Sunday, October 21, 2007

Late Night Reading

If you like reading the dark and macabre stories of Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft, then curling up with an Annual Progress Report to NIH/NCRR from one of the National Primate Research Centers might be right up your alley. These reports include suggestive accounts of hundreds of bone-chilling experiments, untold suffering, wild exaggeration, and much mystery. They are available upon request to the NIH or the institution itself. Price is variable.

The 2006/2007 Wisconsin National Primate Research Center’s annual report is a real page-turner.

The editor and lead author of the report is the center’s propagandist, Jordana (Jori) Lennon. She has produced an online newsletter over the years titled Research Highlights and uses this title for a section in the Wisconsin annual report to highlight the center’s top accomplishments over the reporting period. [Note: after some additional digging, I've learned that "Research Highlights" is a required part of the Annual Progress Report, so this wasn't Jori's original work. On the otherhand, it does make the title of her previous newsletter, Research Highlights, something a little less than inspired.]

The section begins with its heavy guns:


A long established team of researchers trying to cure polycystic ovary syndrome in women has recently hit upon some major discoveries.

In one finding, published in the journal Reproductive Technology, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers David Abbott and Daniel Dumesic report that the drug pioglitazone improves insulin action and normalizes menstrual cycles in a majority of female rhesus monkeys with PCOS. This work done at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center is key, the scientists say, because it proves the importance of using this species as a successful model for treating PCOS in women.

The work is “key,” not because it helps women, but because it “proves the importance” of using monkeys as models of PCOS?

I think most readers of the report would naturally come away with the impression that following this “discovery” in monkeys, pioglitazone might be tried on women suffering from PCOS. And, if they do, then maybe the propaganda worked.

In fact, the therapeutic effects of pioglitazone in women with PCOS has been under constant study since at least 2003. [Romualdi D, Guido M, Ciampelli M, Giuliani M, Leoni F, Perri C, Lanzone A. Selective effects of pioglitazone on insulin and androgen abnormalities in normo- and hyperinsulinaemic obese patients with polycystic ovary syndrome. Hum Reprod. 2003 Jun;18(6):1210-8.]

So, maybe the “major discovery” by Abbott and Dumesic didn’t have anything to do with women suffering with PCOS after all. Maybe it simply was the discovery that pioglitazone has a beneficial effect on female monkeys suffering from the effects of experimentally induced PCOS-like symptoms. Maybe, in the macabre world of the monkey labs, this actually is perceived to be a “major discovery.”

In their defense, given the fact that their ability to induce a variety of hormonal irregularities and genital deformities in monkeys that mimic some of the symptoms of PCOS hasn’t led to improvements in the treatment of the condition in women, they have to find something to cheer about.

One of the mysteries in the report is the section titled “Source of Investigator’s Support.”

This is a list of scientists and the funding they have received throughout the year. I think a reader would assume that the document refers to scientists at the primate center and funding used to conduct their work at the center. But, mysteriously, the list is not so straightforward. There may be a reasonable explanation for this, but it shows just how difficult it is to learn what facilities like the primate center do with the money they receive, or even a very basic thing like their total funding.

Take the case of David B. Allison on pg 112. Allison is a biostatistician. He was a listed coauthor on three papers in 2006 and 2007 with Wisconsin SIV researcher David Watkins. (There were about 50 authors listed on the three papers, combined.) Watkins' lab probably can’t make head nor tail of the numerical data they produce, so they ask a statistician for help. Here’s the mystery: the Wisconsin Primate Center annual report lists Allison and eight of his NIH grants, totaling about $2.5 million. This is included in the Total Funding amount of about $44 million (not including the base grant)on pg 116.

But Allison is a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His $2.5 million is from grants to him at his home institution. Surely, UAB lists these eight grants and the $2.5 million in one of their reports as well. Does every university that consults Allison add $2.5 million to their Total Funding summary? There are a number of similar examples throughout the Wisconsin report. The Total Funding reported in the primate center's annual report doesn’t seem to mean anything very much at all.

This is from the CRISP, it doesn't mention Wisconsin or monkeys:

Grant Number: 3P30DK056336-05S2

Abstract: DESCRIPTION (adapted from the application) The proposed UAB Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (CNRU) will foster a multidisciplinary approach to basic, clinical and translational research with an emphasis on understanding the metabolic factors, environmental influences, and associated genetic traits underlying nutrition and obesity-related health problems. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) provides an ideal academic environment for interdisciplinary research centers. With a 50-year history of pioneering research, the Department of Nutrition Sciences currently includes 18 primary research faculty and $8.3 million in total direct cost funding (80% federal). In addition, the Department coordinates all of the extensive nutrition training and service programs at UAB. To complement its well-established nutrition research program, in 1990, the Department initiated a campus-wide effort to strengthen obesity research. Institutional support of $1.96 million enabled development of the Energy Metabolism Research Laboratory and recruitment of an outstanding team of scientists. The result was rapid growth in new/peer-reviewed funding and interdisciplinary collaborations, such that in 1996 UAB established an intramurally-funded University-Wide Obesity Nutrition Research Center which, with NIH funding, will evolve into the proposed CNRU. The CNRU research base comprises 60 investigators from 18 academic units, with total direct funding of $44 million for nutrition/obesity research (88% federal; 11 R01s). Of the 77 funded nutrition/obesity studies and approved P/F projects, 65 (84%) will use CNRU Cores. The Energy Metabolism/Body Composition Core will support metabolic studies in humans and small animals; Genetics Core will focus on research related to gene expression, polymorphism detection, and genetic animal models; Nutrient Analysis Core will provide an array of nutrient analyses and new methods development; and the Biostatistics Core will support study design and data analysis. The CNRU will also support three P/F studies, a New Investigator, and an Enrichment Program. With exceptional institutional support and an ideal academic infrastructure, UAB has established a strong base of obesity/nutrition research and is now poised to greatly expand this effort through creation of a CNRU.

Thesaurus Terms: biomedical facility, nutrition clinical research, human subject, nutrition related tag

530 3rd Avenue South
Fiscal Year: 2006
Project Start: 01-JUN-2000
Project End: 31-MAY-2007


Anonymous said...

It is very disgusting and makes me feel so mad all these lies about monkeys being successful model for PCOS!. I suffered that, BUT I never had ANY problem with my menstrual cycles! I was always like a clock.
Vivisectors took my right ovary and I became infertil for some strange reason, as I still keep my left ovary.

Anonymous said...

i just wanted to say hi and that i read your blog entry. it's pretty long!! this blog really resonates with me because one thing i've been thinking about lately is that most of us are primates and...well, it's a two-way street, you know?

Anonymous said...

thanks for this posting! it's inspiring to see someone who really understands not just the ethics but also the science!