Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where do research and corporate greed intersect?

I believe in science. I rely on good science to explain the intricacies of life and the wonders of this world and the universe beyond. But believing in science, and giving free rein to researchers, are two different things. Just because a person dons the mantle of science, it doesn’t mean that his opinion is necessarily objective. For too long, I think, the research industry that uses chimpanzees and other primates has considered itself beyond the reach of public accountability.
A couple of days ago I asked a question: should Yerkes Primate Center retire Wenka, a 57-year-old chimpanzee who has been in research her entire life? Should Yerkes send her to a sanctuary so “she may really finally have a chance to be a chimpanzee before she leaves this earth,” as Roberta Herman said in her comments to the blog.
In another incisive comment, Julie Robertson pointed out that in 2007, “Yerkes received a $10 million grant from the National Institute of Aging for a five year study comparing 400 human women, 25 chimpanzees, and other primates. Yerkes has acknowledged that chimpanzees do not get Alzheimer’s disease or MCI (mild cognitive impairment),” she says, “so why use chimpanzees in this study at all?”
“Perhaps a $10 million grant is the incentive,” Julie suggested.
Before people reject Julie’s suggestion out of hand, we need to consider the influence of money on research.
The National Primate Research Centers have more than 26,000 animals representing more than 20 species of nonhuman primates. They have almost a thousand chimpanzees. I can’t even imagine how much money is involved here, money from companies desperate for the research results that will get their product through regulatory reviews, and money from federal agencies that have a long (and erroneous) history of promoting chimpanzees for research for whatever ails you.
Last March I wrote a blog about chimps “curing the common cold and bringing human fetuses to term.” I was, and remain, enthralled by a 1967 book written by a primatologist, Vernon Reynolds. Please excuse me for repeating a quote from his book:
“There may well be as many apes in research laboratories in America, England, and Russia as there are in captivity in zoos. It is of course inevitable that this should be so. Most of the laboratory apes are chimpanzees… I list a few of the diseases in which research is being helped by apes: malaria, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, common cold, syphilis, whooping cough, heart disease, and cancer. In addition, one of the newest and potentially greatest uses of ape subjects is in the field of organ transplantation. Already chimpanzee kidneys have been used to replace a diseased human kidney, though as yet this technique is in its infancy and has not had any long-term successes. This is a rapidly expanding medical field, however, and it is reasonable prophecy that, by the end of this century, there will be many people alive only by virtue of the chimpanzee kidneys and hearts within their bodies; or people who have regained their sight by the grafting of chimpanzee corneas into their eyes. Chimpanzees may even be used to bring to term an implanted human fetus.”
Just substitute today’s diseases, and you will have the stated justification for using chimpanzees in research today.
The federal Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research will issue a public report by the end of the calendar year, stating their recommendations about the use of chimpanzees in research. There is stalled legislation in Congress that would stop funding of research on chimpanzees. We haven’t heard much from the primate research industry, and from the companies that pay them for the use of their animals. That silence is striking.

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