movshon, PhD, Center for Neural Science, New York University

Michael E. Goldberg, MD, Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry, Columbia University

Michele Basso, PhD, Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles

Andreas Tolias, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Margaret Livingstone, PhD, Harvard Medical School

Doris Tsao, PhD, Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology

Dora Angelaki, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Jeff Weiner, PhD, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest School of Medicine

Elizabeth Simpson, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Miami

Robert Wurtz. PhD, Scientist Emeritus, NIH

Christian R. Abee, DVM, DACLAM, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Jon Levine, PhD, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

John H. Morrison, PhD, California National Primate Research Center, University of California Davis

Paul Johnson, MD,  Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

Nancy L Haigwood, PhD, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University

Michael Mustari, PhD, Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington

Andrew A. Lackner, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVP, Tulane National Primate Research Center, Tulane University Health Sciences Center

Alessandra Angelucci, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Utah

Brenda McCowan, PhD, Population Health & Reproduction School of Veterinary Medicine, UC-Davis

Alan Brady DVM, ACLAM, Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Lisa Savage, PhD, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University

Steven J. Schapiro, PhD, Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Nicolle Matthews-Carr, PhD, BCBA-D

Stephen I Helms Tillery, PhD, School of Biological & Health Systems Engineering, Arizona State University

Regina Gazes, PhD, Department of Psychology, Bucknell University

Nim Tottenham, PhD, Department of Psychology, Columbia University

Michael J. Beran, PhD, Department of Psychology, Georgia State University

Doug Wallace, PhD, Psychology Department, Northern Illinois University

Gary Greenberg PhD, Professor Emeritus, Psychology, Wichita State University

Richard Born, MD, Harvard Medical School

Lee E. Miller, PhD, Departments of Physiology & Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University

Paul M Plotsky, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Emory University

John J. Sakon, PhD, Center for Neural Science, New York University

Rick A. Finch, PhD, Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Charles R. Menzel, PhD, Language Research Center, Georgia State University

Farran Briggs, PhD, Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, Dartmouth University

Alan M. Daniel, PhD, Department of Social Science, Glenville State College

Corrina Ross, PhD, Department of Biology, Texas A&M University

Cynthia Anne Crawford, PhD, Department of Psychology, California State University

William D. Hopkins, PhD, Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University

Klaus A. Miczek, PhD, Department of Psychology, Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences, Tufts University

Jeffrey Schall, PhD, Psychological Sciences, Vanderbilt University

David A. Washburn, PhD, Department of Psychology, Georgia State University

Gene P. Sackett, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology and National Primate Research Center, University of Washington

Jerrold S. Meyer, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts

Lynn Fairbanks, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA

Moshe Syzf, PhD, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University

Mark Seagraves, PhD, Department of Neurobiology, Northwestern University

Thomas Albright, PhD, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Peter J. Pierre, PhD, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, UW-Madison

Jack Bergman, PhD, Department of Behavioral Biology, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School

Michael A. Taffe, PhD, The Scripps Research Institute

Kim Wallen, PhD, Department of Psychology and Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

John A. Vanchiere, MD, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, LSU Health Sciences Center – Shreveport

Anita A Disney, PhD, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

Limin Chen, MD, PhD, Department of Radiology & Radiological Sciences, Vanderbilt University

Stanton B. Gray, DVM, PhD, DACLAM, Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

David Abbott, PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ramnarayan Ramachandran, PhD, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Dorothy M. Fragaszy, PhD, Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program, Psychology Department, University of Georgia

Joe H. Simmons, DVM, PhD, DACLAM, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Kathleen A. Grant, PhD, Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health Sciences University

Gary Dunbar, PhD, Department of Psychology, Central Michigan University

Paul Glimcher, PhD, Professor of Neural Science, Psychology and Economics, New York University

Larry Williams, PhD, Department of Veterinary Sciences, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center

Julie M. Worlein, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Washington

Nathan Fox, PhD, Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, University of Maryland

Mary Dallman, PhD, Emerita, Department of
Physiology, University of California, San Francisco

W. Thomas Boyce, MD, Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco

Philip H. Knight Chair, PhD, PSI Center for Translational Neuroscience,  University of Oregon

The signatories here are expressing their personal views which do not necessarily reflect those of their institutions.

Opinions, evidence, and anti-research agendas: A recap of a session at the American Society of Primatologists/International Primatological Society Meeting 2016

Research with nonhuman primates in laboratory settings is a tiny fraction of both laboratory research and nonhuman primate research. The topic is of disproportionate interest, however, for many reasons, and is reflected by a recent symposium at the joint meeting of The American Society of Primatologists and International Primatological Society. The session was titled “Use and care of captive non-human primates: Evaluating and improving ethical requirements.”  The session was notable for a number of reasons.

