Tuesday, June 25, 2013

[Animal research] hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem... E. Zerhouni


From New Vantage

Ex-Director Zerhouni Surveys Value of NIH Research
By Rich McManus

On the front page...

Nearly 5 years removed from his NIH directorship, Dr. Elias Zerhouni returned to campus June 4 to offer his views about how to value NIH research economically in an era of flat federal research budgets.


“We have moved away from studying human disease in humans,” he lamented. “We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included.” With the ability to knock in or knock out any gene in a mouse—which “can’t sue us,” Zerhouni quipped—researchers have over-relied on animal data. “The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem…We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.” NIH RECORD Vol. LXV, No. 13. http://nihrecord.od.nih.gov/newsletters/2013/06_21_2013/story1.htm

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"[The Dalai Lama is] the human embodiment of compassion."

There was an article published at the end of May in Madison's Capital Times newspaper titled "How meditation can make the world a better place." The paper summarized the article's main point: "Psychological Science has published a study by UW-Madison graduate student Helen Weng that suggests people can learn how to be more compassionate towards others and themselves." I responded with a piece the editors titled "Madison's love affair with Dalai Lama hasn't benefited its animals."

The article on Weng's research came on the heals of the Dalai Lama's ninth visit to Madison. Here's a little bit of the coverage: "Dalai Lama, in ninth visit to Madison, stresses altruism and compassion."

I understand, to some degree, the frenzied adulation of Elvis, but I am continually amazed by the gullibility and studied ethical blindness of the non-native Tibetan followers of His Holiness. I love that title; it always makes me chuckle.

My article rankled Zorba Paster, a local medical doctor and well known local celebrity. Wikipedia says:
Robert Zorba Paster, MD is a physician and radio show host. Paster was born and raised in Chicago. He hosts a weekly radio call-in show on personal health issues called Zorba Paster on Your Health. The show is produced by Wisconsin Public Radio, sponsored by Public Radio International, and is broadcast on public radio stations around the United States. The show's trademark is a lighthearted, humorous approach, made possible by Zorba's banter with his co-host, Tom Clark. The show's style is somewhat similar to National Public Radio's program, Car Talk, providing callers both with good advice and kind-hearted ribbing.

Paster came to the defense of His Holiness: "Dalai Lama human embodiment of compassion."

Dr. Paster characterizes himself as an amateur Buddhist who has been friends with the Dalai Lama since 1976. Amateur Buddhist? Is that like an amateur Baptist? Does he mean that he's not a professional Buddhist? It's not clear what he means, but it is clear that he is a Buddhist who is intimately associated with the local Tibetan Buddhist center and monastery Deer Park.

In my editorial, I pointed to the plain fact that UW-Madison researcher Richard Davidson promotes meditation as a way to increase compassion, is a personal friend of the Dalai Lama's and is involved in invasive brain research into the neurobiology of fear using young monkeys. I also pointed out that His Holiness eats animals and supports animal experimentation. Paster claims that the Dalai Lama's support for hurting and killing those weaker than ourselves, and Davidson's active role in such work, are examples of compassion. How is it that someone smart enough to get through medical school and finagle a national radio show can be so seemingly blind?

There is a practice in Tibetan Buddhism called Guru Yoga. One source describes it this way:
Guru Yoga — the practice of merging one’s mind with the wisdom mind of the master. The practice consists of visualizing the guru (either in his own form or in the form of deity), requesting his blessings, receiving his blessings, and merging one's mind with the master's wisdom mind.

His Holiness has his name on a book titled: The Union Of Bliss And Emptiness: Teachings On The Practice Of Guru Yoga. I don't think it likely that any long-time practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism isn't also a practitioner of guru yoga, a fundamental practice in Tibetan Buddhism. And Paster's claim of being an amateur Buddhist is at odds with his long intimate involvement with Lama Lhundub Sopa, or Geshe Sopa, the head of Deer Park. I suspect that Paster and his wife have spent many years trying to merge their minds with his; and I suspect that any Tibetan Buddhist from a sect that has not been banned by His Holiness imagines or tries to achieve some sort of mind meld with the Dalai Lama's wisdom mind as they visualize him as a deity. It makes perfect sense that someone would react with vigor when the perfection of their deity is questioned. Less understandable is the time it can take us to realize that our idols have feet of clay. Unfortunately, the phenomena is very common and frequently leads to muddied thinking and obedience to those with much less than good intent.

Dr. Paster makes some false and odd claims outside his weak defense of His Holiness's and Davidson's embrace of cruelty in his editorial that I'll address here.

-- "The University of Wisconsin has been actively involved in primate experiments since Harry Harlow opened the Primate Center back in the '60s. The reason that many are disturbed by primate research is that we are so close to monkeys on the evolutionary chain. They look just like us. Yet that research has been invaluable in improving maternal and child care and investigating the root sources of anxiety."

This is the recitation of mythology. See my essays:
Harry Harlow's Dark Shadow
Children Need Love and Hugs: A Brief History of Maternal Deprivation
And, Harry Harlow and Stephen Suomi, a chapter from my book, Monsters.

-- "Primate trials were critical to Drs. Salk and Sabin’s developing the polio vaccine, which saves millions of lives every year. Is this bad stuff? Most people would agree with me that ethically done, primate research engineered to help mankind is important to do. The key word here is ethical."

First, the "millions" of lives being saved each year is pure hyperbole. In 1952, at the peak of the polio epidemic in the U.S., 3,145 died from complications related to the disease. This is a lot of people, but polio doesn’t even make the 1952 (or any other year’s) top ten list of the leading causes of death. Polio was hyped only because President Roosevelt had the disease.

Until polio could be grown in vitro, reservoirs of the virus were maintained through serial inoculations of rhesus macaques with tissue containing the virus. If one looked only at that fact, it could appear that the monkeys were a key element in the effort to develop a vaccine. But the whole story suggests something else.

Monkeys harboring the virus were killed and their brains harvested. This is the tissue that was used to inoculate the next batch of monkeys in order to keep a supply of the virus on hand. The virus-laden tissue was injected into their nasal passage and the virus quickly migrated into their brain. But the repeated reinoculations with brain tissue led to the development of a strain of polio much different from that circulating in the human population.

Additionally, because the results were so unambiguous, that is, injecting polio infected tissues into the nasal passages did indeed cause polio, it was falsely believed for a generation that polio was air-borne, when in fact, in natural settings it is ingested orally and lodges first in the gastrointestinal tract.

This was recognized early on by scientists studying humans, but the animal data was so compelling that a generation was lost as scientists based their studies on a different strain transmitted in a different way. The breakthrough came when scientists stopped culturing the virus in monkeys. Nobelprize.org says:
The 1954 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John Franklin Enders and his junior associates Thomas Huckle Weller and Frederick Chapman Robbins "for their discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue." For forty years, dependence on a monkey host for propagation of the polio virus limited progress in basic studies until 1949 when Enders, Weller and Robbins showed how cultures of kidney and other human and monkey cells could produce large quantities of the virus. This breakthrough opened the way to studies that set standards for precision in investigations of other viruses and led directly to the engineering of the Salk and Sabin vaccines that eliminated the dreaded specter of a disabling and often lethal disease.
It remains to be seen whether or not the use of monkeys was either critical or ethical.

-- "Bogle suggests that eating animals is inherently bad. But in fact, even the most strict vegetarian cannot avoid eating animals, i.e., insects. The proof comes from vitamin B12 studies. There is absolutely no source of vitamin B12 in the plant kingdom; it comes from animals. Research of South Indian lifetime vegetarians shows that their B12 comes from insect parts found in grains, flour, legumes and beans. Even a vegan isn’t be immune from animal destruction."

