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Friday, February 10, 2006

Update on animal research at UW

Posted by on February 10 at 17:35 PM

In his capacity as acting director of the University of Washington Primate Center, Dave Anderson must endure the occasional attack from an animal rights advocate, and the most recent came from Michael Budkie, the man behind Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN).

On Thursday SAEN sent a blistering press release to Seattle media in which he accused UW researchers of violating research standards in their treatment of macacas — the adorable monkeys that are research subjects in biomedical studies. (For more, see yesterday’s slog post.)

It seems SAEN may not be entirely sane. Anderson says that the group embellishes information researchers submit to federal regulators. Example: Budkie claimed to have “leaked” the documents he posted on-line, which detail the treatment of macacas. Anderson says that in fact those documents are public.

SAEN suggested that UW reported selectively about the primates under its care, noting a discrepancy of nearly a 1,000 between one filing and another. What was happening to those missing 1,000 primates? SAEN smelled a cover-up. Anderson says the truth wasn’t quite so dramatic: One filing dealt purely with the primates in UW labs, while the other added those primates who were off-site, in breeding facilities. So the missing 1,000 monkeys were simply running around, having lotsa sex.

Anderson says that while the documents SAEN posted on-line are authentic, they leave out important context. First, there are layers and layers of regulation, including annual, random inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure that the labs are following by research standards. There is a UW review board (Anderson sits on it) that examines an experiment’s protocol before allowing it to commence. That is, are the researchers going to treat the animals humanely? And is the object of the research important enough to justify the use of monkeys? If not, the study doesn’t happen.

Anderson says that the monkeys involved in experiments are given the same mix of anesthetic and painkillers that humans would be if they were undergoing the same operation.

Finally, there’s the ‘end justifies the means’ argument: The studies at UW may help doctors understand how to restore motor function in people who have had strokes; or they may help lead to an AIDS vaccine, among other study goals.

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