  • Despite its inclusion in the scientific program of scientific societies, the session presented little evidence and little balance.
  • The panelists were tied to organizations and/or campaigns opposed to laboratory research with nonhuman primates, yet did not disclose these ties upfront and failed to provide their basic starting assumptions or to acknowledge their positions.
  • The fact-less rhetoric did not provide a basis for productive discussion about captive primate care or changes to existing regulations, as would have been provided with evidence-based presentations.
Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Starting assumptions

We wrote yesterday about why providing basic starting assumptions is key when entering any dialogue, particularly when that dialogue involves conversations about the ethical and moral considerations related to the use of animals in biomedical research. If basic starting assumptions are not put forth at the start of a dialogue, then potential areas for agreement cannot be identified – if they in fact exist at all.

Unfortunately, this tenet was not practiced during the symposium. The organizers, anthropologists Drs. Barbara J. King and Marni M. LaFleur, wrote that the symposium was intended to“invite IPS and ASP members to come together and discuss how we may best manage the care and oversight of captive-living nonhuman primates.” At face value, this invitation seemed like a safe haven for “discussion and collaboration amongst researchers, veterinarians, technicians, and caregivers.” (In fact, data-driven sessions like these occur regularly at ASP meetings amongst the experts who care for and study captive primates.) However, the organizers and panelists failed to disclose their basic assumptions upfront, namely that they oppose the use of nonhuman primates in biomedical research.

Several speakers in the symposium have affiliated with campaigns by PETA, an organization that very clearly offers an absolutist position stating that animals should never be experimented on. The Vice President of Animal Research Issues at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Kathleen Conlee, was also featured. HSUS’ position is less clear, though one of Conlee’s slides stated that the organization’s aim is to “Promote 3R’s but push for replacement of invasive research as quickly as possible.”

Macaques. Kathy West. CNPRC. 17

Macaques. Photo credit: Kathy West

As many attendees of the session attested after it concluded, the panelists’ failure to establish positions upfront resulted in a session with a very narrow focus that did not actually result in constructive discussion. Although the speakers’ stances on biomedical research were not stated upfront, they became readily apparent in each presentation.

The symposium followed a roundtable format, with the 6 speakers each presenting for about 5 minutes and a Q&A session for about an hour and a half afterward. Notably, the speakers did not include information on the well-established regulations and processes that are in place to balance research objectives, animal welfare, and public interests in scientific advances. (In 2015, ASP held a roundtable that thoroughly addressed these topics with evidence-based material.) Some presenters did show historical timelines of a few pieces of legislation enacted to address and ensure animal welfare (e.g., the passage of and amendments to the Animal Welfare Act), though nearly all presentations were lacking in evidence-based arguments. Instead, they often relied on outdated and out-of-context photographs (some from undercover investigations, which Conlee proudly acknowledged to the audience that HSUS had undertaken). Granted, the 5-minute time-slot for each speaker precluded the ability to delve into details, but one has to wonder if this format was a means to deliberately exclude the evidence-based regulations and processes that exist for laboratory animals.

Macaque. Kathy West. CNPRC.

Macaque. Kathy West. CNPRC.

Who should evaluate primate research?

The first speaker, LaFleur, wrote in the abstract of her presentation: “Ethical standards and cost-benefit analyses of non-human primates in research must continually be evaluated and reevaluated, by a diverse range of experts (including those without vested interests).” By “vested interests,” LaFleur presumably meant those working in primate research. What wasn’t clear is whether the panelists believe that they themselves and organizations such as PETA and HSUS also have clearly vested interests. For example, PETA has an extremely vested interests in this issue, yet nowhere during the session was it disclosed that panelist King has worked actively on campaigns organized by PETA (for other panelists’ ties to PETA; see below).

Most important though, from the perspective of beginning with fact:  The analyses of non-human primates in research to which LaFleur refers already routinely occurs by experts in the field: the trained scientists, veterinarians, and colony managers, including many members of ASP, who work with primates in captive settings on a daily basis and dedicate much of their research programs toward understanding and improving their welfare (see, for one recent example, this special issue of the American Journal of Primatology, dedicated solely to the well-being of laboratory nonhuman primates).

LaFleur also wrote in her abstract, “I argue that experimental procedures which cause permanent and irreversible harm on individual non-human primates should not be deemed ethically permissible.”