In my experience, "experts" believe the things they "know" to be true and rarely stop to question them. Vitamin B12 does not come from animals. See Microbial production of vitamin B12. Martens JH, Barg H, Warren MJ, Jahn D. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2002. Some animal tissues contain B12, but this is because they eat foods that are contaminated with the micro-organisms that produce B12. No one needs to eat animals to get a sufficient quantity of B12.

Paster seems to me to be claiming that because no one can live in a way that doesn't ever cause others harm that we ought not be upset when someone harms others willfully. Because a purported vegetarian in southern India may get get a trace of vitamin B12 from a dead bug in the grains they eat, it's OK to eat animals generally. Wow. Just wow. What ever happened to Harm no sentient being?

-- "Now on to Bogle’s most outrageous implication — that Tibetan Lamas subjugated the Tibetan people for 800 years. I wonder if Bogle has ever been to Tibet, as I have numerous times. If he had, he would have seen how Tibetans are subjugated by their Chinese overlords, who claim that they “liberated” them. This is classic communist propaganda. Tibetans are quickly becoming a minority in their own country. You need only see the human immolations that are going on in Tibet to see how desperate Tibetans are."

I've never been to Tibet. Paster's trips to the holy land seem not to have resulted in much knowledge of the region's sociopolitical history. Tibet's history, as far as human rights are concerned, is not much different than the history of every other feudal state's. There has been a slow improvement over time. Thubten Gyatso was two years old in 1878, when he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and became the 13th Dalai Lama of Tibet, the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso's immediate predecessor. Thubten Gyatso died in 1933. In 1937, he was reborn and became the current Dalai Lama. Anyway, it appears that there is some doubt or lack of clarity, but it was probably Thubten Gyatso the 13th Dalai Lama who more or less ended the caste-based slavery that apparently was common at the time. Some writers who visited the country just prior to the 1950 invasion by China, report seeing people with missing appendages as a result of being punished by the government. This doesn't sound very unlike some parts of the Middle East.

Tibet in 1950 wasn't any more progressive than any of its neighbors. Were average people being subjugated by the Lamas? Of course they were. There isn't democracy in the belief that those in charge are in charge because they are reincarnated rulers.

Self-immolation is a relatively common practice in Buddhism. In fact, if you look up self-immolation on Wikipedia, it is an essay on Buddhism. In other words, if the Chinese had invaded and subjugated someone other than Buddhists, no one would be setting themselves on fire.

I think Zorba Paster ought to have said up front that he is actually a long-time Tibetan Buddhist and a personal friend of Richard Davidson. He ought to have checked his facts before offering advice on people's nutritional needs and on the development of the polio vaccine. He paints a misleading picture of the self-immolations and ignores the reality of Tibetan history.

I don't care about Tibetan Buddhism any more than I care about any other religion. What drives me up the wall is media's absurd reporting on the great compassion of the leader of the church and UW-Madison and its vivisectors using the Dalai Lama's endorsement of vivisection to claim that hurting those weaker than themselves is compassionate.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

UW-Madison wants exemption from state open records law

First, they slipped in an exemption from the state's anticruelty laws for themselves; now they want to keep their cruelty even more secretive. Evil is as evil does.
UW-Madison wants to protect research by limiting open records law
By Jason Stein and Karen Herzog of the Journal Sentinel
May 23, 2013 1:44 p.m.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is seeking to limit the state's open records law — potentially through language slipped into the state budget — to keep from the public information about research until it is published or patented.

No specific incidents of harmful disclosures were cited in language for a possible motion that is being passed among Republican lawmakers and was obtained by the Journal Sentinel.

University officials have been seeking to convince GOP lawmakers to advance the legislation either as a separate bill or by inserting it into the state budget when the UW System's part of the bill comes before the Legislature's budget committee Thursday.

In an interview Thursday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) made clear he was at least open to the idea, though he didn't know all the details on it. He didn't say if the provision would be included in a larger and still unreleased motion on the UW System that is expected to be voted on by Joint Finance Committee members later in the day as it considers funding for public universities and colleges in the 2013-'15 state budget.

Vos said he saw a need to make changes to the open records law to ensure a researcher's work wouldn't have to be released publicly before the researcher was ready to publish it.

"In general, if it's a public institution things should be public, but I don't want to hurt (research)," Vos said.

And here’s UW’s memo: http://media.jsonline.com/documents/Open+Records+Research+Exemption+Language.pdf

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Discovery Institute gets one right

I don't think I've ever agreed with anything I've read from Wesley J. Smith a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute who is a regular critic of protecting animals. The organization is very pro-status-quo when it comes to exploiting animals. Animals don't have souls, so piss on them, they seem to be saying. I guess they think that's what God wants. Whatever. Our apparent shared close observation of modern experimental biology has though resulted in a rare convergence of opinion on at least this point: Self Regulation of Science Doesn't Work.

Vivisectors ask you to ignore the obvious.

Opinion: Ethics Training in Science: The NIH has required researchers to receive instruction about responsible conduct for more than 20 years, but misconduct is still on the rise. James Hicks. May 14, 2013. The Scientist.

.... Today, 1 in 3 scientists responding anonymously to surveys admits to “questionable” research practices; research misconduct cases handled by the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) are at an all-time high; and retractions of scientific papers have increased exponentially since 2005. It should be noted that not all retracted papers involve foul play, but a recent study reported in PNAS surveying 2,047 biomedical and life-science papers revealed that 67 percent of retractions were directly attributable to misconduct.
It strains credibility to imagine that an industry based on harming animals and filled with those who admit to unethical behavior treat their research subjects with compassion or respect.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Animal Testing Thrown into Doubt, Again: Idiocy Confirmed

I don't know how many times I've seen someone post the dismal statistic regarding the very low success rate of new pharmaceuticals in an on-line discussion about the use of animals. Invariably, some numbskull will write back that the crazy vegan animal rights nuts who point out this little problem simply don't understand science and the drug development process. The assertion frequently comes with a puffed-up chest and the anonymous assertion that of course scientists, like them, know more than the nut.

Well..., as many of us nuts have known for some time, financial and other factors tend to turn those with vested interests into total idiots. The research finding discussed below will be vigorously argued against and disparaged, and given the gigantic financial benefits of producing animals and experimenting on them, in spite of the absence of significant benefit, things probably won't change any time soon.

Nevertheless, I simply can't wait to hear the idiots yelling that the many authors of this paper simply don't understand science and the drug development process.
The Experiment Is on Us: Science of Animal Testing Thrown into Doubt
May 6, 2013 Environment, Health, News

by Pat Dutt and Jonathan Latham, PhD

New scientific research has cast grave doubt on the safety testing of hundreds of thousands of consumer products, food additives and industrial chemicals.

Everyday products, from soft drinks and baby foods, to paints, gardening products, cosmetics and shampoos, contain numerous synthetic chemicals as preservatives, dyes, active ingredients, or as contaminants. Official assurances of the safety of these chemicals are based largely on animal experiments that use rabbits, mice, rats and dogs. But new results from a consortium of researchers and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest such assurances may be worthless (Seok et al. 2013).

The results of these experiments challenge the longstanding scientific presumption holding that animal experiments are of direct relevance to humans. For that reason they potentially invalidate the entire body of safety information that has been built up to distinguish safe chemicals from unsafe ones. The new results arise from basic medical research, which itself rests heavily on the idea that treatments can be developed in animals and transferred to humans.

The research originated when investigators noted that in their medical specialism of inflammatory disease (which includes diabetes, asthma and arthritis), drugs developed using mice have to date had a 100% failure rate in almost 150 clinical trials on humans.

