School halts baboon anthrax study

Oklahoma State University (OSU) administrators have aborted a federally-funded study of anthrax vaccines because the project involved sacrificing the baboons involved in the research -- even though the project had already received approval by a unanimous vote from the university committee overseeing animal research. A photomicrograph of Bacillus anthracis bacteriaImage: Wikimedia commons, CDC"It was a considerable surprise to pretty much everybody involved," said linkurl:Michael Davis,;http://w

By | December 1, 2009

Oklahoma State University (OSU) administrators have aborted a federally-funded study of anthrax vaccines because the project involved sacrificing the baboons involved in the research -- even though the project had already received approval by a unanimous vote from the university committee overseeing animal research.
A photomicrograph of Bacillus
anthracis bacteria

Image: Wikimedia commons, CDC
"It was a considerable surprise to pretty much everybody involved," said linkurl:Michael Davis,;http://www.cvhs.okstate.edu/Profiles/DisplayProfile.asp?RecordID=470 an OSU veterinary doctor and a member of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) that approved the project. "It's not as though this was the first time anybody suggested that we ought to euthanize an animal during a research protocol." The project, headed by Boston University's linkurl:Shinichiro Kurosawa,;http://www.bumc.bu.edu/busm-pathology/busm-faculty-profiles/s-kurosawa-md-phd/ proposed to use baboons as a primate model to test the efficacy of the current vaccine (the one given to members of the military) for anthrax. The plan was to expose the animals to the spores of the attenuated Sterne strain of anthrax and eventually advance to the Ames strain -- the fully encapsulated and virulent form of the bacterium that was used in the anthrax attacks of 2001 -- and observe the pathobiology of infection. It was part of a collaborative multi-institutional NIH grant originally awarded for $12 million in 2004, and renewed in September of this year for another $14.3 million. Kurosawa's proposed subproject, which had a direct cost budget of $200,000 per year, required special laboratory conditions: future experiments involving the Ames strain, for example, would have to be done in a biosafety level (BSL) 3 facility. The new laboratory at OSU fit the part -- a large animal facility with BSL 3 clearance, close proximity to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) where Kurosawa used to work, and a baboon colony. Kurosawa filed for permission with the institution's IACUC, which approved the project on September 15. (The project was still pending review and approval by the Institutional Bio-Safety Committee when the administration made its decision so the IACUC never issued approval letters.) "The impression that I had, as one of the members of the IACUC, is that we were the last step," Davis said. "Everything else was essentially in place." But before final permission was granted and he was able to begin his study, Kurosawa received an email from OSU vice president of research Stephen McKeever saying that OSU was unwilling to host it, linkurl:reported The Oklahoman;http://www.newsok.com/anthrax-study-rejected-by-osu/article/3421451 -- who, it seems, first reported the story linkurl:(Hat tip - DrugMonkey).;http://scienceblogs.com/drugmonkey/2009/11/osu_president_blocks_nih_funde.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ScienceblogsChannelLifeScience+(ScienceBlogs+Channel+%3A+Life+Science) OSU administrators declined to comment, but did release a statement saying that the proposed research "was not in the best interest of the university" and that it "would have distracted from [ongoing] efforts." But the project proposed by Kurosawa is exactly the type of research the new OSU facility was built for, OSU veterinary scientist Richard Eberle wrote in an email to The Scientist. The new lab was intended not just for OSU researchers; in fact, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center opted not to build a BSL3 primate facility since this one would be available at OSU, said Eberle, the OSU principal investigator for the proposed research. "So one of the things that I find most chilling about this decree," he said, "is that it will not only shut OSU researchers out of this type of research, but will also exclude researchers from other institutions in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the US." "We were surprised," said immunologist linkurl:K. Mark Coggeshall;http://omrf.org/OMRF/Research/14/CoggeshallM.asp of OMRF, the PI of the collaborative NIH grant. "We're disappointed, but we understand -- these are philosophical distinctions." Coggeshall called the university's decision a "delay" to their research, and said that they plan to continue their work with baboons. "We'll just find another site," he said. But that may be easier said than done, warned Davis. "The type of facility you need to do this is not exactly on every street corner," he said. Indeed, the new OSU facility is the only place in the state that has an animal BSL 3 facility and only "one of a few such facilities in the US" that can host primate research on biological toxins, agreed Eberle. Some OSU researchers expressed concern about the precedent set by the cessation of this project for future studies involving animal subjects. "Personally I'm still not absolutely certain where the policy lines are," Davis said. Based on this decision, it seems that "the status quo is that the university has banned terminal primate research," he added. "At the very least, if there's going to be a policy going forward, that policy needs to be clear." The issue will be presented to the OSU Faculty Council next week, Eberle said. "I have no idea where things will go from there." Kurosawa declined to comment.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Animal rights activists charged;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55651/
[21st April 2009]*linkurl:US cancels anthrax vaccine contract;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/38331/
[21st December 2006]*linkurl:Unlocking the secrets of anthrax toxicity;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/20009/
[2nd November 2001]
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Comments

