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

Dec 1, 2009
Jef Akst
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.
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[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]