Macaques. Kathy West. CNPRC. 19

Photo credit: Kathy West

Yet, LaFleur failed to make a clear case for exactly why her position is justified in a way that is more appropriate than the position held by others who were part of the multi-level review that weighs scientific objectives and animal welfare and grants approval for research projects.

Furthermore, the slides that LaFleur presented at the conference showed data-free descriptions not of experimental procedures broadly, but of a single research topic. Her focus was on studies of infant development in monkeys (work she termed “maternal deprivation”) at the NIH and the criticism that she, King, and others leveled at ASP in regards to the society’s open support for research at the NIH. For example, in one of her slides, LaFleur stated that 54 members of ASP had signed a letter she co-authored to ASP asking for a reconsideration of their support letter for an NIH research project. In fact, in reading through the list of signatories, it is not at all clear to long-time members of ASP whether many of the signatories had ever been members of the society. One must question why this misinformation was presented at such a large meeting and also why this single research topic was the focus.

Another slide asked the question, “Can we not have differing opinions from our friends and colleagues?” Of course differing opinions may exist. What we strive for, however, are regulations and policies that are based in scientific evidence in order to provide for animal health and well-being. In the context of dialogue and the supposed focus on the symposium, the larger question is whether focusing on differing opinions about one research project and one area of study is a good substitute for serious and thoughtful consideration to identify core principles that can guide continuing changes in practice and policy.

Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman came closest to laying out her basic assumptions upfront in her abstract, in which she wrote, “the primate research community should consider whether retirement of all NHP from biomedical research to sanctuary is warranted.” Lopresti-Goodman provided a few slides that cited research studies to back her written statement that “many individuals who experience…adverse conditions exhibit abnormal and/or stereotypic behaviors, and develop symptoms of psychological distress that mirror those of psychopathology in humans,” though it is notable that she did not disclose at any time during the session that she has co-authored articles with PETA employees and others staunchly opposed to animal research.

Zebrafish: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Zebrafish: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Moreover, several in the audience questioned her direct knowledge, experience, and expertise on the topic given her training and publication record in human perception and cognition.


Evaluating a claim from HSUS:  What is the evidence on environmental enrichment for nonhuman primates in captive settings?

In the US, all facilities registered or licensed to house nonhuman primates by the federal agency charged with oversight and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are required to have a plan for environmental enrichment for those animals. Evidence-based evaluation of practices aimed at meeting the goal of maintaining animals’ health and well-being, in balance with scientific objectives, is the subject of research by many ASP members and those scientific results are on display at most ASP meetings.  The findings inform practices across the range of settings in which nonhuman primates live in captivity.

Conlee’s symposium presentation took a very narrow view, focusing on an analysis that her organization (HSUS) completed of enrichment plans from 38 universities and 18 federal facilities. Those plans were obtained, in part, via use of open records laws. The analysis was aimed at evaluating whether the plans were compliant with federal law. The abstract made a startling claim:  “Plans were scored according to compliance with the minimum Animal Welfare Act standards … The analysis revealed a majority of plans (44) were not adequate.”  To be clear, what that claim suggests is that 44% of the facilities — facilities that are regularly inspected by a federal agency, the USDA– are failing to comply with federal law.

Marmosets. Kathy West. CNPRC.

Titi monkeys. Photo credit: Kathy West

Serious claim – can it be evaluated?  Unfortunately, not well.  The analysis is unpublished and unavailable for public view or critique. Conlee provided no details about the methodology, including critical definitions of coding schemes for “plans [that] were scored according to compliance with the minimum Animal Welfare Act standards” and the subsequent data analysis.

The results Conlee presented were confined to bullet points on one slide rather than actual data with accompanying statistical analysis. Collectively, the “study” did not meet ASP’s (and other societies’) criteria for scientific presentations, but was nonetheless was presented as though it were an empirical study. While that is disappointing enough, the fact that the presentation and abstract made serious claims potentially misrepresenting a large number of dedicated research centers is even more reason to hold presenters to a standard of evidence.

Finally, Conlee presented a slide stating, “USDA requirements for all regulated facilities: no change in 30 years.” However, this statement is misleading. As Justin McNulty, IACUC & IBC Manager at The University of Texas at Austin, pointed out in the discussion following the presentations, “The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals was just revised in 2011 and was reviewed by some of the people in this room. The recommendations contained in the Guide were based on published data, scientific principles, and expert opinion.” As described in the preface to the 8th Edition of The Guide, “The Guide is intended to assist investigators in fulfilling their obligation to plan and conduct animal experiments in accord with the highest scientific, humane, and ethical principle.”

