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Animal Experimentation Funny?

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

Animal researchers usually try to display some respect for the animals they experiment on. They may do things they don’t want you to know about to animals and install elaborate security measures just to be sure, but they usually say they honor the animal’s sacrifice and it will benefit people as well as other animals.

But not so with a primate researcher at Wake Forest University. In a PowerPoint presentation at a National Institute on Aging workshop which appeared on the NIA web site until July, the researcher finds the primates who will give their lives to science funny.

The first photo shows an orangutan who someone has put in an aqua colored flannel dress with white diamonds on it. Her face is contorted in terror. A green, comic strip style balloon is coming out of her mouth. It says, “I just don’t know what to think,” as if her anguish stems from research questions in the lab instead of her tenure there. Ha ha.

The next mirthful photo shows a chimpanzee appearing to have typed a page on a typewriter to illustrate the “cognition research” being performed in the lab. Get it?

A third amusing photo shows a capuchin monkey who someone has dressed up in big, black eyeglasses that are barely supported by her little skull. She is also commenting about the ongoing research in the lab. There is a chain around her neck and she appears to be held in position by human hands.

Also pictured, reminiscent of Dr. Harry Harlow’s “pit of despair” experiments at the University of Wisconsin, is a cynomolgus monkey that has been “psychosocially stressed” to serve as a model for the “perimenopausal transition.” Harlow, famous for his “rape rack” and “iron maiden” inventions for primates, is considered the architect of the National Primate Research Centers system which still operates a lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and operates labs at other locations.

The presentation, called Cardiovascular Health and Cognition: Perspectives on Using the Primate as a Model, was part of an official NIA workshop in 2004 and created by Wake Forest’s Thomas Clarkson, DVM. When a reporter asked about the derision shown toward animals and science itself, the PDF was removed from the NIA site. Barbara Cire with NIA’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison said, “As to the imagery on the slides, NIH posted the presentation as delivered. Questions about the images should be directed to the speaker.”

Cire says NIA “does not fund” research by Clarkson except for “an NIA conference grant to organize a meeting in conjunction with the 20th annual scientific meeting of the North American Menopause Society in September, 2009.” But it has funded similar research with ovariectomized cynomolgus monkeys by Wake Forest researcher Mary Lou Voykto in which Clarkson donated monkey hypothalami.

In this research, monkeys “were restrained with ketamine (15 mg/kg im), deeply anesthetized with sodium pentobarbital (35 mg/kg, iv), and perfused transcardially with cold 0.1 M PBS (pH 7.4). The brains were rapidly removed and sliced into 1-cm slabs with the aid of a monkey brain matrix,” according to an article in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (Vol. 88, No. No.2 655-662) The world health problem the monkeys served? Menopause.

Of course it’s no secret that ever since the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, government research supported by our tax dollars is quickly translated to industry uses. In fact Wake Forest’s Women’s Health Center of Excellence for Research conferences, attended by industry-linked researchers including those accused of ghostwriting, have been unabashedly funded by both NIA and hormone makers Wyeth and Pfizer.

Nor is it a secret that the grisly menopausal hormone research on primates underway at Wake Forest and at Mount Sinai School of Medicine threatens to revive the hormone therapy which more than 5,000 women say gave them cancer. (Why revive a therapy that caused endometrial cancer in the 1980s and breast cancer in the 2000s? Ask industry.)

What is surprising is that a researcher who is also a veterinarian, sworn to relieve animal suffering, would actually find such research funny.

MARTHA ROSENBERG can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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