Avatar of: Paul Browne

Paul Browne

Posts: 38

December 2, 2009

This decision by OSU administrators is very worrying. Anyone who is wondering why OSU would invest millions of state, NIH and charity dollars in new primate and biodefence laboratories and then halt the very research these labs were intended to work on should read what Speaking of Research have to say about this.\n\nhttp://speakingofresearch.com/2009/12/02/oklahoma-university-president-interferes-with-federally-funded-health-research/\n\nTo state that it is unclear what OSU's policy on primate use is is putting it mildly, at the moment they appear to be making it up as they go along. When university administrators go over the heads of university review boards and stop a project without consulting the investigators involved or members of the relevant ethics and safety committees something is clearly wrong, and when it looks as if the administration is acting under pressure from a wealthy donor it is time for us to stand up for academic freedom.\n\nToday the issue is anthrax research in baboons, but what might it be tomorrow? Can any funder trust the OSU administration any more?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 31

December 2, 2009

What this story did not say is that Madeleine Pickens, wife of the largest donor to Oklahoma State University, earlier this year became upset at learning of some of the animal studies ongoing at OSU. The Pickens family, in the form of alumnus T. Boone Pickens, has donated millions to OSU, particularly to the football program, but also to other university programs. One speculates that pressure from the Pickens family was behind this assault on academic freedom. What is most disturbing is that other institutions within the state did not build BSL3 animal facilities because they trusted that the OSU facility would be available. A lot of money has been wasted.
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

December 2, 2009

Since administrators today are almost entirely drawn from the ranks of toadies, doormats and the corrupt, this does not surprise me. Perhaps it is as simple as someone having a daughter rabid with PETA-isms. Perhaps someone is trying to save their marriage, or maybe giving in to adolescent/post-adolescent emotional blackmail, but I think that is unlikely. \n\nThe most likely reason for this is obvious. The planaria in administration are afraid of publicity and protests. They are afraid of someone deciding to firebomb them as happened in Santa Cruz and other UC campuses. But mostly they don't want to deal with another movie by an agent of PETA edited to make the facility look bad. The feckless administrators don't want the extra work of refusing to answer questions from the media about it, slaving into the night over blindingly non-committal statements for the press, etcetera. \n\nForgive me for speaking so bluntly.
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

December 2, 2009

Forgive me, but these well meaning fools need to see what happens to people and especially children. It's not like anthrax is a disease that doesn't kill people, many of them children. \n\nwww.vetmed.lsu.edu/whocc/mp_world.htm \n\nAdministrators are spineless in the face of donors.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 77

December 2, 2009

Let the administration come forth and state their complete reasons for stopping this research. \n\nTransparency in research demands at least as much from those who pretend to qualify to manage same.\n\n
Avatar of: Al Sweeney

Al Sweeney

Posts: 2

December 2, 2009

In a vaccine "test" the subjects either do not get sick or they recover, alternatively they get sick and usually die.\nKilling some/all is needless "ammo" for the "animal rights extremists" and reinforces or gains sympathy for their agenda.\nIt is fine to do an autopsy on any that die. {and STOP testing that vaccine]\nThis ruling is just plain "common sense" until a more sensable testing protocol is submited.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

December 2, 2009

$200,000 in directs for a BSL-3 animal study seems rather low to me -- perhaps this decision wasn't strictly philosophical...
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

December 2, 2009

As a researcher who must work with primates to understand HIV/AIDS I support the right of scientists to sacrifice lives for useful knowledge. However, killing Baboons to study Anthrax is ridiculous and I am thrilled to see the project has been stopped.\n\nSeriously, the likelihood of a large scale terrorist Anthrax attack is so small and the intelligence of Baboons so high that this "research" should be de-funded immediately and the dollars spent somewhere that actually does good instead of wrong.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 5

December 2, 2009

I believe such a study (highly virulent organisms and primates) scares the crap out of the public. \n\nFor example, our state public health lab had just completed construction of a small BSL3 lab on the edge of our campus. At a meeting with the university president, he expressed concern that the mere presence of the facility would have an adverse effect on enrollment. He did not want it to be publicized in any way.\n\nThe implications of this are serious and cast doubt on any future funding for such facilities associated with (or in proximity to) public institutions.
Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 41

December 2, 2009

As a zoologist who studies arthropods, I have to say that baboons are old world monkeys closely related to our own species. Academic freedom is interesting, but all of the evidence that I have indicates that baboons are virtually identical to human beings, and that moral restrictions that apply to the treatment of one of these species should apply to the other. Perhaps the researchers do not 'believe' the notion that we are close relatives. I suspect that anyone who would perform certain acts on helpless, captive baboons would, if allowed to do so, perform the same acts on members of our own species. We have seen this kind of conduct in the past, where it was allowed.
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