According to Kristie Sullivan, Director of Regulatory Testing Issues at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), this is not unusual “about 90% of all pharmaceuticals tested for safety in animals fail to reach the market, or are quickly pulled from the market”. Wanting to understand why this might be so, the consortium decided to test the effects of various treatments that lead to inflammation, and systematically compare results between mice and humans. This postulated correlation across different animal species is sometimes known as the concordance assumption.

“appalling irresponsibility”

Just like UW-Madison...
New strain of killer flu created in a lab

May 6 2013

London - Senior scientists have criticised the “appalling irresponsibility” of researchers in China who have deliberately created new strains of influenza virus in a veterinary laboratory.

They warned there is a danger that the new viral strains created by mixing bird-flu virus with human influenza could escape from the laboratory to cause a global pandemic, killing millions of people.

Lord May of Oxford, a former government chief scientist and past president of the Royal Society, denounced the study published in the journal Science as doing nothing to further the understanding and prevention of flu pandemics. “They claim they are doing this to help develop vaccines and such like. In fact the real reason is that they are driven by blind ambition with no common sense whatsoever,” Lord May told The Independent.

“The record of containment in labs like this is not reassuring. They are taking it upon themselves to create human-to-human transmission of very dangerous viruses. It's appallingly irresponsible,” he said.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"Very dangerous work disguised as big science."

Study: Lab-made H5N1-H1N1 viruses spread in guinea pigs

Robert Roos - News Editor May 2, 2013

(CIDRAP News) – Chinese scientists report that lab-generated hybrid viruses combining genes from avian H5N1 and pandemic 2009 H1N1 (pH1N1) influenza viruses can achieve airborne spread between guinea pigs, a finding that seems likely to renew the debate about the risks of creating novel viruses that might be able to spark a human pandemic.

Writing in Science, the researchers say that 5 of 127 hybrids they generated by shuffling genes from the two subtypes showed "highly efficient" transmission in guinea pigs. None of the guinea pigs died, but some mice that were infected with the reassortant strains did succumb.

Guinea pigs are not regarded as the best experimental model for human flu, a distinction that belongs to ferrets. The Chinese team did not test any of the hybrid viruses in ferrets, because a voluntary moratorium on "gain of function" research on H5N1 viruses—studies involving the creation of potentially dangerous new strains—intervened in January 2012 and lasted a year.

The moratorium was prompted by the controversy that erupted in late 2011 over two earlier studies in which researchers generated novel H5N1 strains that spread among ferrets via respiratory droplets. One of the studies involved an H5N1-H1N1 reassortant; while the other involved an H5N1 virus in which specific mutations were induced. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) sought to prevent publication of full details of the two studies, but eventually reversed itself, and the studies were published in May and June of 2012.


Friday, April 26, 2013

SIV isn't HIV

SIV, the so-called simian immunodeficiency virus isn't the same virus as HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, and rhesus macaques aren't human beings.

These two confounding facts were again responsible for yet another HIV vaccine clinical trial being shut down.
Federal researchers have faced a major setback in the pursuit of an HIV vaccine, shutting down a clinical trial on Thursday after determining that volunteers who received the vaccination shot were more likely to contract the virus than those who were given a placebo. The vaccine also failed to reduce virus levels in the blood of volunteers who contracted HIV, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). ...

The study began in 2009, and researchers had immunized half of the 2,504 volunteers with a DNA-based vaccine called HVTN 505 that was intended to “prime the immune system to attack the AIDS virus. Then a different vaccine, encasing the same material inside a shell made of a disabled cold virus, acts as a booster shot to strengthen that response. Neither vaccine could cause HIV,” according to the Associated Press.
Results from a series of nonhuman primate studies influenced the decision to expand the HVTN 505 trial, says Dieffenbach. Animal data showed that about half of rhesus macaques given a simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) vaccine regimen similar to the HIV vaccine regimen used in the HVTN 505 trial were protected against SIV following SIVsmE660 challenge, and that a low level of neutralizing antibodies to Env, and an Env-specific CD4+ T-cell response correlated with this protective effect.

Dieffenbach says the large number of animals (129 macaques) used in the study, and the fact that the protection occurred in the presence of robust cellular responses and low levels of SIV-neutralizing antibodies, suggested that the HVTN 505 regimen could have the capacity to prevent HIV acquisition in people. “You are only as good as the data you have in front of you,” says Dieffenbach, reflecting on the expansion of the HVTN 505 trial. “We [haven’t had] many efficacy trials and if we have the opportunity and there is plausibility, we need as a field to take a chance.”
The study, led by Louis Picker, a professor of pathology at the Oregon Health & Science University [Oregon National Primate Research Center], showed that 12 of 24 Indian rhesus macaques vaccinated with a replication-competent rhesus cytomegalovirus (rhCMV) viral vector vaccine candidate encoding the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)mac239 proteins Env, Pol, Gag, and Vpr/Vpx demonstrated early and complete control of viral replication for more than a year after repeat, homologous, low dose SIVmac239 challenge....
No surprises here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fabricating Importance

University of Wisconsin-Madison vivisectors Ned Kalin and his colleagues have come under criticism, both from people who abhor cruelty, and even from some with somewhat similar sensitivities who work within the university's guarded walls.

How might a public relations department go about diffusing the criticism or work to set the stage to defend itself from future criticism?

One way to confuse the public, to mislead any nosy independent journalist, or to just build the walls of illusion a little bit higher would be to claim importance where little to none exists.

This is a very common vehicle for spin doctors. Dramatic medical breakthroughs are announced by university PR departments almost every day; and yet, articles written by less biased observers, by people not being paid to hype their institution's work, convey a much different picture. See for example:

The Medical Revolution: Where are the cures promised by stem cells, gene therapy, and the human genome? Emily Yoffe. Slate. Aug. 24, 2010.
Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine Is Wrong. Sharon Begley.

In my last post, Conflicts of Interest, I pointed out some of the glaring conflicts of interest that limit legitimate reporting of controversies involving the University of Wisconsin-Madison's use of animals.

I failed to notice another staff member of the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) who is yet another previous staff writer for the Wisconsin State Journal. Coincidentally, the university recently issued a release about a newly published paper by Ned Kalin, et al. The release was written by LSC Senior Lecturer, Susan Lampert Smith.

Here's the release: UW researchers discover the brain origins of variation in pathological anxiety.

And here's the published abstract: Neural mechanisms underlying heterogeneity in the presentation of anxious temperament. Shackman AJ, Fox AS, Oler JA, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013.

The university's news release hyping this new paper must read like something from America's Finest News Source to clinical psychiatrists and others with even a passing familiarity with neurosurgery. The fundamental claim, in much of Kalin et al's work is that by identifying areas of the brain associated with some disabling mental affect like severe anxiety that it will be an easy next step to drill a hole through someone's skull and fix them or to come up with a new miracle drug.

But right now, brain surgery is relatively crude. Surgeons remove tumors, ablate small regions, and perform some vascular repairs. The idea that we are anywhere close to having the understanding and ability to fix a part of the brain associated with something as complex as a disabling emotion is like saying a surgeon could fiddle with your neural pathways and give you an extra hundred IQ points if only we knew where in the brain geniuses differ from the average Joe. An analogy from history is William Harvey' small book on the heart and circulation published in 1628. The first cardiac surgery wasn't conducted for another two-and-a-half centuries, until 1895, and the heart-lung machine wasn't in use until the 1950s. Arguably, Harvey's observations were so far ahead of the technology needed to put them to use that that they were of no material value at all.

But you can just imagine the hype that the UW spin doctors would have made of it.

And a new miracle drug that will be more effective than the drug therapies currently available, as a result of some brain scans on frightened young monkeys? Any celebration is premature. Kalin is a psychiatrist, not a pharmacologist or even a chemist.

