UBC monkey deaths spark anger

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      The euthanizing of four macaque monkeys following Parkinson’s disease research at the University of B.C. has sparked outrage among local antivivisectionists.

      “We’re calling for an end to animal research at the University of British Columbia and at all publicly funded institutions and private institutions,” Anne Birthistle, volunteer with Stop UBC Animal Research and codirector of the Animal Defense and Anti-Vivisection Society of B.C., told the Georgia Straight by phone. “We believe in the scientific data that shows animal research is hazardous to human health, and there are far better human-based, progressive approaches that we should be using.”

      Birthistle explained that “basing human medicine and toxicology on animal systems is playing with fire”, claiming that “you can’t extrapolate between species.”

      In research signed off by Dr. Doris Doudet—a UBC professor in neurology and medicine—and her research team in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism last November, 18 monkeys were subjected to positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. From there, the animals were divided into two groups. Animals in both were subjected to repeated intravenous doses of the drug MPTP until Parkinsonian symptoms manifested physically with varying degrees of severity.

      “Four Parkinsonian animals in Cohort A were euthanized shortly after PET imaging due to the severity of their motor disability,” Doudet and her team explained in the paper. “Although maintaining some degree of disability, the remaining Parkinsonian animals were able to care for themselves independently after recovery from the acute effects of MPTP.”

      Brian Vincent, director of Stop UBC Animal Research, told the Straight the institution must be held accountable for the deaths of the macaques.

      “First of all, if they had abided by their protocols, which were approved by their animal-care committee, it’s highly unlikely all four would have died,” Vincent said by phone. “Maybe one, because of a mistake, but all four? Something went wrong.”

      Helen Burt, associate vice president of research at UBC, told the Straight the four deaths were “completely unanticipated” as the research was peer-reviewed and government-funded and the administration of the drug was not unusual in such a “scientifically rigorous study”.

      “What happened was that they typically give an extremely small dose of this drug to the animal, and it normally takes numerous doses for the animals to start showing any evidence of the signs of Parkinson’s disease,” Burt said by phone. “This was a completely unexpected adverse reaction, if you like, to the drug. It doesn’t normally happen, and it was completely unanticipated.”

      The reaction of the four monkeys was akin to a human allergic reaction to an antibiotic, Burt said by way of example.

      “The individual doesn’t know that they’re allergic to the antibiotic, then they have an unanticipated reaction to that drug, and this is what happened in this case,” Burt said. “So we clearly take all kinds of heroic measures with the animals, but in this case, although there was a complete team available whenever these drugs are given txo these animals, it was felt that we had to use humane anesthesia to end the suffering of the animals.”

      Despite the pressure from Vincent and Birthistle’s group to stop the practice and despite the fact the University of Toronto has just ended its years-long experimentation on monkeys, Burt said that is not on the horizon at UBC.

      “The whole point of this research is to have a robust animal model of human disease so that we can explore new treatments,” Burt added. “This is a devastating disease with no cure. Millions of people worldwide are affected by Parkinson’s disease, and without this kind of research, we would simply not understand, number one, the disease, and, number two, we would have no new treatments. So research using these models provides essential insight into the disease and brings us closer to effective treatments.”

      Opponents maintain that can still be done without any animals having to die or suffer in the process.



      Julia K

      Mar 1, 2012 at 7:33am

      Anne Birthistle is right. Research shouldn't come at the cost of animals lives. Parkinson's isn't even really that bad. Disease is a natural part of anyone's life.

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      Mar 1, 2012 at 8:58am

      I wonder if Dr. Doris Doudet ever thinks about the repercussions of her actions? Somewhere along the line she will have to make amends for the torture she has inflicted upon these creatures that have no say. My only solace is that I truly believe she will be accountable after death. Kind of like the Nazi’s. No one gets away with causing this type of agony to living creatures. I sure would not want to be her!

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      Kate N.

      Mar 1, 2012 at 9:15am

      My grandfather suffered from Parkinson's and in the early stages of the disease we had a discussion about animal testing. He said something that has stuck with me ever since and made me very proud to be his grandson. He said "No other living being deserves to suffer simply because I am suffering. Their life is no less important". Not only was I moved but I was shocked as this was coming from a man with staunch conservative values.

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      Mar 1, 2012 at 9:23am

      Sad...some humans really feel the need to treat other species like dirt.

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      Mar 1, 2012 at 9:45am

      Thanks, Stop UBC Animal Research, for blowing the whistle on UBC's shockingly cruel experiments on monkeys.

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      Owen Robbins

      Mar 1, 2012 at 9:52am

      It's worth noting that the University of Toronto has not ended experiments on monkeys, UT researchers still conduct such studies at other labs in Toronto and elsewhere.


      UT just closed down a very small primate lab which only accounted for a fraction of the monkeys used in research by UT scientists.

      Primate research plays a key role in many aspects of neurological research, and has already led to important new therapies such as deep brain stimulation of the sub-thalamic nucleus in Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately any experiment has an element of uncertainty about it, and things do sometimes go wrong. What is important was that the researchers and veterinarians at UBC recognized that their was a problem and took prompt action to end the suffering of the affected monkeys.

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      Laura Moore

      Mar 1, 2012 at 10:36am

      "Parkinson's isn't even really that bad"....this comment is upsetting. Have you had Parkinson's or had a loved one that has suffered from Parkinson's disease? You would certainly not make this statement. Parkinson's is one of the most cruel and disabling diseases that I have witnessed. I don't believe anyone or any creature should be subjected to this horrific disease.

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      Julia Mackenzie

      Mar 1, 2012 at 10:37am

      How long will we allow so called "researchers" to continue the myth, spending millions of tax payers dollars, that they are seeking a cure for the good of the human race....10 years, 30 years??? With NO significant advancement in ANY of the major diseases isn't it time we put to rest this archaic method of seeking "the cure". Parkinson's disease research is one of the most lucrative with a lot of money to be made by "researchers" seeking fame and fortune. Michael J. Fox has poured millions of dollars into this endeavor to no avail. He too was convinced that it was just a matter of funding only to find that animals will not provide the answer to human disease.

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      Paige T

      Mar 1, 2012 at 10:47am

      Dear Julia K,
      "Parkinson's isn't even really that bad"
      I encourage you to learn more about this horrific neurodegenerative disease by visiting the Parkinson's Society of Canada website; www.parkinson.ca. Your ignorance is alarming.

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      Mar 1, 2012 at 11:02am

      If one million animals die to save one human life, it's worth it.

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