OHSU animal research shows that exercise is good for you!
A forum on animal rights, organized by students, took place Monday night at Lake Oswego High School. Most of the discussion centered on the issues of animal research, specifically the research conducted at OHSU's primate center (the Oregon National Primate Research Center).
The first speakers were two representatives of OHSU, public relations rep. Jim Newman and primate researcher Dr. Judy Cameron. Cameron specialized in reproductive science and neuroscience at ONPRC. |
Cameron chose to focus her presentation Monday night on one of her current research projects in order to explain the process of animal research, how a study is developed and carried out. Cameron is studying the link between exercise and brain function. She explained that she began this particular study with the knowledge that people who exercise have better brain function. More study is needed though, she claimed, because we need to know if other lifestyle factors might be involved in this phenomenon (for example many people who exercise also don't smoke). In order to explore this connection she has some of her test monkeys run on tread mills and others are forced to be sedentary. She then conducts cognitive tests on the monkeys and compares the performances of the two groups. The shocking truth revealed by these studies is that the monkeys who exercise perform better on the tests! She says these monkeys are "more alert and more engaged" than the ones denied exercise. This leads her to conclude that (as was known at the beginning of the study) that exercise is good for the brain. (While she has apparently affirmed this foregone conclusion, she failed to explain how this study can teach us something new about the effects of lifestyle on human brain function. The lifestyle of these monkeys consists of living alone in barren, 2 feet x 2 feet cages in a laboratory in completely artificial situations, and they are of course monkeys, not people.)
Animal research opponents have accused Cameron of conducting monkey studies that have no relevance to human health. One of her research projects was featured on Good Morning America as part of a series about wasteful and silly government-funded science. That particular project involves planting large transmitters under the skin of the backs of young monkeys and then flying remote controlled gliders over their heads and measuring their heart rates. Cameron claims that this research may teach us something about adolescent depression and says we have learned from it that some monkeys are more timid than others
Cameron also claimed that almost no animal research is funded that has been done before. (She didn't mention the fact that in 2002, the National Institutes of Health, with our money, was funding 171 separate projects examining neural information processing in macaque monkeys, 123 separate projects involving visual neural information processing in macaque monkeys, 109 projects studying cocaine in mice, 286 projects studying cocaine in rats, 55 projects studying cocaine in macaque monkeys... More on Funding)
Jim Newman was there to make the standard case for animal research, claiming that it has been an important part of almost all medical discoveries. He gave examples such as how by studying mouse genetics we are hoping to figure out what is behind the obesity epidemic (in people).
Newman also represented OHSU at a public meeting in Beaverton a few months ago where their proposed biosafety level 4 lab was being discussed. Matt Rossell, who also spoke at Monday's forum, spoke that night about the calves used in a cryptosporidium study that had been smuggled out of OHSU's primate center by an employee. When Rossell referred to cryptosporidium as a deadly disease, Newman interrupted saying no it is not deadly, it only kills people with weakened immune systems. (Isn't OHSU supposed to care about sick people?)
After Cameron's presentation, Rossell, who is now a representative of In Defense Of Animals, presented video footage that he secretly shot while working for over 2 years as a technician at the primate center. These images were in stark contrast to the happy monkey image presented by OHSU. Rossell's footage showed monkeys displaying stereotopy, (the repetitive motions displayed by animals who have gone insane from stress and boredom) and monkeys who were mutilating themselves. Some monkeys shown had their limbs duct taped in a failed attempt to stop the self-mutilation.
Rossell contradicted Newman's claims that the promising anti-leukemia drug Gleevec was "tested in mice originally". According to Rossell who spoke with the OHSU scientist, Dr. Brian Drucker, who created Gleevec, this drug was developed in vitro and the breakthrough is attributable to the growing knowledge of molecular biology and human genetics. The drug was later tested on mice, as is convention.
Rossell explained that while animal research and medical breakthroughs both occur, that does not mean there is a causal relationship. He used the example of OHSU's claim that their monkey research has led to better infant formulas by demonstrating the need for certain components found in human breast milk. Rossell pointed out that dozens of non-animal studies have produced the same data. He closed by saying "The people who defend animal research are the people who make money from it".
OHSU's claims that their animal research is useful were also refuted by panelist Dr. Malgosia Cegielski. Cegielski is a clinical psychologist, specializing in depression and eating disorders in children and adolescents (the very people who are supposed to benefit from Cameron's glider study). She has stated that animal studies such as Cameron's have no clinical relevance. She described Cameron's exercise study as "ludicrous" pointing out that it is well known and obvious that exercise helps brain function.
Cegielski stated that there was a time when she accepted animal research as necessary but now considers it outdated, outmoded and not needed. She stated that although it is difficult to let go of the idea that animal research is necessary, we should remember that people used to think the earth was flat.
Cegielski also contradicted OHSU's version of the role of animal research in the development of Gleevec. She read from Dr. Ray Greek's book "Specious Science. How Genetics and Evolution Reveal Why Medical Research on Animals Harms Humans" in which he claims that the discovery of Gleevec was not dependant on animal research. Greek claims that animal trials are not predictive of human response and are therefore irrelevant. In the book he quotes Paul A. Bunn Jr., president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, who praises Gleevec as an important breakthrough, "Read my lips, this is real, not mice". Cegielski also spoke about the countless drugs throughout history that were shown to be safe in lab animals but harmed and killed people. She gave the example of a young woman she knew who was among the many killed by the diet drug Fen-Phen which did not harm lab animals.
Even though the public funds all of the research that was discussed Monday night, it is rare for OHSU to participate in such a forum where they might be challenged. OHSU will occasionally appear to speak to students by they have consistently declined to participate in a public debate with other scientists about the validity of animal research.
Perhaps when Judy Cameron's current grants run out, (when she finishes proving that exercise is good for us and that some monkeys are shyer than others), she could apply for a grant to explore the hypothesis that stepping in front of a speeding bus can be bad for your health. Instead of flying gliders, her assistants could drive an experimental bus into a group of macaque monkeys and then compare those monkeys to a control group of monkeys who were not hit by a speeding bus. This is a much better use of public funds than for example, giving people health care.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article