Thursday, January 10, 2008

ONPRC: flops of the past five years

The Oregon National Primate Research Center has a list of its purported medical accomplishments on its website. I thought it might be instructive to look at these claims in order to understand what is passed off as science to an unsuspecting largely uncritical public.
40 years of health discoveries:

Top contributions of past five years
ONPRC scientists conduct basic research. They have built a record of accomplishment, most often in the form of contributions to the groundwork for pharmaceutical and clinical studies. Click below to learn how, just in recent years, they have:

Discovered early indicator of maternal infection that may serve as method for preventing premature birth
This claim is linked to an undated news release-like document citing unspecified research published, apparently, by Michael Gravett, MD. Why didn't they link to the actual paper? ONPRC says:
Center team discovers early indicator of infection, possible method for preventing premature birth.

It is a perfect example of the value of translational research (bringing together data from both animal and human studies), of new biotechnologies and of scientific collaboration in solving human health problems.
But, this isn't translational research. Translational research is the idea of taking experimental results (usually from experiments on animals) and applying them in clinical settings with benefit to the human patients. No human patients were helped in this study, and further, the banked human serum was used only as a benchmark to evaluate the monkey data. The paper is primarily a discussion of how they went about evaluating the human data; the monkey component is actually little more than a very cruel sideshow.

Further, though not mentioned by ONPRC, the research design and results were criticised by a group of six scientists from Yale University, Ciphergen Biosystems (Fremont, California), and the University of Maryland. Gravett et al responded that their results would have to be proved prospectively on a larger group of pregnant humans.
Advanced the possibility of ovarian tissue transplants as a means of preserving fertility for cancer patients
This links to news release that claims:

Birth of a healthy monkey following ovarian tissue transplant may lead to new methods for preserving fertility in cancer survivors...
Here's a link to the abstract of the paper they are referring to. The date of the paper is 2004. It isn't at all clear that this is a breakthrough or even a halting advance. For instance, in 2001, it was reported that transplanted ovarian tissue in women could function and even produce oocytes. The birth of a monkey from the transplantation of oocytes produced from transplanted tissue seems more of a Ripley's sort of demonstration that a meaningful advance in human medical treatments.
Discovered that the hormone leptin, which is involved in fetal development, may influence later life obesity risk
In mice. And, moreover, the connection between obesity in certain mutant mice and leptin has been under almost constant study since at least 1995.
Found that the smallpox vaccine provides long-term protection
I'm laughing out loud. The linked article says:
But Mark Slifka and his team at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute of the Oregon Health and Science University decided to test this assumption. Slifka and his team studied people who were vaccinated anywhere from one month ago to 75 years ago, and found that more than 90 percent are still protected.
So, the Oregon Primate Center implies this is a result of experiments on monkeys?
Confirmed that physical exercise is beneficial to brain health
No, this is an example of pseudoscience. Animal sudies cannot confirm a hypothesis about human biology. Testing a hypothesis and disproving or validating it is achieved through rigorous evaluation of a body of pertinent data. In regard to meaningful claims about the relationship between exercise and mental health, meaningful multiple meta-analyses of human-based research have been published, making Judy Cameron's cruel demonstrations particularly disgusting. See for instance: Landers, D.M. (1999). The Influence of Exercise on Mental Health. In: C.B. Corbin & R.P. Pangrazi (Eds.), Toward a Better Understanding of Physical Fitness & Activity, Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway.
Uncovered new information to help menopausal women suffering from depression
The linked reference is an abstract to an article reviewing Cynthia Bethia's lab's years of work "on the actions of estrogens and progestins in the serotonin neural system of nonhuman primates." Does any of that body of work purport to having uncovered new information that has helped menopausal women suffering from depression? Apparently not. Bethea's work is uniformily descriptive physiology. Maybe that's why the ONPRC claim is so non-specific.
Identified a virus that serves as a model for understanding and preventing HIV infection in humans
Just to clarify, I'm not too sure when this page was created, but giving ONPRC the benefit of the doubt, let's assume it was 2005; this would mean then that none of this research occurred before 2000 since these are the "top accomplishments of the past five years." But the linked reference for this wild claim is to an abstract of a 1985 paper. Maybe they think that this "discovery" is so important that it must be included in any list of accomplishments, no matter the parameters. So, is their claim accurate? The paper is "Isolation of a new serotype of simian acquired immune deficiency syndrome type D retrovirus from Celebes black macaques (Macaca nigra) with immune deficiency and retroperitoneal fibromatosis." The virus discovered by ORPRC is SRV-2 (SAIDS retrovirus-2, or more commonly today, simian retrovirus-2, or SRV-D.) One way to evaluate the purported importance of this virus in research today is to consult the CRISP database.

