Medicine Science

Don’t you know you want to…thank the monkey

I’ve been a staunch defender of the ethical use of animals in research over the years. However, one area of animal research that I’ve always thought should be held to the highest standard is primate research. If there’s one area of animal research that requires the most justification, it’s research using primates as animal models. And, no, I’m not talking about Laura Hewitson’s and Andy Wakefield’s unethical abuse of primates.

Sometimes, however, there is the ethical use of primates. For example, the use of primates was instrumental in justifying a clinical trial of whether a microbicidal gel can prevent the transmission of HIV, as Paul Browne at Speaking of Research describes.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

5 replies on “Don’t you know you want to…thank the monkey”

I guess that makes me a speciesist, if I don’t mind animal research so long as it’s actually done for research and not to keep some poor lab tech in a job or to make some poor undergrad or grad student “earn their stripes” ?

Thanks for the mention Orac, it’s a shame that when it comes to primates in HIV research you never seem to hear the good news (outside of the scientific press).

I just hope that badly designed and unethical projects such as that done by Hewitson and Wakefield don’t end up tarnishing the whole field. I’m tending towards the view that in addition to the IACUCs (which it must be said usually do a very good job and are willing to discipline scientists who break the rules) the USDA should take a more active role in deciding which projects should go ahead. The UK system of project licences administered by Home office Inspectors (themselves former researchers and/or veterinarians) might serve as a model. The great advantage of this system is that those deciding whether to approve the project are independent of both the institution concerned and of any competitors, avoiding any possible confict of interest.

Research using non-human primates makes a great contribution to medicine, it needs to be done properly.

Only three comments on this very interesting subject. Yet people swarm in the hundreds to threads lazily mocking those with concerns about animal experimentation. Why is the topic so black and white?

I support ethical, thoughtful, useful animal research and I applaud Orac’s careful stance on this. I’m happy to learn from Doctor Browne that research on our primate cousins is something usually done with caution and conscience.

Unless we turn to religious excuses, these experiments will always require a bit of justification and contemplation. Thank the monkey indeed!

I can’t generalize to others, but as someone who has used animal research to better understand veterinary diseases, my own experience is that researchers are very sensitive to the suffering of animals. I spent a great deal of time with my research subjects. Horses, in my case. They were infected, cared for, gave us blood samples, and eventually were sacrificed after a long life. Everything was done with the utmost respect.

I’ve heard stories of mouse cervical dislocations that went wrong, and I’ve heard people joke a bit about it, but it’s gallows humor, an acknowledgment of how much people hate to cause other living things harm.

I’m with you Orac. Animal research is necessary, but it’s also unappealing. If we can avoid it, I’m all for it, but not at the cost of preventable suffering.

Sorry, just my 1/50th of a dollar’s worth of thinking.

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