Saturday, April 21, 2012

Maternal Deprivation II

The "Serendipity" of Biomedical Research 

Vivisectors sometimes argue that even though their work does not appear at the current time to have provided any demonstrable benefit to human sufferers of some disease or other malady, scientific experimentation is pregnant with possibilities that something entirely unexpected might be learned or discovered at any time.

It’s true that discoveries are sometimes unexpected and sometimes more or less unrelated to the question at hand, and it is also sometimes true that discoveries made today, no matter how obscure or meaningless they might appear right now, could turn out to be useful in the future.

Here’s an interesting assortment of serendipitous discoveries I found on Webster’s [wonderful] Online Dictionary under serendipity.
Penicillin by Alexander Fleming. He failed to disinfect cultures of bacteria when leaving for his vacations, only to find them contaminated with Penicillium molds, which killed the bacteria. However, he had previously done extensive research into antibacterial substances.
The psychedelic effects of LSD by Albert Hofmann. A chemist, he intentionally ingested a small amount of it upon investigating its properties, and had the first acid trip in history, while cycling to his home in Switzerland; this is commemorated among LSD users annually as Bicycle Day.
5-fluorouracil's therapeutic action on actinic keratosis, was initially investigated for its anti-cancer actions.
Minoxidil's action on baldness, originally it was an oral agent for treating hypertension. It was observed that bald patients treated with it grew hair too.
Viagra (sildenafil citrate), an anti-impotence drug. It was initially studied for use in hypertension and angina pectoris. Phase I clinical trials under the direction of Ian Osterloh suggested that the drug had little effect on angina, but that it could induce marked penile erections.
Retin-A anti-wrinkle action. It was a vitamin A derivative first used for treating acne. The accidental result in some older people was a reduction of wrinkles on the face.
The libido-enhancing effect of l-dopa, a drug used for treating Parkinson's disease. Older patients in a sanatorium had their long-lost interest in sex suddenly revived.
Vivisectors sometimes point to accidental discovery as a partial justification for their work. It’s a sort of faith-based position on the value of basic science. See for instance: Serendipity in Research Involving Laboratory Animals. William C. Campbell. ILAR Journal. Volume 46, Number 4, 2005.

Harry Harlow and his student’s horribly cruel maternal deprivation experiments didn’t contribute to the care of humans. Their work was and remains a marathon demonstration that certain things we already knew and know to be true about humans are also true for rhesus monkeys.

It isn’t serendipity when the accidental discovery of something bad, especially while looking for something good, leads to great evil. Giving Harlow and his students the (unwarranted) benefit of the doubt, maybe they actually were looking for something good. If so, they never found it, and moreover, the legacy of their work is a small quasi-scientific industry dedicated to using monkeys in research purported to be intended to benefit human beings with anxiety, substance abuse, and other psychiatric disorders.

The monkey-model-of-human-anxiety industry produces only scientific papers. It is almost wholly publicly funded. Its work product does not include benefit to human sufferers of anxiety.

Harlow and his student’s work was the birth of the industry. The big discovery upon which the industry is based was the scientific fact that rhesus monkeys deprived of maternal care fail to develop normally; they are fearful and withdrawn.

As a result of this highly replicable and often replicated discovery, creating monkeys who are suffering from severe emotional problems is now matter-of-fact; it’s routine, thanks to the accidental discovery by Harlow and his many students that a baby monkey’s psyche can be quickly crushed by taking him away from his mother.

The ease of this psychic demolition is the tool that makes the publicly-funded maternal deprivation industry possible.
It has led to studies like “Amygdala gene expression correlates of social behavior in monkeys experiencing maternal separation. Sabatini MJ, Ebert P, Lewis DA, Levitt P, Cameron JL, Mirnics K. J Neurosci. 2007.

It has led to studies like the one reported on in 2010 by vivisectors at the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta. That study investigated whether rhesus monkeys who experienced early life stress would show “altered sensitivity” to the reinforcing effects of cocaine. Five “control monkeys” -- monkeys who weren’t taken at birth from the mothers, and four maternally separated monkeys were trained to self-administer cocaine. They discovered that the maternally deprived monkeys were less likely to become addicted. [Impact of early life stress on the reinforcing and behavioral-stimulant effects of psychostimulants in rhesus monkeys. Ewing Corcoran SB, Howell LL. Behavioral Pharmacology.]