Lack of evidence for the benefit-risk ratio in laboratory primate research?

LaFleur also gave King’s presentation in her absence. In her written abstract, King wrote, “I will discuss case studies that are lab-based and involve maternal-deprivation and other invasive experiments on cercopithecines; peer-reviewed scientific material from both the cercopithecine and also the comparative chimpanzee literature will provide context for discussing the benefit-harm ratio of such research on monkeys.” However, this presentation also lacked evidence-based claims and relied on references from the news media, as in one slide that touted the primate facilities that closed, or are in the process of phasing out, in 2015. In giving the presentation, LaFleur incorrectly stated that, with respect to the phasing out of the NICHD’s primate research, “those 300 monkeys [were] from the maternal deprivation work.”  This is false: only a small percentage of the colony at this facility each year has undergone nursery-rearing. Furthermore, as noted above, the actual process in place for evaluating balance of potential benefit and scientific objectives with animal welfare was not well addressed by the panelists.


Collectively, the session left much to be desired for those seeking data-driven suggestions for improving the captive care of non-human primates. As Dr. Karen Hambright, Professor of Psychology at the College of Coastal Georgia and long-time ASP member, stated during the discussion period, “As an educator who has worked with and is familiar with the conditions of animals in both zoos and labs, it my job to teach people to think critically and to base their views on evidence and not on emotional responses to polarizing rhetoric.”

King and LaFleur’s symposium abstract ended with the question, “How specifically can productive discussion about ethics be furthered among primatologists who work primarily on lab science and primatologists who work primarily on animal welfare, always acknowledging that these two groups may overlap?” A good start would be to enact practices that are foundational to any honest dialogue: namely, spelling out basic positions upfront and disclosing any potential conflicts of interest. Productive discussion could then ensue with evidence-based comments and suggestions.

Amanda Dettmer

Amanda M. Dettmer, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Her writing does not reflect the opinions of the NICHD or the NIH.


Zika research in nonhuman primates critical as fears among pregnant women, families grow

Jordana Lenon, B.S., B.A., is the outreach specialist for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this guest post Jordana talks about WNPRC research on Zika virus.

Wisconsin National Primate Research Center scientist David O’Connor is emphasizing using “as few animals as possible” to answer research questions that desperately need answers as the world watches Zika virus cause birth defects and raise fears among pregnant women and their families across the warmer Americas. These answers, O’Connor expects, will move him and his collaborators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Duke University, in Brazil and beyond forward as they learn more each day how Zika virus may be operating inside of infected pregnant women and their newborns, and could cause potential lifelong impairments we don’t even know about yet.

Researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center perform a fetal ultrasound on a pregnant rhesus macaque, in their quest to learn more about the link between the Zika virus and birth defects. (Images by Justin Bomberg, UW-Madison Communications)

Thanks to research using rhesus macaques, whose immune, reproductive and neurological systems are very similar to ours, the answers are starting to come in. Furthermore, O’Connor and his Zika Experimental Science Team, or “ZEST are sharing their raw research data through an online portal with the public – including of course and very importantly other Zika researchers. Their goal is to share data openly, to eliminate as many impediments as possible to spurring collaborative work around the globe to solve the Zika crisis.

David O'Connor, professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

David O’Connor, professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Just how severe a problem are we looking at? O’Connor gave some perspective during a public lecture on the UW-Madison campus this week. While HIV – another pandemic virus he has studied exhaustively over the past 20 years – costs society about $400,000 per patient over their life spans, Zika virus impairments in newborns could cost between $1-10 million per patient (using US dollar estimates) over their life spans. Recent studies in macaques found that the Zika virus persisted for up to 70 days in the blood of pregnant female monkeys – much longer than the 10 days it remained in either males or non-pregnant females – this increases the chance of severe birth defects being found in babies.

There are already more than 300 pregnant women in the US with laboratory evidence of Zika. This number is growing daily. Infections in the US are largely being attributed to pregnant women picking up the virus while traveling outside the country: Zika is hitting hard right now in Puerto Rico, infecting nearly 50 pregnant women per day, as Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which can transmit viruses such as dengue and Zika, spread and move northward this summer from South to Central America, to the Caribbean and into the United States. Because Zika is also sexually transmitted, its borders of infection are not limited to places where the mosquitos live and bite.

