A national watchdog group that opposes animal research accused the Wisconsin Primate Research Center of "wasting tens of millions in federal tax grants" Tuesday.
Federal funding related to the WPRC has more than doubled in the last eight years, according to Stop Animal Exploitation Now, while the number of animals has increased by only 24 percent.
"If the funding has increased that much and the number of primates has not increased in any amount that correlates, then you have to wonder where the money is going," said Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN.
Eric Sandgren, director of Animal Care and Use at the University of Wisconsin, said there are two main reasons the increase in funding doesn't directly correlate to more animals.
"There's been a dramatic increase in the expenditures for protective equipment, which protects both the animals from disease from humans, and humans from the potential of getting any disease from the animals," Sandgren said. "When we learn about these things, we address them, and that costs more money."
Funding has also been increasingly used for enrichment, including a new program with its own coordinator, according to Sandgren. This enrichment of animal living conditions includes things like puzzle feeders and other more interesting elements in animal environments, he added.
"Yes, we believe the research is justified, but we are committed to making the lives of these animals more interesting," Sandgren said.
SAEN said much of UW's primate research was in "highly duplicated" areas including neural information processing and the Simeon Immunodeficiency Virus.
Budkie said SIV can affect humans, but Rhesus monkeys cannot be infected with HIV, so studying AIDS in Rhesus monkeys is "nonsensical."
"The reason that they do SIV research in monkeys is because they can't study HIV — the real AIDS virus — in monkeys," Budkie said. "A lot of federal funding goes to AIDS, and they're just trying to get their cut of it."
Thomas Friedrich, an assistant researcher in the UW AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory, said the accusations of research being duplicated were often inaccurate.
"Unless they can offer examples of exactly how it's duplicated, they're making an accusation without real evidence," Friedrich said, adding the National Institutes of Health, which funds the primate center, mandates a certain amount of research at each primate center focused on HIV.
Friedrich added one of the criteria for receiving NIH funding is that the research be innovative, and therefore not duplicated or copied.
"It's a serious fault that they find with your research if they find that it's lacking in innovation," he said.
Friedrich also defended the use of SIV to study HIV.
"The DNA sequences of these viruses are very similar, the cells that the infection affect are essentially the same, the immune response from monkeys and people are essentially the same," Friedrich said. "In fact, the genetic ability of some individuals to control HIV seems to be reflected in monkeys' ability to control SIV."
But Budkie said money for animal research should instead be spent on clinical research that "could provide information that actually applies to humans."
"The only people that are really benefiting from the animal experimentation that's going on at the PRCs are the people that are being paid to do it," Budkie said.
However, Friedrich said animal research is vital to directing clinical research.
"One common criticism of animal research is that we should just spend money on clinical research. But the two really complement each other," Friedrich said. "There are so many different ideas about how to make an AIDS vaccine that we can't possibly test them all in people."