Retired Lab Chimps Pressed Back Into Service

A San Antonio lab says primate research is necessary for curing diseases like AIDS and hepatitis. But what progress has really been made.

Retired Lab Chimps Pressed Back Into Service

If scientists ever develop a vaccine for hepatitis from research done on chimpanzees, some of them will say the human race owes a debt of gratitude to chimps like Ken.

Currently housed in a San Antonio research facility, Ken was born on a New Mexico Air Force base in 1982. He was immediately taken from his mother, and his blood was drawn for the first time when he was about 12 hours old. Over the next three years, he was studied at Centers for Disease Control labs in Phoenix and Atlanta. He was infected with hepatitis C from a serum derived from infected chimps and with hepatitis A from human feces. He was infected with HIV in 1993.

Ken was retired from medical research in 1996 after undergoing a total of 77 anesthetizations for serial blood sampling and biopsies. In retirement, he remained at the Air Force base in what is known as the Alamogordo Primate Facility. During a routine health exam on Ken in 2005, vets discovered a protein deficiency in his blood that they believe later led to his swollen scrotum and abdomen.

Ken was one of 14 lab chimps called out of retirement and sent to the Southwest National Primate Research Center.
photo courtesy of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Ken was one of 14 lab chimps called out of retirement and sent to the Southwest National Primate Research Center.
Dr. John Pippin of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine believes the future of AIDS research is in human subjects.
Mark Graham
Dr. John Pippin of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine believes the future of AIDS research is in human subjects.

In June of 2010, after 14 years of retirement, Ken and more than 200 other retired peers were scheduled to be transferred to San Antonio's Southwest National Primate Research Center for a renewed career as lab chimps.

The decision to transfer the chimps and take them out of retirement provoked enough of an outrage by animal-welfare groups that the National Institutes of Health tasked a group called the Institute of Medicine with investigating the necessity of continued testing on 612 NIH-owned chimpanzees.

By the time the institute convened to examine the issue, Ken and 13 other Alamogordo chimps had been transferred. Ultimately, the National Institutes of Health suspended the transfer of 186 chimps, who remain at the Alamogordo facility today.

Although they account for a minuscule number of nonhuman primates used in biomedical research — only 53 of 94,000 NIH-funded projects involve chimps — chimpanzees tend to strike an especially emotional chord in humans.

But the Institute of Medicine's job was to assess the chimp's scientific, not emotional, value, and in December 2011, the organization determined that "most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary."

That finding, as well as the introduction of a bipartisan bill that would phase out all invasive research on federally owned chimps, has generated increased scrutiny of the type of work done at Southwest.

Researchers at Southwest will tell you that, no matter what, the taxpayer-funded work they do with primates is vital. It could very well yield successful treatments for hepatitis and a host of other diseases, like AIDS.

You might soon be hearing more about Southwest's promising work in that field, since the facility is hosting the 30th annual symposium on primates used in AIDS research later this month.

You will be told that work done with primates from Southwest is vital because as a taxpayer, not only are you funding the studies, you are co-funding Southwest's public-relations initiatives. You're also covering part of the cost of organizing, planning and publicizing the AIDS symposium.

But if you question the nature or efficacy of the work you are paying for, there's a good chance the higher-ups at Southwest will label you a zealot who cares more for knuckle-dragging apes than for hundreds of millions of sick and dying people.

Your money is good — but your questions aren't.
_____________________

In August 2006, veterinarians at Southwest performed a necropsy on a male baboon who they didn't realize wasn't dead.

It appears to have been an honest mistake: According to a United States Department of Agriculture inspection report, the minimum dosage of euthanasia solution required to put down a baboon of that weight was 5.7 milliliters, and that's exactly what the veterinarians gave him.

However, ten minutes into the tissue harvest, the pathologist detected a "faint femoral pulse," which probably threw everyone involved for a loop, not least of all the baboon. Fortunately for the baboon's sake, he'd been anesthetized with ketamine prior to the euthanasia solution, so things could have been worse.

Still, it's a violation of the Animal Welfare Act to perform a necropsy on an animal that's not quite dead, and the USDA inspector pointed out this "significant program deficiency."

Understandably, the doctors wanted to keep this embarrassing slip-up among themselves; the inspector noted the lack of records indicating that anyone had told Southwest's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the board that oversees and evaluates work done on lab animals.