December 2, 2009

This would be less disturbing if it where something new, but it was also done by Cornell when they halted NIH funded research on drug abuse that used cats. Probably other examples not as well known.
Avatar of: Kristie Sullivan

Kristie Sullivan

Posts: 1

December 2, 2009

Sorry, but academic freedom does not mean doing whatever you want, whenever you want, behind the badge of pure science, especially when using public money and when the lives of sentient beings are at stake. Ethical standards must be considered and must evolve.
Avatar of: Rick Bogle

Rick Bogle

Posts: 14

December 2, 2009

ProTest spokesman Paul Browne wrote: "When university administrators ... stop a project without consulting ... members of the relevant ethics ... committees something is clearly wrong."\n\nHello? There is no such "ethics committee" at OSU, apparently, and generally at no other US university or research facility. The nearly complete and uniform failure to address the ethics of animal experimentation, particularly experiments on nonhuman primates, is at the core of the controversy over animal research in academia.
Avatar of: Patrick Crothers

Patrick Crothers

Posts: 8

December 2, 2009

Question:\n\nWhat are the chances we might need a vaccine for anthrax? \n\nAnswer:\n\nWhen we send our troops in harms way.\n\nMy daughter when sent to fight in Gulf War 1 was inoculated with experimental vaccines. Anthrax included.\n\nI have no love of animal testing; yet, I have worked in cancer research as a Histologist and have had blood thrown at me by protesters. It is no picnic working in these fields.\n\nThe fact that this is a fully vetted program and is being stopped by one person with money and power. This is not a ethics overview. It is blackmail.\n\nThere is no doubt the five great apes have Sentience. With exception of bonobos they all commit murder, rape, acts of war, manufacture crude weapons. Yes, they are very much like us. \n\nWe have what is known as sapience. This sets us apart if you accept it.\n\nSentience is now being discovered with work with dogs and I am of the opinion that we will find it a constant in all things, however that is based on my empiricism. \n\nI vote to protect my daughter. At least that is my opinion.
Avatar of: Paul Browne

Paul Browne

Posts: 38

December 3, 2009

Rick, every institution in the United States that conducts animal reseach has an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee that work. Their examination of any project application includes (but is not limited to) the ethical implications of the proposed research.
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

December 3, 2009

Sorry, but the "animal rights" philosophy is a house of cards, and not an inevitable consequence, and logically leads to absurd conclusions as evidenced by animal rights terrorists. Since "animal rights" is a separate concern from animal welfare, it is not needed in order to have humane treatment of animals.
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

December 3, 2009

Anthrax is implicated in the mass die off of wild apes in Africa. See: http://tinyurl.com/y85mscm \n\nTesting of anthrax vaccine can potentially save great ape populations in Africa. \n\nAnthrax is a widespread disease in most of the world. See: http://www.vetmed.lsu.edu/whocc/mp_world.htm\n\nOne example, in 1998, in Chad there were 5400 cases of anthrax in a population of 5.3 million. \n\nThe anthrax vaccine has been uniquely problematic, primarily because of being targeted by non-professionals as the cause of Gulf War Syndrome and such stuff. It has also been a vaccine that has efficacy in the 92%-95% range, which is good, but not as high as wanted. \n\nFor an overview of anthrax vaccine see: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr4915a1.htm \nand \nhttp://tinyurl.com/yaoq8zb
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

December 4, 2009

As a member of a medical school IACUC for many years it is my experience that the overwhelming majority of animals used in medical research do not survive. The IACUC has the obligation to assure that animals are treated humanely and have as high a quality of life as possible,but the end is inevitable. \n Apes and monkeys used in research provide real moral dilemmas. It seems to me entirely reasonable that a university choose not to participate in such research. \n \n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

December 8, 2009

In the interest of incitation, I feel now is the time to mention that Nazi Germany forbade animal research, testing on prisoners instead. The notion that animal rights is an unequivocally progressive idea is simply false. This, of course, will not reach the trolls who have somehow appeared on here--they simply have the minds of children. Stupidity may be your default, but ignorance eventually becomes a choice.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

December 15, 2009

If a single group of vaccinated animals are being progressive exposed to more virulent stains to test the vaccine, the use seems reasonable.\n\nBut if the experiments involve control groups and the preponderance of the scientific literature indicate that the members of the control groups will die and will suffer in dying, then their death is unnecessary, as what new knowledge will come from it? Should we always have control groups just because is has been done that way, or should we question that assumption?\n\n\n

December 15, 2009

\n\nHello anonymous,\n\nI am not sure that I understand your post. I assume that what you?re saying is that having appropriate/valid controls is not a matter of precedence (**control groups just because is has been done that way**). But a fundamental requirement in testing and validating a prediction. If, as you said, ?the preponderance of the scientific literature indicate that the members of the control groups will die and will suffer in dying?, I would agree with you that those control groups are not true controls. And neither scientifically nor ethically valid. Please, correct me if I misunderstood you. I might be missing something.\n

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