University, Fearing Animal-Rights Violence, Axes Baboon Study

By Andrew Moseman | December 8, 2009 12:36 pm

anthrax220Last week, seemingly out of nowhere, Oklahoma State University president Burns Hargis pulled the plug on a federally funded research project that would have tested anthrax vaccines on baboons, and euthanized the primates at the experiment’s end. This week more details are beginning to come out regarding why Hargis made his call. Basically, his office says, they didn’t want to deal with possibly violent animal rights protesters.

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 [The Scientist]. Oklahoma State would have hosted only a small part of the research, and the university’s animal testing committee approved the project unanimously.

President Hargis gave few details when reports first surfaced that he’d taken it upon himself to ax the project. Yesterday Stephen McKeever, the vice president for research, tried to step in and explain. “The issue he was mostly concerned about was that he really did not want to attract controversy from the violent elements of various animal rights groups. He did not want to put OSU in that spotlight and so unnecessarily distract from or interfere with current research” [Science]. McKeever told Science that no one had specifically threatened OSU over the project, but that the university had never before hosted terminal primate research. He also issued the vague statement that the school “received confidential information, which it will not reveal in public, that made the president uncomfortable with this particular project” [New Scientist].

While animal rights organizations probably celebrated, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology balked (pdf). In a statement, the organization called OSU’s action disturbing, arguing that top-of-the-line labs like OSU’s that are capable of handling the safety and security issues inherent in anthrax testing need to be doing that critical research, not shunning it.

Not everyone bought the president’s explanation, either. Some faculty members have suggested that the decision to cancel the study might be linked to pressure from OSU benefactor T. Boone Pickens, whose wife Madeleine previously expressed disapproval of surgical training procedures involving animals in the university’s veterinary school. Spokespeople for both Pickens and the university deny the suggestion [Nature News]. Pickens has donated nearly $500 million to Oklahoma State in recent years, with more than half going to athletics. The Cowboys’ football field bears his name.

Oklahoma State’s faculty council meets this week to take up the issue, but veterinary scientist Richard Eberle suggested that the school had already lost credibility. “OSU is now seen by researchers at other institutions as an unreliable research partner and afraid of animal rights demonstrators,” Eberle said [The Oklahoman].

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Discoblog: Puerto Ricans Are Tired of Escaped, Belligerent Research Monkeys

Image: Wiki Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • ardeth

    Pickens is an intriguing man. First he sponsors what I call the “Swiftboat Swifties”, the right-wing propaganda group that spread lies about John Kerry’s war record in the 2004 presidential election but probably cost him the election. Then, years later, his wife offers to provide refuge for thousands of wild horses, something I admire. And now he and his wife may be the reason behind the cancellation of some sadistic experiments on baboons, which is also admirable, in my view. I find it disturbing, however, that the university has used animal rights groups as a scapegoat, implying that they are by definition violent and will go after the researchers involved in this project if it proceeds. The reality is that most of us animal advocates are law-abiding citizens who wouldn’t think of resorting to violent tactics to achieve our ends.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/12/08/university-fearing-animal-violence-axes-baboon-study/ darlingsapphire

    I would very much like to thank President Burns,Hargis for cancelling the
    anthrax study on one of God’s beautiful living-being species. The Good
    Creator will take good care of you, and your wife and family now that you
    have helped one of God’s living-beings. I want very much to thank Mrs.
    Madelaine Pickens for thinking of animals as well – God will care for her
    family as well. I feel proud of the Oaklahoma State University for having
    the righteous strength for making this humble move to save animals and
    decline from using them in research when there are other means. God bless
    the humble, good humans who truly care for God’s animals.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/12/08/university-fearing-animal-violence-axes-baboon-study/ darlingsapphire

    I have been caring for animals for fifteen years now and I have never been
    sick. I give them the very best of what I can, only asking the Good Creator
    to help keep up my strength to keep caring for them, when other humans have
    turned their back on them. I only wish more humans would take the time to
    see how simply beautiful each and every one are, and how they live in total
    peace, love and empathy. I have learned to live with common sense,
    compassion, empathy, reasoning, and wisdom thru observing animals. They are
    totally amazing -Perhaps they are our medicine for staying well.

  • AaronC

    This is great news. Thank you for making kind choices. People in science have forgotten that animals have a purpose here on earth beyond being a toy for them to play with.

  • Joe

    This is excellent news! It is incomprehensible that anthrax should be used on baboons experimentally witht he end result of euthanasia. This kind of disregard for animals – they are not THINGS, must stop.

  • lyllyth

    Did anyone miss the part about the baboons being euthanized before any results were obtained? I didn’t.

    Quite the opposite of a win-win situation: Science lost, Life lost.

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