The release about Kalin's new publication, written by LSC Senior Lecturer, Susan Lampert Smith, says that "this line of research sets the stage for improved strategies for preventing extreme childhood anxiety from blossoming into full-blown anxiety disorders." Unfortunately, that's far-fetched nonsense. It is an example of invented importance. It is a fabrication widely divergent from the plain facts. But that's the nature of propaganda.

Nothing in a brain scan or a dissected slice of a young frightened monkey's brain is going to help anyone prevent extreme childhood anxiety from blossoming into a full-blown anxiety disorder. The prevailing opinion is that childhood anxiety disorders often go undetected or untreated and that early identification and intervention is of great importance. To put Kalin's announcement of having identified brain regions associated with fearfulness in young monkeys into practice, it would appear that every preschooler will need a brain scan. A wholesome breakfast for all kids might be a better goal.

Kalin et al have been "setting the stage" for better care of anxious children for decades by frightening baby monkeys, burning away various regions of their brains, killing, and dissecting them. The stage has become very dusty and bloody. No one has yet been able to write a script that incorporates the frightened monkey "discoveries" into a story line that concludes with better care or treatments for anxious children.

Clinical pediatric psychiatrists are unlikely to glean much from this latest hyped announcement that will help them help their patients. Where are the cures and preventions? They're certainly not hiding in Kalin's experiments on fearful young monkeys. In spite of the spin doctoring by LSC staffers.

In the process of writing this I stumbled across an interesting article written by a Wisconsin State Journal reporter on the Association of Health Care Journalists website: Reporter offers advice on avoiding embarrassing incident. The reporter blames himself for an unfortunate incident, but it seems to me that the university might have been so focused on some good PR that they just couldn't think of anything else. Notice too, the name of the UW Hospital "PR person" near the end.

You may find this article worth reading if the general topic of research into anxiety is of interest: Understanding the Anxious Mind. NYT Magazine. September 29, 2009.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Conflicts of Interest

The University of Wisconsin-Madison promised four years ago to provide public forums to help the public understand its use of animals in it various research programs. You can read about those promises here.

But even the organizers have admitted that the promised forums have not met the goals spelled out by Martin T. Cadwallader, Professor of Geography, Vice Chancellor for Research, and Dean of the Graduate School. Lots of titles, but Mr. Cadwallader should have asked a real teacher or two to help organize the forums because the university staff involved either don't know how to design a meaningful and effective educational activity or else don't really want to talk about the university animal labs, or both.

I've written enough about the "forums" elsewhere. I'm writing here because I have recently gained a little bit more insight into ways that the university tries to control their image. The forums are an example of the university saying one thing and then doing another. The thing they say gets some news exposure, and then the thing they actually do, doesn't. A recent example is the things they said to media about the cats in Tom Yin's lab and PeTA's complaint, and the things they actually did about the problems and about the USDA citations. Their claims were dutifully dispersed by media, but when caught in a series of lies, nothing got reported.

It all comes down to their active propaganda effort. It turns out that you can actually earn an undergraduate degree, a Masters, and a PhD in how to manipulate public perceptions at the university.

Degrees and certificates in "science writing" are offered by a handful of colleges and universities around the country. UW-Madison offers a handful of degree programs in UW-Madison's Department of Life Sciences Communications (LSC).

The LSC webpage explains: "As a department, we further fulfill The Wisconsin Idea through our relationships with UW-Extension, WSUM Madison Student Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television."

To begin to see why local media won't report on the problems, lies, cover-ups, and suffering associated with the use of animals at the university, consider the staff at LSC.

It is far too idealistic or naive to imagine that Wisconsin Public Radio or Wisconsin Public Television would ever cover the problems at the university. According to a conversation I had with the NPR Ombudsperson, self-censorship by NPR affiliates associated with universities is a recognized problem that no one has taken the time to address.

In the case of UW-Madison and Wisconsin Public Radio, the reason for the self-censorship could be related to the fact that the Madison station is physically on the UW campus, in a UW building, and that some of the senior staff are university employees. The most obvious example is Larry Meiller, host of the Larry Meiller Show. Mieller is also a Professor, and the Director of Undergraduate Advising and Career Placement, and the Department Chair of UW-Madison's Department of Life Sciences Communications (LSC). You won't ever hear Meiller say something critical of the university's use of animals.

One of his common guests, and his co-host of Calling All Pets, is Patricia B. McConnell, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Zoology at the university. I remember once hearing them on the show laughing together about what was being done to rats in an experiment they were talking about. You can't expect to hear any criticism of the university's use of animals on that show either.

And things aren't any better at the Wisconsin State Journal. Ron Seely is the science and environment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal and a Senior Lecturer at LSC. Seely ought to be talking about the treatment of animals at the university but steers clear of the issue. It's easy to see why.

And then there is Tom Still, former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal and a currently a regular columnist in the business section. Still is a Lecturer at LSC.

Still is also president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which has strong ties to the university. Additionally, he serves on the Board of Directors of the very creepy Wisconsin Security Research Consortium (WSRC), a UW sock puppet. Over the years, Still has been a defender of all things harmful to animals that might be economically profitable.

This incestuous intertwining of the university's interests with the programming and reporting in the Wisconsin State Journal and on Wisconsin Public Radio goes a long way to explaining why there isn't much local coverage or discussion of the problems at the university.

But the problem isn't just these obvious conflicts of interest.

UW-Madison's Department of Life Sciences Communications is worth digging into a bit. For instance, the statewide effort to recruit children and turn them into adults who like to kill animals, was apparently designed by staff at LSC:
A new initiative called the Hunters Network of Wisconsin, led by LSC Assistant Professor Bret Shaw, aims to understand how social networking technology may be used to promote hunter recruitment and retention in Wisconsin.....

"The Hunters Network of Wisconsin is targeting people who are interested in hunting but have not been raised in families that hunt,” said Bret Shaw, environmental communication specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Extension and assistant professor of life sciences communication at UW-Madison. “Many people, particularly young people, are heavy users of social networking technologies, and this may be an important way to inform them about hunter education opportunities in their local communities and connect with others who are interested in hunting,” said Shaw. "
It is interesting to read through some of the info at the LSC scimep lab (Science, Media and the Public.)

They explain that the lab is involved in "experimental studies of message processing and public understanding of controversial science, and long-term tracking of media coverage." But as far as I can tell, out of the approximately fifty papers from the lab over the course of its seven years of existence, there hasn't been even one paper concerning the public's perceptions of, or the media's framing, or anything whatsoever, regarding the use of animals in science. This is distinctly odd. The Department of Life Sciences Communications, the department's lab looking at public understanding of controversial science, the matter-of-fact reality that the use of animals is the epitome of controversial science, and yet nary a word. Maybe someone has alerted them to the institutional strategy of keeping the subject hushed up.

It is notable that investigators in a lab that is supposed to be involved in experimental studies and analysis of message processing and public understanding of controversial science aren't looking at the most controversial topics. They aren't looking into the messaging about and the public perception of abortion (When does an embryo begin to feel pain?) or medical testing on animals, or cloning animals, or the use of stem cells from human embryos, or even cloning humans. No, their big investigations and research are focused on the public's perception of nanotechnology. This might seem odd until one realizes that they aren't interested in the topic. They are interested only in how public opinions about controversial areas in science are formed, with the goal, apparently, of being able to manipulate them.