For instance, searches for SIVmac251 or SIVmac239 for FY 2007 return 6 and 15 hits respectively, all using the viruses as models of HIV. On the other hand, a search for SRV-2 or SRV-D returns 4 hits, and all of them are grants for the establishment of breeding colonies of macaques that are free from various visuses including SRV-D. There aren't any grants listed using monkeys infected with SRV-D. The primate vivisection community seems to have turned its back on this virus as a model for anything, which makes ONPRC's claim appear particularly hollow. And this, a "discovery" made in 1985, is listed as one of their top discoveries in the past 5 years. Whoo-hoo!
Been responsible for major nutritional improvements in infant formula used around the world
And what sort of cad would be against improvements in infant formula?

But Martha Neuringer wasn't trying to improve infant formula. Obviously, the best infant formula for normal babies would be the formula that most closely approximates mother's milk, obviously. Much of Neuringer's work focused on the neurological effects on infant monkeys when acknowledged key amino acids were eliminated from their diets. And she showed convincingly and repetitively, that these nutritional depriviations resulted in deficits in normal brain development in infants raised without their mothers and without social interactions with other monkeys. She's an evil bitch, and any claim that her research helped human children is a grotesque mutation of her actual research history.

Coincidentally, Martha Neuringer is the first primate vivisector whose research I learned about ... a lifetime ago. I heard about her research in 1997 from a veterinarian name Sheri Speede who had done a significant amount of digging to find out just what Neuringer was up to.

From a pamphlet written by Dr. Speede:
Dr. Neuringer adamantly denies that she treats her monkeys in a “cruel or cavalier” manner. However, she herself has described the infants in her experiments as suffering from severe emotional and psychological stress, as well as prolonged diarrhea, before she eventually kills them to examine their eyes and brains.

Neuringer forcibly removes the infant monkeys from their mothers on the day they are born to house them alone in steel cages. Because rhesus monkeys are among the most social of all primates, the price in terror to these babies and mothers is impossible to overstate.

The mothers grieve for the loss of their babies for days. The infants’ stress, terror, and depression are manifested in constant rocking and swaying; continued clutching at themselves; and self-mutilation.

To compound the abuse, Dr. Neuringer drills holes into the skulls of some of the babies to remove pieces of their brains. They endure painful recovery from these brain surgeries as many as four times before they are killed at or before 3 years of age.

Neuringer attempts to justify her cruel experiments by proposing to answer what she describes as a “remaining critical question”: Do human babies really need the preformed long-chain fatty acids present in human breast milk?

But this question has already been answered. Based on existing knowledge and scientific evidence, the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition and the British Nutrition Foundation have already recommended that human infant formula be supplemented with these fatty acids in amounts similar to those in human breast milk.

Based on these recommendations, European and Japanese companies have already started adding these long-chain fatty acids to their infant formulas.

In 1991 - three years before proposing to abuse more monkeys at taxpayer expense - Neuringer herself wrote, “Ideally, the fat content and fatty acid composition of infant formula should resemble human milk. This seems reasonable and technologically feasible.”

Dr. Neuringer’s fatty acid experiments are consistent with her long history of isolating and killing infant monkeys to confirm already-known nutritional effects. This can clearly be seen in her earlier taurine deprivation “research.”

In 1984, formula manufactures began adding taurine to their products. In 1987, Neuringer herself confirmed, “Taurine supplementation of most commercial infant formulas was instituted in 1984 or 1985.” Yet, even after making this statement, Neuringer proceeded to torment and kill at least 60 baby monkeys to “further strengthen the case” for feeding infants taurine -- a case that had already been made.

In 1993 — nine years after companies began adding taurine to their infant formulas — Neuringer, after describing an experiment in which she killed 25 baby monkeys, actually wrote that, “[I]t remains prudent to supplement human infant formula with taurine levels matching those of human milk.”
I really don't like these people.
Identified an unrecognized risk for heart disease and tested diets to help reduce that risk
You've gotta love the target of this link, which at the time of this post is a blank page... ah, the careful attention to detail by the primate vivisectors... what dick heads.
Mapped brain pathways that regulate hunger, furthering our understanding of eating disorders and obesity
That's M. Susan Smith, the director of the primate center, wonder why they didn't say so, maybe they had to include her lame research.

Oddly, most of her research, if it can be called that, doesn't use monkeys; no kidding. In the two papers that ONPRC calls her "Key publications," [Xiao, Q.X., K.L. Grove, S.Y. Lau, S. McWeeney, and M.S. Smith. 2005. Deoxyribonucleic acid microarray analysis of gene expression pattern in the arcuate nucleus/ventromedial nucleus of hypothalamus during lactation. Endocrinology 146:4391-4398. and Chen P, Williams SM, Grove KL, Smith MS. Melanocortin 4 receptor-mediated hyperphagia and activation of neuropeptide Y expression in the dorsomedial hypothalamus during lactation. J Neurosci. 2004 Jun 2;24(22):5091-100.] she uses rats. Wouldn't you think that the dirctor of a primate center might use monkeys? And why whould a primate research center point to studies in rats as key research conducted at a primate center. Why? Because they think you are an idiot. That's why.
Developed therapeutic strategies and surgical techniques to prevent premature births
Consider that "theraputic strategy" claim. The link is to the 2003 paper "Dexamethasone or interleukin-10 blocks interleukin-1beta-induced uterine contractions in pregnant rhesus monkeys." Apparently, either dexamethasone or interleukin-10 had not previously been used to block contractions associated with pregnancy, and went on to be a regular clinical therapy, right? In one 1998 paper, under the heading "Managing Preterm Labor,: we find the pullout quote:
Corticosteroid therapy, when given to a woman in preterm labor between 24 and 34 weeks of gestation, is currently the only therapy shown to improve fetal survival. This treatment includes betamethasone, in a dosage of 12 mg, given intramuscularly every 24 hours for two days, or dexamethasone, in a dosage of 6 mg, given intramuscularly every 12 hours for four days.
So, by at least 1998, dexamethasone was already a recognized treatment for preterm labor, primarily to quicken the baby's lung development. There does not seem to be any use of dexamethasone as a treatment to stop contractions.