And more recent reports like:

Early rearing interacts with temperament and housing to influence the risk for motor stereotypy in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Vandeleest JJ, McCowan B, Capitanio JP. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2011. [“Motor stereotypy” is a technical term for abnormal behaviors that commonly involve various forms of self-stimulation such as self-injury, pacing, rocking, spinning in circles, excessive sleeping, and mouthing cage bars.];


Early social experience affects behavioral and physiological responsiveness to stressful conditions in infant rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Rommeck I, Capitanio JP, Strand SC, McCowan B. Am J Primatol. 2011.

The maternal deprivation tool has been exported around the world. Chinese researchers reported in 2011 that: “[T]he deleterious effects of MS [maternal separation] on rhesus monkeys cannot be compensated by a later normal social life, suggesting that the effects of MS are long-lasting and that the maternal-separated rhesus monkeys are a good animal model to study early adversity and to investigate the development of psychiatric disorders induced by exposure to early adversity.” [Maternal separation produces lasting changes in cortisol and behavior in rhesus monkeys. Feng X, Wang L, Yang S, Qin D, Wang J, Li C, Lv L, Ma Y, Hu X.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.]

The most financially successful exploitation of young monkeys’ vulnerability to maternal deprivation may be the richly endowed work of Harry Harlow’s protégé, Stephen Suomi.

Suomi's publicly-funded project, "Developmental Continuity of Individual Differences in Reactivity in Monkeys" (Project No. 1ZIAHD001106) has received about $6 million over the past 5 years. In 2011 he explained his methods and results over the years:
As in previous years, a major focus of this project has been detailed longitudinal study of the behavioral and biological consequences of differential early social rearing, most notably comparing rhesus monkey infants reared by their biological mothers in pens containing adult males and other mothers with same-age infants for their first 6-7 months of life (MR), with monkeys separated from their mothers at birth, hand-reared in the labs neonatal nursery for their first month and then raised in small groups of same-age peers for their next 6 months (PR). In a third standard rearing environment, surrogate-peer rearing (SPR), infants are separated from their mothers and nursery reared just like PR infants, but then at 1 month are housed in individual cages containing an inanimate surrogate mother and additionally are placed in a play cage with 3 other like-reared peers for 2 hours daily for the next are 6 months. At 7 months of age, MR, PR, and SPR infants are all moved into one large pen, where they all live together until puberty. Thus, the differential social rearing occurs only for the first 6-7 months; thereafter MR, PR, and SPR all share the same physical and social environment. We previously demonstrated that PR monkeys cling more, play less, tend to be much more aggressive, and exhibit much greater behavioral and biological disruption during and immediately following short-term social separation at 6 months of age than MR monkeys, and they also exhibit deficits in serotonin metabolism (as indexed by chronically low values of CSF 5-HIAA), as do SPR monkeys, and they also have significantly lower levels of 5-HTT binding throughout many brain regions than do MR subjects. Many of these differences between MR and PR monkeys persist throughout the childhood years. Research in collaboration with colleagues from NIAAA has demonstrated that both PR and SPR monkeys also consume significantly more alcohol when placed in a happy hour situation as adolescents and young adults. This past year we published data extending these rearing condition differences to include developmental changes in plasma concentrations of BDNF and NGF (6), behavioral lateralization (4), acoustic startle response patterns following fluxotine treatment (11), and structural differences in various brain regions (15). Finally, we found that PR monkeys had chronically higher levels of cortisol obtained from hair samples than did MR and SPR monkeys throughout their first year of life, whereas during the second year SPR monkeys had higher levels than the other two rearing groups.

The knowledge that taking baby monkeys from their mothers is harmful to them has had only two effects: Taxpayer money has been poured into the bank accounts of scientists whose careers are based on taking monkeys away from their mothers and documenting the many ways they suffer, and, thousands of baby monkeys and their mothers have been separated from each other simply to hurt them.

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