It seems to me that when taken together the unavoidable conflict of interests in media employing UW staff and quasi-staff to report on the university, the university's active encouragement of harming animals, their undeniable financial dependency on harming animals, and their managed propaganda campaign, it all adds up to a likely explanation for why all critical reporting has been dependent on one or two reporters independent enough to report the facts. Now that they have left the field, there is no one left who doesn't have their hand in the university's pocket in one way or another.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Paid to lie, to you. (Updated 3-28-2013)

"Furthermore, in two separate complaints filed with the USDA, PETA accused UW-Madison of multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. When two comprehensive, multi-day investigations by USDA veterinarians failed to substantiate PETA's accusations, PETA changed its tune and now says they don't care that the study is being conducted responsibly, they still think it's wrong." -- Eric Sandgren. February 16, 2013. In "Eric Sandgren: Cat research, after all the drama." Wisconsin State Journal.
"Sandgren said an investigation will validate the department's handling of the research cat, calling PETA's complaint 'a stunt.'" September 12, 2012. "PETA complaint alleges mistreatment of cats in UW research." Wisconsin State Journal
Eric Sandgren | September 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply

At UW-Madison, we heard about the complaint, and received a copy from a reporter, at 10:00am on a Wednesday, By 1:00pm that afternoon we were able to state verbally to reporters and anyone else who asked that all of PeTA’s statements were unsupported (we could not respond to specific charges until we knew what they were going to be). That’s 3 hours! The detailed written point-by-point response went up on Monday the next week, after careful review by a lot of people, and we may consider posting something like that sooner should we find ourselves in a similar situation. This all worked because we have developed excellent cooperation among University Communications, our animal research program, and faculty and staff regarding animal activist attacks. We also have people willing to respond immediately. I too am amazed that PeTA keeps getting away with this stuff. How do we put them on the defensive? From the fringe group "Speaking of Research" website/blog
Federal inspectors have cleared UW-Madison on charges by the animal rights group PETA that university researchers violated multiple provisions of the federal Animal Welfare Act in their treatment of cats used in a 2008 eye movement study.

"I believed all along that we had remained in compliance," said Eric Sandgren, animal research oversight director at UW-Madison. "I'm comforted that the USDA agrees." " On Campus: UW-Madison cleared by feds in PETA cat research complaint." October 11, 2012. Wisconsin State Journal

Those damn lying animal rights activists; making up things about the University of Wisconsin. How dare they impugn the integrity of the vivisectors at UW-Madison!
The excerpt above is taken from the University of Wisconsin, Madison's appeal of the USDA citations that resulted from PETA's complaints regarding the care and use of the cats used in Tom Yin's highly invasive and cruel experiments on cats.

This is the opening of their appeal of the results of the USDA inspection report dated December 14, 2012.

Less obvious is that the citations they are appealing are the result of a four day investigation that resulted in the USDA documenting the chronic infections endured by the cats in the Yin lab.

So, all the while Eric Sandgren was telling anyone who would listen that PETA's assertions concerning the cats suffering in the Yin lab were false, he obviously knew otherwise -- because he is the university's head vivisector, the university's animal research public apologist, and he is the director of the university's Research Animal Resource Center. The cats in Tom Yin's labs were and are suffering from chronic infections so severe that some cats' eyes have had to be cut out of their heads.

From December 14, 2012, Sandgren knew that the USDA had indeed found problems that even they  thought deserved citations for violations of the minimal standards set by the Animal Welfare Act.

Come on, say it with me: Eric Sandgren is a paid liar.

Update: A few days after posting this demonstration of the most recent example (among many) of Eric Sandgren's and the university's matter-of-fact lying to the public, I was sent a reminder of Sandgren's appearance on the Jane Velez-Mitchell show with me on February 15, 2013.

The university issued a statement which starts out like this:
The information now being disseminated by People for the Ethical Treatmentof Animals (PETA) and advocates like James Cromwell about research at our university is unsubstantiated and flawed. We have conducted a detailed review of PETA's complaint and can find no evidence to support a single claim the organization makes. Moreover, a lab inspection was conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in response to PETA's complaint and their review found no substance to any of PETA's allegations.

The pictures released by PETA show an animal undergoing surgery to receive cochlear implants. Just like in human surgeries, such procedures are performed under anesthesia and animals receive pain-relieving medication during and after a surgery. After surgery, the cats adapt readily to the implants, which do not cause discomfort or distress. They are healthy and behave normally.
This propaganda is chocked full of lies. In fact, the university was secretly appealing the USDA's citations at the same time they were saying that no violations had been found. There is little about what is being done to the cats in the Tom Yin lab that is "just like" therapeutic surgery on willing humans. In fact, the university knew full well that the cats were not readily adapting to the implants and that the  rate of very serious life-threatening infection from the surgeries was sky-high. Sandgren and the university knew all of this, but said the opposite on a nationally-broadcast television program.

Come on, say it with me again: Eric Sandgren is a paid liar.

Monday, March 18, 2013

"It's important to know what the cost is to the animal. It's important to know what the potential benefit is to, in this case it's humans, but a lot of animal research also benefits animals. And then you you you come up, you compare those, and decide for yourself whether or not something you think it's ethical, and that where people have a right to differ." -- UW-Madison Research Animal Resource Center Director and university spokesperson Eric Sandgren, February 15, 2013, in a statement to WMTV, NBC 15, on the occasion of James Cromwell's participation in a disruption of a meeting of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents to protest the Regents continuing support for highly invasive and painful brain and ear experiments using cats in Tom Yin's laboratory.
Pictured here is one of Yin's victims, Double Trouble. 

I can't get Sandgren's statement out of my head; it is grotesque and matter-of-factually misleading and dishonest. Moreover, many people at the university and at the Wisconsin Department of Justice must know the facts and yet they stand mute.

PeTA spent three years in court trying to get these photos from the university. The Wisconsin Department of Justice acted as the university's counsel -- at the public's expense -- and argued to the court that the photos shouldn't be released.

It was only when they were caught lying about the "proprietary" nature of the hardware that can be seen in the photos that the university, through their Department of Justice de facto accomplices, finally gave up, tacitly admitting that their arguments had been fabricated nonsense.

"Decide for yourself whether or not something [is] ethical," says Sandgren, all the while knowing that the university had unsuccessfully tried for three years to keep you from knowing, to stop you from seeing the pictures of only one of the cats butchered in Tom Yin's lab.

"It is hardly to be expected that a man who does not hesitate to vivisect for the sake of science will hesitate to lie about it afterwards...." -- George Bernard Shaw. The Doctor's Dilemma. 1909.

The Calculus of Deceit

Liars calculate the costs of telling the truth and the potential costs of lying, weigh the results, and then choose to tell a lie.

This seems pretty straightforward.

Liars convince themselves that their lies won't be found out. Or, maybe they reason that the costs of being caught lying, while embarrassing and perhaps costly, are less of a problem than the results of telling the truth. After all, if one lies, the truth might not come to light. Maybe the  benefits of the lie, if it remains unrealized, are great enough that the risks of being caught lying simply pale in comparison.

When I was a kid, I lied. The risk of telling my parents the truth was greater than the risk of telling them the truth. I reasoned that the punishment for admitting to having done something that I knew they wouldn't approve of was no worse than the punishment I would have to endure if they caught me in a lie. So, all things being equal, even as a ten-year-old, I understood the odds: certain punishment vs. possible punishment. A no-brainer.

But I grew up. Honesty actually matters. And it matters a whole lot when one is in a position of public trust.

When people involved in the public's business lie to the public, their lies are much more serious than the lies of someone else, or the lies of a ten year old boy.

In the case of the University of Wisconsin, Madison's claim that the United States Department of Agriculture didn't find anything wrong with the treatment of the cats in Tom Yin's laboratory, the institution lied to the public.

It's important to understand this point.

The state university lied to the citizens of the state. 

It's not that they misspoke. They weren't mistaken. No one misled them.

 They lied.

They lied to you.

