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
"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
"It's a serious fault that they find with your research if
they find that it's lacking in innovation," he said.
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."