Mother and infant rhesus monkeysThere is hope, however. A new experimental vaccine has shown to protect mice with just a single dose. Scientists from Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School found two different vaccines effectively protected 100% of mice from the virus. This compares to a control group which were unprotected and all caught Zika after being exposed to the virus.

Jordana Lenon

See the team’s latest research updates on the ZEST web portal site.

View the Wednesday Night at the Lab lecture on Zika virus that Dr. O’Connor gave July 6 on the UW-Madison campus, including his responses to several questions about the virus, immunity, pregnancy, and vaccine development.

Debating Animal Research in Australia

The Ethics Centre, an independent not-for-profit organisation in Australia, held its second IQ2 debate on the motion: “Animal rights should trump human interests“. Supporting the motion was shark attack survivor, Paul de Gelder, animal lawyer, Ruth Hatten, and philanthropist Philip Wollen. Opposing the motion was ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, Commissioner at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and primate researcher Professor James Bourne. See more about the speakers.

A vote was taken before and after, with a huge swing of over 30% of the audience switching over to “against” the motion, in part due to the wonderful speech by Prof Bourne. 

Opinions of audience at IQ2 debate on animal rights

Click to Enlarge

As an animal researcher, Prof James Bourne focused on the use of animals in medical and scientific research. He is the Group Leader at Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and a Senior Fellow with the federal government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). James’ work with NHMRC is exploring regenerative therapies for babies with brain injuries. 

Below we produce a transcript (with permission) of his speech, which contributed to the massive swing in audience opinion.

Thank you, good evening.

Like many of you I am appalled at our age of factory farming, our wilful blindness to exploitation, our rampant self-interest as a species and the seemingly inevitable destruction of every sphere of our environment.

But like all scientists I am also an optimist.  I hold true that medical research using animal models, and let me be clear – experimenting on animals themselves – is necessary in many areas of medical research if humanity wishes to improve life – life for both humans and animals.

There are two points I am grateful to convey tonight:

  1. The use of some animals in medical research remains necessary. Remembering for every monkey in research over 4 million are used in the food and dairy industry.
  2. Medical research on animals should only occur within a regulated ethical framework directed at the welfare of the animal.

I find myself here tonight after a relatively sudden and unexpected journey that began recently when the scientific community in Australia heard of a Green’s private member’s Bill in the Senate seeking to ban the importation of non-human primates for research purposes.

As a scientist whose work utilises monkeys I knew that a ban on importation would lead very quickly to a level of in-breeding in Australian facilities that would render valuable research impossible and force it into countries known for their unregulated practices.

James Bourne at the IQ2 debate. Image from www.ethics.org.au

James Bourne at the IQ2 debate. Image from http://www.ethics.org.au

I was motivated to enter this political debate because despite the woes and wrongs of our contemporary age, reason is still the best chance humanity has to right those wrongs and improve our world.

Reason always comes off second-best in the face of fear and suspicion. Fear and suspicion characterises much of the debate about animals in research and is cloaked in deliberate and wilful misinformation.

Images of horrific animal experiments undertaken in the 50’s regularly feature today in animal rights literature, even though these experiments have been outlawed for many years.

The Bill, defeated as it was, recycled many myths about animal experimentation… dangerous myths that computers and petri dishes can replace animals, that experiments inflict unnecessary cruelty and suffering, that baby monkeys are every day being ripped out the arms of their dead mothers in the jungle by poachers and then traded through unregulated corrupt profiteering to end up being tortured by mad scientists addicted to outdated scientific models.

The fact that a proposal of this kind can even be seriously considered today is evidence that the scientific community has not only been cowed into burying its collective head, but as a body-politic we are only a few steps away from reverting to a darker age where the quality of life – for both humans and animals – will be considerably lessened.

Indeed, while humanity is making ever more incredible scientific advances, regular polling shows a growing and alarming public disagreement about basic scientific facts, including human evolution, the safety of vaccines and whether human-caused climate change is real.

But let me indulge here in some very recent examples of why I believe non-human primate research is important.

Recently researchers infected monkeys with the Zika virus because it is the closest scientist can get to understanding in real time what is happening when humans are infected with this virus.

In 2015, the world witnessed the worst epidemic of the Ebola virus to date. Monkeys were treated with an antibody isolated from a human Ebola survivor and developed almost complete protection against a lethal dose of Ebola.

And yet opponents of animal research argue that knowledge gained from monkey research is inapplicable to humans.  This claim is utterly and dangerously false. Anyone that argues that insights gained from animals are meaningless, is either poorly informed or knowingly untruthful.

The political reality, however, is that the imagery and language peddled by animal research opponents is utterly confronting.