They lied knowingly. They told calculated lies. Repeatedly.

They hoped and banked on the likelihood that you would never learn the truth. They miscalculated.

But they knew all along that there was at least some possibility that their lies would be discovered.

They must believe that the public, you, are simply too stupid to notice. They believe that you are too stupid, too dull to do anything about it.

It's true that PeTA's first complaint to the USDA about the conditions in the Yin lab was dismissed. But the USDA is filled with people who have varying degrees of respect for animals, so big deal.

Their follow up complaint included statements from a UW veterinarian who added to and validated their observations. The USDA was forced to pay more attention.

The USDA inspected the lab and found wide-spread suffering and evidence of sloppy surgical procedures that failed to meet modern aseptic standards. Many of the cats had serious life-threatening infections associated with the screws driven into their skulls and the surgically implanted eye coils.

And the university knew this. 

And they told the public repeatedly that the USDA had found nothing amiss.

They believe that you are too stupid to notice or to do anything about it.

They might be right.

The university has lied to the public so many times over the years that they have come to believe that they are never, ever, held accountable for their lies.


The willing gullibility of reporters and newscasters makes any genuine discussion of the details of the university's use of animals nearly impossible.

Liars. Matter-of-fact habitual liars lying about the things they do to animals in their hidden labs. Despicable.

Get active. Get involved. Speak out. Call your state legislators today.

UW-Madison caught lying yet again and again and ... Wake up Wisconsin.

USDA Cites UW for Violation of Law: Cats Suffered From Infections, Deprived of Food, and Burned in University Laboratory

For Immediate Release: March 18, 2013

Contact:Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382

Madison, Wis. -- A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report has confirmed PETA's allegations of unrelieved, ongoing suffering of cats in the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW) laboratory that was first exposed by the animal rights group with the release of photos of a cat with a steel post screwed to her skull. The graphic photos prompted a high-profile protest by actor James Cromwell at the February 7 Board of Regents meeting.

According to the report just obtained by PETA through the Freedom of Information Act, the USDA cited UW for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act by negligently burning a cat named Broc so badly with a heating pad that she required surgery. The USDA report—which includes federal inspectors' photos of seven mutilated cats who are still being used in the invasive brain experiment—also details widespread suffering of cats who had steel posts screwed into open wounds on their heads and metal coils implanted into their eyes. The federal inspector stated that there was "a pattern of recurring infections" and that all the cats profiled by PETA in its complaint had been "diagnosed with chronic infections."

"When I close my eyes at night, I'm haunted by the images from inside UW's laboratories of cats whose heads had been sliced open, skulls penetrated by metal rods, and infected eye wounds from metal coil implants," says Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell. "It's torture for these animals, plain and simple. Now the government has confirmed what PETA has been saying all along: UW left these cats to suffer from chronic infections, with some dying slow, lingering deaths."

The USDA noted that some cats have died from the infections and that one cat named NJ, who is depicted in one of the new photos, even had to have her eye removed after the metal coil caused an incurable infection.

"The USDA has confirmed what PETA alleged and what UW tried so hard to distort: that UW has inflicted tremendous suffering on the cats it has imprisoned, mutilated, and killed in its laboratories," says PETA Director of the Laboratory Investigations Department Justin Goodman. "Federal funding for this pointless cruelty must end now."

The USDA report, which was written in December but just now released to the public, starkly contradicts UW's many recent op-eds, media statements, and interviews claiming that it has not been cited by the USDA for these cruel experiments and that PETA's allegations were "unsubstantiated."

For more information, please visit PETA.org/DoubleTrouble.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A brief history review.

More discussion about Kalin's goals and methods

These are observations from "The Ethics of Animal Experimentation: A conversation between bioethicist Rob Streiffer and research critic Rick Marolt" that was held on March 11, 2013, sponsored by the UW Animal Rights Society and recorded in the video at the end of this post. I've written here in regard only to the part of the conversation that specifically addressed the details of Ned Kalin's project.

Both Rick Marolt and Rob Streiffer are familiar with the details of the procedures; they both had access to the protocol for months, and in Streiffer's case, many months. In Streiffer's case, this has to have included significant focused discussion about those details with people who were also familiar with the protocol.

Their difficulty with these details underscores just how devilishly hard it is to talk with people about these matters. I don't understand why it is so hard to understand what is in store for these baby monkeys, but quite clearly, even people familiar with the protocol and who have had ample opportunity to think about it still find it difficult to understand.

(Times here are fairly accurate but could be off by a few seconds.)

24:10 Marolt: My understanding is that the researchers are interested in developing an anxious personality.

This is sort of right, but it misses Kalin's main point. A significant part of Kalin's decades of experiments on monkeys has been based on his ability to identify monkeys with the trait-like characteristic of being highly anxious. (They use the term "trait-like" and phenotype, because the genetics underlying this characteristic is not understood.)

See my post from July 8, 2008: "Trait-like anxious temperament in primates." And see too the the papers: Lateralized effects of diazepam on frontal brain electrical asymmetries in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Biol Psychiatry. 1992. And, "Lateralized response to diazepam predicts temperamental style in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Behav Neurosci. 1993.

Since learning that he could identify monkeys with an anxious temperament, Kalin's experiments have used such monkeys almost exclusively.

His point in this case is to record brain development over time in an effort to identify the molecular differences between the brains of monkeys who were raised under adverse conditions and those who were raised under less adverse conditions.

At about 26:00 Streiffer explains that the surrogate the infant will be kept with during the first three to four weeks of his life will have the ability to "rock back and forth, which past research has shown, helps infants develop [more normally, he seems to imply.] Kalin's protocol says: "While in the incubator, an upright surrogate covered with a soft material that is able to move back and forth at the infant's discretion will be provided for the animal."

Streiffer's comment regarding past research is correct. But from the very limited description offered in the protocol, it isn't completely clear what the surrogate will actually be. There is research showing that the "standard" moveable surrogate that seems to be referred to in the protocol, isn't the best choice if one wants the infants to develop normally, which of course, in this particular case, they don't. See: Surrogate mobility and orientation affect the early neurobehavioral development of infant rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Dettmer AM, Ruggiero AM, Novak MA, Meyer JS, Suomi SJ. Dev Psychobiol. 2008.

At about 26:48, they try to explain the changes in housing over the course of the babies' lives. When they are removed from the surrogates, Marolt thought they would be placed in a colony situation at some point, but Streiffer corrected him and said that they would remain with a peer throughout their life. Marolt was sort of right when he says that they will be re-caged with a different peer later on, but he mistakenly thought it was to facilitate the study of the formation of a new social relationship. This is understandable because Kalin does make this claim, but it appears to be a second thought.

In fact, the babies will be placed with a new peer at six months of age because that is the age at which the 20 control monkeys will be taken from their mothers and placed with a peer, a common husbandry method used in the labs. (In the wild, infants remain with their mothers for a year, and can remain in the same troop as their mother throughout their life.) The change in peers of the peer-reared monkeys is intended to mimic -- at the same developmental time point -- the social upheaval that will be experienced by the mother-reared monkeys when they are removed from their mothers.

The idea in and of itself seems to make some sense in an experimental design sort of way, but a moment's thought suggests that it's pretty silly; it flies in the face of the fundamental design claim. The whole idea of maternally depriving the infants and subjecting them to other various stressors is to alter their brain development. It makes sense that it will, but at six months, many, research suggests most, of these changes are likely to have already occurred. So, the brains of the monkeys in the two groups, the deprived-adversely-effected group, and the control group, will already be too dissimilar to think that the removal from their peer, and the removal from their mother, will have similar neurodevelopmental effects, yet that is the reason given by Kalin.

