UCONN DAILY CAMPUS
'Monkey Business' Ends At UConn Health Center
By Andrew Porter
Issue date: 1/24/07 Section: News
The controversial research on non-human primates at the University of
Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) has been stopped.
The research, which involved implanting coils into the eyes of rhesus
macaque monkeys and drilling a hole into their heads, has been the
subject of many protests, led in large part by UConn graduate student
According to documents from the USDA and the UCHC Animal Care
Committee, the USDA made an inspection of the research facility on
Aug. 29. Two days later on Aug. 31, Dr. David Waitzman, who was in
charge of the research, voluntarily stopped his experiments. Then, on
Sept. 6, UConn's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee revoked
Waitzman's ability to continue the research.
The committee's decision came more than four months after UConn
President Philip Austin said in a May 2 letter to the university
community that UConn has "dealt successfully with problems related to
research animal care."
According to Goodman, the USDA has now launched a formal investigation
into the research, which can result in a formal charge with the
Secretary of Agriculture as well as fines for the UCHC.
The UConn Animal Care Committee also formed a subcommittee to review
the research. The subcommittee reviewed USDA inspection reports as
well as an anonymous letter which alleged that one of the researchers
assisting Waitzman was unfit to work with the monkeys and was cruel to
The subcommittee's final report included six recommendations. One
suggested that Waitzman should receive a letter of reprimand signed by
the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, Dr. Peter Deckers,
while another suggested that any future animal use by Dr. Waitzman
should be reviewed monthly.
"I feel this is a step in the right direction," said Goodman. However
he cautioned that he didn't feel his work was done. "The school hasn't
agreed to permanently stop the research ... The next phase is to
encourage the school to place a permanent moratorium on non-human
Goodman also added that the stoppage of Waitzman's research felt
"bittersweet" because "In the last year or so three monkeys died and
one got sent to research elsewhere." According to Goodman, he had
acquired funds to transfer the final monkey, as well as locate
sanctuaries willing to house it, but the school declined his offer.
"I think when most people think of animal research they think of lab
coats, Petri dishes and sterile white rooms," Goodman said. "In
reality, it is demonstrably bloody and violent ... the animals don't
want to be there."
The Daily Campus contacted the UCHC for this story, however, no member
of the UCHC would comment.
The UCHC did release a statement that broadly defended its research
practices and said in part, "Researchers at the University of
Connecticut Health Center are in the forefront of developing vaccines,
treatments, and cures that will improve, prolong, and save human life.
Part of this research effort involves the humane and ethical use of
animals, including primates. The UConn Health Center is committed to
full compliance with all relevant animal welfare laws and guidelines
followed by major research universities throughout the country. We
constantly monitor and evaluate our use of animals in research to
remain in compliance and improve the quality of our animal care
"David Waitzman has had $1.7 million to do his research and he
produced no useful data," Goodman said. "And that is because the
animals won't give him the data he wants."
"The public support shows people don't like [the research]," he added.
"And the administration's continuous denial to engage us in debate
shows that there is no scientific, moral, or ethical way to defend it."
UCONN DAILY CAMPUS
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Jan 24, 2007
In the Jan. 22 Commentary section of The Daily Campus, an editorial
was published lauding UConn for its decision to discontinue David
Waitzman's nonhuman primate research at the Farmington Health Center.
While the piece acknowledged the most immediate methodological
concerns that ultimately ended the project, the authors fail to
recognize the decidedly problematic nature of research on non-human
primates, and all non-human animals, in general.
An abundance of evidence shows animal models to be poor predictors of
human maladies and drug treatment. Further, accepting animal testing
entails failing to recognize the moral and ethical implications that
years of intensive research on non-human animals now presents - ones
that threaten to trump the potency of frequently uncontested appeals
to the scientific efficacy of animal research.
The scientific community includes many researchers who not only
question the ethical nature of animal experiments, but their validity
altogether. For example, a literature review of over 2,000 scholarly
articles that was recently published in The Journal of the American
Medical Association (296:14, 2006) found that of the 76 animal studies
identified, only eight were successfully replicated in humans and led
to a therapy being subsequently approved for human use. Similarly, a
December 2006 literature review article published in the British
Medical Journal (Dec 2006) reported that "many studies in animal
models are of poor methodological quality" and that "lack of
concordance between animal experiments and clinical trials may be due
to the failure of animal models to adequately represent human
disease." These results, of course, do not account for the plethora
of studies that fail and remain unpublished in perpetuity.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
estimate that for every 1,000 drugs that are tested on animals, only
one reaches human clinical trials. Two salient examples of dangerous
drugs that made it to human clinical trials were recently hot topics
of discussion in mainstream media: TGN1412 and, more currently,
Pfizer's torcetrapid. Both were shown to be safe in animal models but
ultimately led to deaths in human subjects. Of the drugs that make it
to these human trials, only one in five are eventually approved by the
FDA.That's a staggering failure rate of roughly 99.99 percent! And,
adding insult to injury, the drugs that reach the shelves cause over
700,000 hospital visits (i.e. Vioxx, Paxil) (AP, 10/17/06) and
100,000 deaths every year (JAMA, 279: 1200-5, 1216-7, 1998) making
them the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. These data must
not be taken lightly.
Echoing the above concerns, in January 2006, U.S. Secretary of Health
and Human Services Michael Leavitt expressed the need to encourage
earlier use of human drug trials stating that, "Currently, nine out
of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot
accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory
and animal studies." Fundamental biochemical and genetic differences
between species render animal models of human disorders futile. In
the specific case of non-human primates, witness the continued failure
of researchers to find effective treatments or effectively identify
the pathologies of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke using monkeys
as models. In the case of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, despite pouring
billions into animal research, effective treatments for these have
arisen from non-animal in vitro and in silico methods. There is a
battery of such non-animal and human-based tests that provides us with
valid information that can be reliably and safely extrapolated to the
So, when researchers claim, as they invariably will, that they have
happened upon, via animal experimentation, some isolated scientific
breakthrough that is of direct relevance to human health, it is
important to remember that the overwhelmingly majority of such studies
fail and they will most certainly not tell you about all of those.
Animal research is not essential as many scientists commonly espouse.
In fact, the use of animal models represents a conscious decision to
engage in an enterprise that is both ethically and scientifically at
odds with what empirical data and common sense would have us believe.
In a 2005 Nature piece titled "Natural Symmetry," Gay Bradshaw and
Barbara Finlay raised the issue of what they called unidirectional
That is, given the wealth of rich, empirical data that scientists have
accrued about the interspecies continuity of behavior, psychology,
physiology and emotion, serious consideration must now be given to
deconstructing the arbitrary wall that science has continually erected
between animals, human and non. What scientists have found is that
amongst all of these similarities there exist no morally relevant
differences between species that would justify the subjugation of
nonhuman animals in biomedical research any more than it would, say,
justify the forcible use of orphaned babies in biomedical research.
If, as we continually discover, human and many non-animals suffer and
experience the psychological and physical effects of pain in similar
ways, it is therefore morally unacceptable to inflict physical
violence, whether in a lab or factory farm, upon either.
Finally, while scientists who advocate for the use of non-animal
models are marginalized and animal rights activists are villified, who
will protect us and our non-human brothers and sisters against, as
Sarah Wolfensohn put it in a recent Nature piece, the "over-zealous
scientists who are single-mindedly pursuing their scientific goal"
with little regard for the advancement of ethical, useful medicine?
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