The facts, if you care to accept them, are:

First, non-human primates used for research in Australia are sourced from regulated breeding facilities overseas. They are not taken from the jungle.

macaque monkey animal research israel

An example of an overseas primate breeding facility.

Second, All animal research in Australia is conducted under the strictest scrutiny and follows the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement known as the 3Rs. Under these principles, animal-based research is only approved by a qualified animal ethics committee, which includes members of the lay public, welfare organisations and veterinarians.

Third, Non-human primates are used only in exceptional circumstances – when no other model is possible – as a last resort – when finding an answer simply cannot be provided by another animal model, cell-based system, computer modelling or human experimentation.

While we make incredible advances every day in computer technology, there is currently, and unfortunately, no alternative approach that can replicate the vast complexity of human disorder and disease.  Researchers are, however, continuously looking for non-animal based alternatives and this has already led to a significant reduction in the number of non-human primates used in research in Australia.

Furthermore, every researcher understands the great duty of care they must apply. Minimising the risk of pain and distress is of utmost importance when designing a study.

However, researchers remain hesitant to speak out as history tells us that this can have significant repercussions on the individual and the research program. I fear with recent activist developments in Europe, global scientific advances in health have been retarded.

You might find my work abhorrent, but it is framed in the highest possible duty of care to the animal and it seeks to address critical challenges in global health. If we proceed down a path to banning animal research – it is not only the science that will suffer but also, more importantly, the patients who would have benefitted from the outcomes.

I believe in a utilitarian sense, much like our speakers tonight, that in suffering the animals are our equals.[1]

So I cannot, and never will, defend factory farming, zoos and circuses or horse and dog racing, but ask you to please consider that in the face of this determined movement to stop all animal experimentation to remind ourselves that animal based medical research is driven, in Australia, by compassion and that the motivation to understand and improve our world – for all life – should always triumph over suspicion and fear.

Thank you.

James Bourne

[1] Eminent Australian moral philosopher, Peter Singer (Animal Liberation, 1975), paraphrasing utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1802)

Interview: How our outreach experiences have changed!

In this Q&A post, we visit with Jordana Lenon, B.S., B.A., the outreach specialist for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jordana reaches her 20th anniversary working at the Primate Center this year. Here, she reveals how different her job is today from when she first began.

Speaking of Research (SR): How has your job changed in the past 20 years?

Jordana Lenon (JL): When I began in 1996, I was in charge of the newsletters and developing the center’s website. That was it. Today, face-to-face outreach events, mostly for K-12 groups, along with news media relations, is most of my job. I still edit the newsletters, but we are actually reaching more people we need to reach with our social efforts. And by that, I don’t mean social media, I mean in-person engagement. In the past five years alone, we’ve met with more than 35,000 students, teachers and community members through mostly school family science nights, science festivals, and visits both on campus and out to the schools and civic groups.

WNPRC outreachSR:  How have you advertised your outreach programs?

JL: First, the UW-Madison Campus Visit Program receives most of our on-campus requests. They promote all the science and other campus venues the public can visit on the university’s website. Second, the UW Madison Science Alliance outreach team has an awesome family science night Google docs sign-up sheet that teachers, parent volunteers and we campus presenters can access, which helps immensely with planning and logistics. Third, the power of good old word of mouth and referrals, from teacher to teacher, or from one civic organization chapter to another, cannot be underestimated.

SR: Are there any challenges to orchestrating so much outreach?

JL: Yes. This is the first year that I’ve had to postpone scheduling more than a few visits to the Primate Center Learning Lobby or Stem Cell Learning Lab. Demand is so high, with daily requests right now, that even with volunteers we just can’t meet it. I suppose that is a good problem to have! I would love it if more people would schedule visits in the Fall, because spring, especially April, fills up so fast.

SR: What is the most rewarding thing about your outreach efforts?

JL: Two things, actually. One is that more and more UW scientists and students have volunteered to help each year. This means a great deal to me, because I know how busy they are, how many different directions they are already being pulled in. When I see their faces, their looks of satisfaction, and hear from them how much fun it was afterwards, how great the students’ questions were, how smart the students were, and that they really “get” how important it is to share what they do and what the Primate Center or Stem Cell Center does, that is just an indescribable feeling. Another cool thing I’ve noticed over the past 20 years is that, when I began presenting, people didn’t know much about the Primate Center, where it was or what we did. They didn’t know about our research programs and how we take care of our animals, how dedicated our scientists, students, vets, animal caretakers and other employees are. There was always someone in just about every group who expressed strong feelings against research with animals. Today, it’s more like, “Yes, we’ve visited the Primate Center before and we wanted to come back again with another school group… what you do is so amazing… we support what you do… we know it’s not easy… my friend has Parkinson’s… my son has diabetes… I have MS… I just read you are working on Zika virus… I didn’t know stem cell research really took off here… I have a friend who worked at the Primate Center… I had no idea what you did before this visit… thank you…