The penalty for this violation was a $6,094 fine.

In December 2011, the USDA fined Southwest for three violations rated as "serious" (the strongest in a three-tier rating system): one in which a juvenile rhesus monkey escaped its pen on a chilly November night and succumbed to the cold; another in which two baboons escaped their enclosure and injured an employee; and a third for failure to adequately secure the monkeys. The sum total: $25,714, payable by check, money order or credit card. That year, Southwest won a five-year, $19 million NIH contract for chimpanzee research alone.

Of course, for a facility with 3,200 primates, such things are bound to happen.

Southwest is a branch of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, founded in 1941 and formerly known as the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research. Southwest won a federal grant to establish a baboon colony, as well as a trapping station in Kenya, in 1958 and received its first baboon batch two years later.

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15 comments
judyslove
judyslove

This is truly a tragedy. Testing on primates should be banned and made illegal everywhere. These primates should be released to caring animal sanctuarys that can provide a much needed change of lifestyle for these beautiful and intelligent animals, they have suffered for far too long.

Schitt.Rumpney
Schitt.Rumpney

Now thats a damn shame. If a po-ass monkey got to go back to work after retirement....what thuh...?

celinejoste
celinejoste

Hey people!  Don't be upset by this story.  THE HOUSTON PRESS is known for FAUX NEWS regarding animal abuse.  They did a story a couple of years ago about someone who was slashing cats then letting them out near where they were abducted, so the owners would find them dead.  It was a horrible story.  We called the numbers listed in the what turned out to be fictitious  story and spoke to someone who was supposedly the animal investigator in charge.  She said "wow, we got a lot of response to that story.  I'll call you back."   Of course she never did.  We had informed her that a group of volunteers in the area were willing to go house to house asking if anyone had seen anything suspicious in the way of catnapping going on.  After more investigating the details - turns out the story was BOGUS, just like this one.

stkittchick
stkittchick

That photo ... that gut-wrenching, heartbreaking photo.  An innocent, condemned.  Life in prison, sanctioned torture, all for nothing. Absolutely nothing.  Future generations will look back appalled by what we are doing to these animals.  Take a stand!  Speak out!  Take one minute out of your day to let others know what's going on.

jaspercat
jaspercat

Heaven help you if you catch a case of the hepatits, the primary symptom of which is terrible copy-editing.

 

How many decades will pass before we stop saying that torturing chimpanzees will cure AIDS in humans? This broken record-style approach to prevention, treatment, and a cure has gotten us nowhere, and people and animals have suffered because of it.

ramsey85
ramsey85

Chimpanzees, like all primates, are sensitive, intelligent beings. Beyond the torture and cruelty of being experimented on, they are confined to barren steel cages with no space to move naturally and no environmental enrichment. The testing that's really needed is on the lab workers who can do this to another living being: Where is their empathy?     

thedanimal
thedanimal

"Your money is good — but your questions aren't." - well said

jcmhoutx
jcmhoutx

Even if experiments on animals gave us useful information about human health -- which it doesn't* -- it's simply and unjustifiably cruel to cage thinking, feeling beings and torment them just because we can. After reading on PETA.org about the sickening ways in which primates are tortured and abused at SNPRC, Covance, Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories and other facilities, I will never support any business or charity that funds experiments on animals.  It just wastes money, endangers human health, and inflicts physical and psychological agony on its terrified victims.

 

*Even small physical/genetic differences between species make it impossible to successfully apply results from other animals to humans. For example, no chimpanzee has ever developed AIDS from normal exposure to HIV, despite SNPRC's eagerness to use them for AIDS research. How many "miracle cures" in animals have you heard about that never materialized for humans? And how many drugs that passed animal testing later proved to harm or even kill patients? You can thank experiments on animals for those.

jacknsue
jacknsue

Poor babies, lived in pain all of their life so resource doctors can meet at cocktails and pat each other on the back and brag about what greatness they have accompliced!!

 

 

terryx666
terryx666

@Hungryghoast I watched God Bless America last night and thought of you. It may not have been bleak enough for you, though.

Hungryghoast
Hungryghoast

@terryx666 remember wanting to see that though the plot seemed a little silly.....

terryx666
terryx666

@Hungryghoast I'd say more spotty than silly. In the same vein as Heathers, but with a different twist. On Netflix streaming.

 
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