At about 28:25, Streiffer says that the surrogate-reared babies have to be placed with other surrogate-reared babies rather than mother-reared babies because the peer-reared monkeys "don't know how to behave in a normal social environment."

It's not clear to me how he came to this conclusion. I cannot find such a claim in the protocol, but maybe I keep missing it. In any case, if this is what he was told, or what Kalin has claimed, it seems unlikely.

The infants are placed with a peer sometime between their third and fourth week of life. Kalin says that they cannot be placed with a peer earlier on because there isn't room in the incubator for two infants, and that they cannot be taken from the incubator until they are able to self-thermo-regulate, or control their own body temperature.

At three to four weeks of age, a macaque's social environment has been nothing other than close physical contact with his or her mother. "Social behavior" in a monkey of this early age is simply clinging and some exploration of the mother's body. The immediate reaction by a "normally socialized" four week-old infant to being taken from his mother is unlikely to be any different than the reaction of a surrogate-reared monkey taken from his "mother." They would both suffer profound emotional distress.

There actually isn't a reason not to pair the maternally deprived infant with a mother-reared infant (if you could even call being with one's mother for three to four weeks rearing); the actual reason is that they have the orphans on-hand because they created them. There isn't a need to look for some other rationale, and Kalin does not appear to offer one, but again, maybe I missed it.

Beginning at about 30:10, Streiffer explains Kalin's goals. He begins with Kalin's claim that he will discover changes in gene function and the genes involved in the development of an anxious phenotype. (Phenotype is the word used in biology to say observable or observed characteristics, like hair color, behavior, etc. It is commonly used to mean the characteristics that result from an organism's genotype, or genetic make-up.) I've recently written about this line of study here, and about Kalin's methods regarding the genetics underlying depression here.

At about 30:43 Streiffer quotes Kalin's protocol and says that the research has the "potential" to identify new targets for the treatment of the effects of early adversity.

But in correspondence with others, Kalin hasn't been so guarded. He has said that "Using primate models allows us to be certain that the knowledge we acquire is directly relevant to understanding the causes of human suffering." But even using humans hasn't meant any certainty about the knowledge gained being relevant to the understanding of the causes of human suffering. See: Molecular Neurobiology of Depression: PET Findings on the Elusive Correlation with Symptom Severity. Smith DF, Jakobsen S. Front Psychiatry. 2013.

It you have an interest in the philosophical framework of ethics, you may find the discussion of interest in spite of the occasional misunderstanding of Kalin's methods and goals.

The Ethics of Animal Experimentation from luciano M on Vimeo.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Vivisection in the Name of Genetics and Gene Therapy

Over the first nine days of July, 1997, I protested the use of monkeys at the Washington (then) Regional Primate Research Center by leafleting for 16 hours a day outside one of the main entrances to the building that houses it. ("The Warren G. Magnuson Health Sciences Building is part of the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington and the world's largest single university building with a total floor area of 533,000 square metres (5,740,000 sq ft). Although the building is made up of over 20 wings built over more than 50 years, the interior hallways are fully connected." Wikipedia).

While there with the Ape Army, I had the opportunity to visit with a number of passersby who stopped to talk with me about the issue. One of the people I talked with was a PhD student who talked to me about the impending completion of the first-ever sequencing of a multicellular organism's genome. Scientists published the Caenorhabditis elegans genome the following year.

The student believed that this event would mark the beginning of the end of the use of animals as models of human biology. He reasoned that knowing C. elegans's genome would lead to an immediate cascade of insights and a deep understanding of gene function that would be able to take full advantage of the human genome when it was eventually published.

These were not the wild imaginings of an overly excited doctoral student. His optimism was shared widely throughout mainstream science. Unfortunately, he was wrong.

As it turns out, the chemistry underlying the genome, of even the simplest organisms, is wildly complex and has yet to be understood.
Exactly how many genes make up the human genome remains a mystery, even though scientists announced the completion of the Human Genome Project a decade ago. The project to decipher the genetic blueprint of humans was supposed to reveal all of the protein-producing genes needed to build a human body.

“Not only do we not know what all the genes are, we don’t even know how many there are,” Steven Salzberg of the University of Maryland in College Park said October 11, [2011], during a keynote address at the Beyond the Genome conference, held in Boston. [More than a chicken, fewer than a grape. ScienceNews.]
In spite of the very limited understanding of gene function, vivisectors are richly rewarded with tax dollars to study the action of genes in animals. For instance:
DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Macaque monkeys are the most important animal model for AIDS vaccine development and are increasingly being used in biodefense research. An individual's immunogenetics can profoundly influence susceptibility to AIDS viruses and other pathogens. Indian-origin rhesus macaques have the most thoroughly characterized immunogenetics; however, their availability for research is extremely limited. Chinese-origin rhesus macaques, cynomolgus macaques, and pig-tailed macaques are increasingly relied upon to alleviate the shortage of Indian- rhesus macaques. As studies with these macaques become more common, there is a newfound appreciation that they may offer compelling advantages over Indian-origin rhesus macaques for specific studies. To study cellular immunity to AIDS viruses and biodefense, a comprehensive understanding of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and killer immunoglobulin receptor (KIR) genetics is required.... PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE (provided by applicant): Macaque monkeys are widely used in the development and testing of prophylactic vaccines against AIDS viruses and pathogens with biodefense potential. Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and killer immunoglobuline receptor (KIR) genetics influence susceptibility to these diseases. We will sequence novel alleles and define their functional attributes in macaque populations used for infectious disease research. (From Title: IMMUNOGENETICS OF MACAQUES USED FOR BIODEFENSE AND AIDS RESEARCH Project Number: 8R24OD011048-08. O'CONNOR, DAVID H. Awardee Organization: UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON. Total Funding for 2012: $554,521)
The very complex chemistry underlying the functioning of genes is undoubtedly involved in many if not all biological phenomena. In spite of the massive public expenditures, research, and significant media hype regarding genes, genetics, the genome, gene therapy, epigenetics, etc. there still isn't a deep or firm understanding of exactly how they are involved. At best, our knowledge is cursory. The precise mechanism and control of the seemingly infinite details of biology remain largely a mystery.

This plain fact has far reaching ethical implications. The one most germane to the topic of using animals in harmful experiments is that idea that there isn't a good or even a logical reason to use animals as tools in research on genetics, the function of genes, or the mechanisms of gene-controlled or mediated biological function. Looking for gene-influenced effects on the biology of animal models of human disease and health isn't worthwhile without the requisite knowledge of the chemistry underlying all gene-influenced phenomena.

Because so little is understood about the functioning of genes, the choice to use mice, monkeys, or mole rats to study the way they function -- rather than using plants or fungi -- can't be supported by a rational argument that claims even a hint of ethical grounding or a concern for the animals being used.

A very large sum of tax-payers' dollars is made available annually to scientists who want to create and consume ever more mutant mice, but the money flowing from the public coffers doesn't justify hurting and killing animals.

Consider this explanation for why someone would harm animals in the name of genetic research:
Bipolar disorder (BPD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by episodic mania and depression. It is a common mental health problem, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of approximately 1–5%. A meta-analysis of family, twin, and adoption studies found that relatives of BPD patients have a 10-fold higher risk of the disorder than those without relatives with BPD, demonstrating that BPD has a strong heritable constituent. Though ongoing efforts to elucidate the genetic basis of BPD using varied approaches have yielded promising results, a convincing molecular etiology of BPD remains elusive. There are at least a few good reasons for this difficulty in finding a genetic basis for BPD. First, BPD is a complex disorder at the molecular level, involving perturbations of not just single genes, but of systems of genes. Second, it may be more proper to speak of bipolar disorders in the plural; the pathology may have multiple heterogeneous molecular bases, a hypothesis consistent with the multiple heterogeneous findings in different genome-wide studies of BPD. Third, deriving mechanistic explanations of human psychiatric disorders using classical genetics presents difficulties due to practical constraints on experimental power and the possibility of epigenetic components of these disorders.