Jordana Lenon takes a tour of the new Madison Science Museum with Ellen Bechtol, museum staff member. Behind them is one of the Why Files Cool Science Image Contest winners, of marmoset embryonic stem cells forming neurons, submitted by Primate Center scientists and students in 2015. http://whyfiles.org/category/cool-science-images/

Jordana Lenon takes a tour of the new Madison Science Museum with Ellen Bechtol, museum staff member. Behind them is one of the Why Files Cool Science Image Contest winners, of marmoset embryonic stem cells forming neurons, submitted by Primate Center scientists and students in 2015. http://whyfiles.org/category/cool-science-images/

SR: Are all the audiences so supportive?

JL: Most, but not all. And that’s okay. I want to know what people are thinking, what they know, what they don’t know. I want to answer questions, or find out the answers if I don’t know them. I learn a great deal from my audiences. Most of the complaints and concerns I get these days are from people expressing to me that it is taking too long for more stem cell research “breakthroughs” to get into the clinic. Rarely do I get someone in my groups anymore who tells me that they are an animal rights supporter (versus animal welfare). This may be because activists of all beliefs are using social media more to express their views. I am definitely seeing that our audiences have many more informed questions than when I first began. I think science education, blogs, shows, pro-science websites and social media are also helping, especially with the younger generation. More people are understanding the connections between the medicines and vaccines they take, and that it all began at some critical step along the way with biomedical research and humane animal care. Also, that the research benefits animals as well as people.

The hardest thing to tell people is why the research takes so much time. People are being wooed by these “miracle stem cell cures” on line, for example. So a large part of my job is explaining how research works, how to search clinicaltrials.gov, and what patients should be asking their doctors. But now that I’ve been here 20 years, myself, I can cite research that was ongoing when I began and that is now in clinical trials or even FDA-approved medical treatments and is saving millions of lives.

I am living proof, myself: UW-Madison scientists and physicians used several animal models, including our Primate Center monkeys, to develop new therapies for systemic lupus erythematosus in the 1980s through the early 2000’s. This research is why I am alive and healthy today. Twenty years ago, most patients with SLE were not expected to live a normal lifespan. Even surviving from year to year with this autoimmune disease usually meant forgetting about work or any real quality of life. People are still dying from lupus, but prognoses are getting better every year.

SR: Anything you’d like to add, plans for more outreach development?

JL: Well… I would like to do more social media… but I’m too busy being social to do it!

SR:  Thanks for your stories. Thanks for sharing the important work that you do!

JL: You’re welcome. We had 10 outreach events last week alone, so this week, I have a little more time to write and catch up on email… and get off my feet for a while!

Read more here:  https://www.primate.wisc.edu/wprc/outreach.html

Open Letter to the Australian Senate regarding a proposed bill to ban the import of primates

The following letter has been sent to the Committee Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications regarding the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research) Bill 2015. This proposed bill would ban the Australian research community from importing primates for use in biomedical research. The following is a segment of the proposed amendment:

Australian Bill

We encourage the scientific community to leave comments of support for our letter in the comment section below.

Dear Committee Secretary,

Nonhuman primate research has played an important role in many medical breakthroughs, from the polio vaccine to the development of life support systems for premature babies.

Studies with nonhuman primates are a small fraction of basic, behavioural, and biomedical research; however, they are critical to scientific research that seeks to address health issues of grave concern to the public. Nonhuman primate research includes studies relevant to understanding, preventing, and treating a range of diseases including, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, anaemia and a multitude of mental health conditions.

Thanks to research on primates:

  • Polio has been eradicated from Australia, saving tens of thousands of children from crippling disability
  • Thousands of Australians have had Deep Brain Stimulation to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s
  • Over 20,000 HIV positive Australians can live a relatively normal life thanks to the development of antiretrovirals
  • Australian children can be vaccinated against Hepatitis B, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella

Measures to constrain nonhuman primate research in Australia puts future medical breakthroughs in jeopardy.

Australian law already bans the use of wild caught nonhuman primates for research (as does the EU). Such laws should continue to be actively enforced to uphold animal welfare standards, but importantly, should not be expanded to prevent important nonhuman primate research being conducted.

