Fool me with monkeys once, shame on you. Fool me twice… well, Puerto Ricans won’t get fooled again.
Some people on the island commonwealth are up in arms over the proposal by a company called Bioculture Ltd. to make Puerto Rico a major supplier of primates to researchers in the United States. Beyond the ethical issues connected to animal testing, the AP reports, Puerto Ricans have “a bad history with research monkeys”:
The U.S. territory has long struggled to control hundreds of patas monkeys, descendants of primates that escaped in recent decades from research projects and now thrive in the lush tropical environment.
No labs want the patas monkeys because they’re no longer right for research, and many are diseased. There isn’t much demand from zoos, either. So rangers from the island’s Department of Natural Resources trap and kill them.
Bioculture counters that its proposed facility in the mountainous region of Guayama would bring 50 jobs and other economic benefits, like buying fruit from local farms to feed the African monkeys, to a place currently reeling from 16 percent unemployment. Bioculture executive Moses Mark Bushmitz tried to reassure people from the Guyama neighborhood of Carmen, which is near the proposed facility, that their homes would be no more run over with research primates than homes in Cambridge, Mass.:
“You have monkeys in MIT, you have monkeys in Harvard,” Bushmitz said. “So why isn’t it an issue if the monkey will escape in Harvard, but it is an issue if a monkey will escape in Carmen?”
To be fair, though, there isn’t a history of monkeys that “run though backyards, stop traffic and destroy crops” in Harvard Yard.
Discoblog: Are “Microlungs” the End of Lab Rat Experiments?
Discoblog: Muriqui Monkeys, However Gentle, Will Kill to Mate
80beats: NASA’s Plan to Irradiate Monkeys Raises Cruelty Concerns
Image: flickr /Mr. Theklan
The idea of growing tissue or an organ isn’t new, but scientists are getting ever closer: A scientist at MIT is creating a liver chip that can act like human liver tissue and react to medicines or toxins, while another group is manufacturing synthetic skin that can be used for testing. Some are trying to create human blood vessels and organs in a petri dish, or even grow organs inside other animals.
Everyone wants their tissue structure to be the one that can replace animals in the lab—now add University of Cardiff’s cell biologist Kelly BéruBé to that list. She can grow lung cells on small plastic spheres, and the cells function just like the insides of human lungs.
Scientists normally need around 200 rats to test the potentially toxic effects of inhaling a single dose of a chemical, and 3000 rats for chronic studies. But the need for lab rats might soon be eradicated if BéruBé’s new microlung can be used to test the safety of thousands of chemicals or drugs.