Interleukin-10 is being used experimentally to treat rheumatoid arthritis and a few other maladies. There seems to be no theraputic use of interleukin-10 related to pregnancy other than the experiments at ONPRC.

But how about the "surgical techniques to prevent premature births"? Given that their previous claims have turned out to be distortions of reality, why should this claim be any different? Frankly, I don't care whether this claim is accurate because it has absolutely nothing to do with monkeys or even rats. The paper used to "prove" this claim is: "Cervical cerclage in the second trimester of pregnancy: a historical cohort study." And the authors explain their methods: "The purpose of this study was to compare second-trimester transvaginal cervical cerclage with conservative management on duration of pregnancy and perinatal outcome in patients with early or advanced cervical changes." Patients. Get it? People, human beings. This is one of the top contributions of the past five years of the Oregon Primate Center. Go figure. [But for the record, did scientists at ONPRC develop cervical cerclage as a treatment?]
Developed new, effective methods of contraception that don't suppress the normal menstrual cycle
No they didn't. What they did do was to demonstrate that daily low doses of the antiprogestin ZK 137 316, a drug like RU-486, was contraceptive, and that when its administration was stopped, monkeys could become pregnant. No antiprogestin is currently being used as a contraceptive -- except in emergency cases with RU-486. Claims that scientists at ONPRC have "Developed new, effective methods of contraception" are very premature.
Established models for assisted reproductive technologies that facilitate studies on egg and sperm biology, stem cells and early embryonic development and, at the same time, provide techniques for producing genetically identical monkeys and nonhuman primate models for health research
Well, finally, a more or less truthful statement. More, because they are inventing new ways of making animals sick -- a so-called model -- and less, because such models have such a poor record of leading to improvements in human healthcare. The page linked to by this claim is a pretty fair indication of the sort of things the vivisectors at the primate centers busy themselves with. We read:
Children and adolescents may suffer from neurodevelopmental conditions such as ataxia telangiectasia or Lesch-Nyhan's, Kallman's and Krabbe's diseases, which lead to mental retardation. Adults may be afflicted by Alzheimer's disease or Lou Gehrig's condition, amyotropic lateral sclerosis.

In many of these cases, there are no animal models that exhibit the same physiological and clinical symptoms of the disease. Because of similarities in nervous system structure and function, rhesus monkeys may become valuable as disease models for some or all of these conditions, just as they are increasingly important in efforts to develop an HIV vaccine.

Don Wolf and his colleagues are taking initial steps toward providing neurodegenerative disease models.
Get that? They aren't working on a cure or even a treatment for these hideous diseases, they are trying to create similar symptoms in monkeys.
Discovered a monkey version of the newly identified human herpes virus 8 (HHV8) --a discovery that provides scientists a model for investigating how the human virus causes Kaposi's sarcoma in AIDS patients
HHV8 had been identified and associated with Kaposi sarcoma by at least 1996, but maybe 22 years is considered "recent" by ONPRC. In 1997, primate vivisectors at the Washington Primate Center reported that they had identified "two homologs of the Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (human herpesvirus 8) in retroperitoneal fibromatosis of different macaque species." In 2000, researchers reported on their search for a chimpanzee homolog of the Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. They reported that:
Like man and two other Old World primate species, chimpanzees harbour a virus closely related to KSHV/HHV8, termed Pan troglodytes rhadinovirus-1 (PtRV-1)....Despite the close phylogenetic relationship and biological similarities between KSHV and PtRV-1, Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) has not been reported in HIV-1-infected chimpanzees....
SIV in macaques has been claimed to be a model for the study of HIV, and the results of decades of study using this model have been nill. The "invention" of an animal model is a very long way from a demonstration of progress, benefit, or even a contribution to medical progress against human disease.
Contributed valuable data to the development of GnRH analogs - drugs for such problems as endometriosis and breast cancer - and helped find the cause and cure of a form of male infertility
Once again, ONPRC used a non-animal study as an example of one of the accomplishments of its researchers. Conn's work can be read about in more detail here. One point should be made, his test bed was COS-7 cells. COS-7 cells are "Transformed African Green Monkey Kidney Fibroblast Cells." Why not study human diseases and ailments using human cells?

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