Preventing researchers from importing nonhuman primates could prevent scientists from responding to public health issues or new areas of biomedical research in Australia and beyond. The domestic supply of nonhuman primates may be able to provide for most of the needs of the scientific community, but also risks constraining it. Any future Australian research would be limited to species of monkeys currently bred in Australia’s three breeding colonies, effectively restricting the animal models available to the biomedical community.

Research conducted with nonhuman primates is strictly regulated. All research must be approved by Animal Ethics Committees, who apply the 3 Rs framework to ensure that animal studies are Replaced wherever there is a non-animal alternative, Refined to ensure animal suffering is minimised, and Reduced to ensure that as few animals are used as is necessary to produce scientifically viable results. Animal welfare remains a high priority for the scientific community – with animal care personnel and veterinary staff providing round-the-clock care for their wards.

Yours faithfully,

Speaking of Research

Inês Albuquerque
Jeremy Bailoo, Ph.D
Prof Mark G Baxter
Prof Allyson Bennett
Paul Browne, Ph.D
James Champion
Paula Clifford
Amanda M. Dettmer, Ph.D
Prof Doris Doudet
Jazzminn Hembree RLATG
Tom Holder
Prof J. David Jentsch
Juan Carlos Marvizon, Ph.D
Kimberley Phillips Ph.D
Prof Dario Ringach
Simon R Schultz, DPhil

One step closer to a vaccine for cytomegalovirus: Monkeys transmit CMV the same way as humans

Today’s guest post is by Jordana Lenon, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and Kathy West, California National Primate Research Center.

PregnantWomanResearchers at Duke and Tulane take the lead, the National Primate Research Centers provide critical resources and expertise in this first-ever proof of CMV placental transmission in nonhuman primates.

Researchers now have a powerful new model for working on a vaccine for cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which is the leading infectious cause of birth defects worldwide.

Now, for the first time, a nonhuman primate CMV has been demonstrated to be congenitally transmitted similar to congenital HCMV infection. The discovery was published this week in the high impact journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in The New York Times and Science Daily, among other news outlets.

Rhesus macaque mothers can transmit CMV across their placentas to their unborn infants, discovered the teams of co-senior study authors Sallie R. Permar, M.D., Ph.D., Duke University, and Amitinder Kaur, M.D., Tulane University. The lead author was Kristy Bialas, a post-doctoral fellow at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

The finding establishes the first nonhuman primate research model for CMV transmission via the placenta. The macaque reproductive, developmental, and immunological systems are highly analogous to those of humans. Thus, scientists can now utilize the biologically relevant RhCMV system in a controlled scientific setting to try to find new pathways towards an HCMV vaccine.

“A huge impediment to CMV vaccine development has been our lack of ability to determine what immune responses would be needed to protect against mother-to-fetus transmission,” said Permar, of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute in a Duke Medicine news release Oct. 19.

“It means that we can now use this model to ask questions about protective immunity against congenital CMV and actually study this disease for which a vaccine is urgently needed,” said co-senior author Kaur, of the Tulane National Primate Research Center in a Tulane University release Oct. 19.

The rhesus monkey model for HCMV persistence and pathogenesis has been developed over the past 30 years by co-author Peter Barry, Ph.D., California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) core scientist, and co-developer of the rhesus intrauterine pathogenesis model with Alice Tarantal, Ph.D., CNPRC core scientist. Barry has recently shown that there is a strong immune response in rhesus monkeys to a potentially paradigm-shifting approach to HCMV vaccine design, and contributed important expertise and resources to this current research.

CNPRCrhesus,K_WestUCD, 4

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

The work highlights the collaboration of Duke University researchers with experts in rhesus immunology and virology at the National Institutes of Health National Primate Research Centers. Contributing authors also included David O’Connor, Ph.D., and Michael Lauck, Ph.D., experts in macaque virology, pathology and genetics at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, Xavier Alvarez, Ph.D., at the Tulane National Primate Research Center, and Takayuki Tanaka, D.V.M., Harvard Medical School and the New England National Primate Research Center, which provided macaques for the study. Additional authors’ contributions are included in the Duke news release.

The research was funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of the Director, NIH National Cancer Institute, NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Derfner Children’s Miracle Network Research Grant.


Kristy M. Bialas et al. “Maternal CD4+ T cells protect against severe congenital cytomegalovirus disease in a novel nonhuman primate model of placental cytomegalovirus transmission” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Oct 19. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1511526112