Because a convincing BPD molecular etiology poses significant technical and theoretical challenges to human geneticists, animal models for BPD have a strong potential to extend understanding of this disorder. (A new mouse model for mania shares genetic correlates with human bipolar disorder. Saul MC, Gessay GM, Gammie SC. PLoS One. 2012.)
Who hasn't heard of gene therapy? It'd be great if I could get an injection of some new genes that would replace the ones in the cells that comprise the fascia of my left hand (and now my right) and stop their over zealous production of collagen. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon. We just don't know enough about the mechanics of how the molecules that comprise DNA and RNA work to affect biological systems. We know they do -- somehow -- but the fundamentals and the details elude us.

For all the hype, gene therapy for any malady remains the stuff of science fiction. Or fictional science in the case of most labs using animals as genetic test beds.

The big news on the gene therapy front is that the European Union has for the first time (anywhere) approved the use of a gene therapy. Glybera was developed by Amsterdam-based uniQure for patients suffering from a very rare lipid-processing disease called lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD). The condition apparently affects only one or two people in a million.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any human gene therapy product for sale.

In order to actually modify, re-engineer, or build new genes and gene networks that will have therapeutic value we will have to have a depth of understanding that is somewhere over the horizon.

The study of genetics or the genetics underpinning disease in humans does not requite the use of animals.

The real work in genetics and its promised ramification, gene therapy, is cell-based; the species of the organism from which the cells come is of no consequence given our current knowledge. If we understood genetics well enough, we could, theoretically, build essentially any kind of cell we wanted and could enhance any characteristic of interest. We could analyze an organism's genetic code, spot problems, and replace, eliminate, or even enhance any characteristic of interest.

Not only are animals unneeded, but their use in research that purports to be studying a specific disease or family of diseases thought to have a genetic component frequently entails the generation of so-called animal models of this or that human malady that are misleading and wasteful. This doesn't make good sense from a problem-solving or funding perspective.

Almost uniformly, induced conditions in animals are said to have some similarity to the human condition, but very few are anything more than somewhat similar. Perhaps as the result of this inappropriate tool-use, as it were, gene therapy hasn't proven to be helpful. The scientists conducting these experiments are hardly to blame -- other than for their cruelty -- for the lack of progress; they don't understand the real fundamentals of the very complex system they claim to be studying. No one does.

The fundamentals are likely to be the same for all gene-mediated life.

These fundamentals are as likely to be gleaned from studying plant cells as they will be from studying the biopsied cells of an animal with an induced or even a naturally occurring malady.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kalin's cruelty unlikely to be of benefit

A key component in Ned Kalin's justification for using baby monkeys to model the effects of what he implies to be the universal effect of all forms of child abuse, neglect, and poor parenting, is his claim that he will discover new molecular pathways associated with possible differences between the brains of male rhesus babies who are isolated, maternally deprived, peer-reared, and repeatedly frightened when compared with the brains of other male rhesus babies who haven't had to endure quite as much cruelty. He says that these discoveries are certain to lead to better treatments. [Sneezing sound in closed fist muffles: "Bullshit!"]

He will look for differences in the development of the baby monkeys' neuromolecular pathways involved in emotion and mental affect by conducting three positron emission tomography (PET) scans of their brains over the course of their short lives.

Positron emission tomography utilizes radioactive atoms (isotopes) that are used to replace non-radioactive atoms in biologically active molecules like glucose. These atoms emit radioactive particles (or rays) that can be recorded by a PET scanner and translated into three dimensional images. As a result, when the radioactive version of the molecule or "tracer" is taken up by many cells in a particular area, a computed three dimensional image of that area can be created.

PET has been used for a number of years to investigate the biological underpinnings of the effects of various therapies for depression. Radioactive tracers that are used in PET scans can be radioactive versions of neuro-active chemicals. In theory, this means that someone, whether a retired banker or a baby a monkey, who has been diagnosed with depression or driven crazy by a vivisector, can be treated and then pre- and post-treatment  PET scans can record locations of the tracers and show where changes occurred. (In some cases, such changes might even be imaged in real time.) Such knowledge could, maybe, lead to a better understanding of the biological mechanisms of depression and the mechanisms that alleviate it.

It is perhaps worth mention that the monkeys Ned Kalin is using won't receive any therapy for their suffering. He is simply looking for variations between the brains of abused and not so abused baby monkeys.

Ned Kalin's use of PET scans must be based on an assumption that any changes disclosed by the scans between the two groups of baby monkeys will be associated with the detrimental impacts of the maternal deprivation, peer-rearing, and repeated frightening experiences they will be forced to endure. This assumption must be based on his belief that PET scans have provided us with knowledge of the specific changes in the molecular pathways associated with successful treatments for depression.

A recently published review of the results of PET scans by scientists in Denmark on the reported changes in brain chemistry of patients diagnosed with and treated for depression suggests quite strongly that Kalin's assumption is wholly unwarranted. It is likely, essentially certain, that the information generated by the PET scans he plans to conduct on the baby moneys will be of no consequence whatsoever to the victims of child abuse whose sad experiences he appeals to as a justification for the unquestionable harm he is causing.

The paper is "Molecular Neurobiology of Depression: PET Findings on the Elusive Correlation with Symptom Severity" by Donald F. Smith and Steen Jakobsen [My emphasis throughout]:
Molecular mechanisms in the brain are assumed to cause the symptoms and severity of neuropsychiatric disorders. This review concerns the elusive nature of relationships between the severity of depressive disorders and neuromolecular processes studied by positron emission tomography (PET). Recent PET studies of human depression have focused on serotonergic, dopaminergic, muscarinic, nicotinic, and GABAergic receptors, as well as central processes dependent on monoamine oxidase, phosphodiesterase type 4, amyloid plaques, neurofibrillar tangles, and P-glycoprotein. We find that reliable causal links between neuromolecular mechanisms and relief from depressive disorders have yet to be convincingly demonstrated. This situation may contribute to the currently limited use of PET for exploring the neuropathways that are currently viewed as being responsible for beneficial effects of antidepressant treatment regimes.
And later, in their general discussion:
The search continues for PET radioligands that can disclose causal links between the binding properties of central neuromolecular processes and the clinical condition of people suffering from depressive disorders. Our account of PET findings presented in this review is both critical and harsh, based on our serious concern regarding the current lack of clear-cut relationships between neuromolecular processes as measured by PET and changes in the severity of depression. In particular, beneficial effects of potent antidepressant treatments have typically failed to affect neuroreceptor binding of PET radioligands in subjects who were depressed at the start of the study, but who experienced clear-cut reductions in symptom severity.
The paper is available for free here: Molecular Neurobiology of Depression: PET Findings on the Elusive Correlation with Symptom Severity. Smith DF, Jakobsen S. Front Psychiatry. 2013.

The authors' findings suggest strongly, essentially prove, in my opinion, that the results of Kalin's cruel maternal deprivation and repeated fearful experience protocol have no chance of being of benefit to the victims of child abuse. (I'd emphasize the no chance even more, but Blogger has some limitations.)

In a sane world, Smith and Jakobsen's findings would result in the immediate cancellation of any project based on the assumption that PET scans would result in benefits to human patients if the project entailed harming animals.

But the liklihood of Kalin's project being canceled simply because one of his key claims has been shown to be scientifically baseless is nil. This is because the actual results of the overwhelming majority of experiments on animals are of such little value. The demonstration that this particular project is just more of the same is highly unlikely to matter at all.