PPI will be here as long as primates exploited by research need us

by Nicole Rivard During my first visit to Primarily Primates (PPI)—the San Antonio-based sanctuary that Friends of Animals manages—back in March of 2014 co-workers had told me that I’d likely bond with one animal in particular. It happens to everyone, they assured me. They were right. For me it was chimpanzee Mandy who, before her arrival at PPI in 1997, lived at a zoo in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, once described by Parade Magazine as one of the 10 worst zoos in America before it eventually closed. Despite her horrible living conditions and lack of enrichment she is always extending an invitation for friendship—she’s always trying to groom everyone she meets. So now when I visit I spend an inordinate amount of time in a section of the sanctuary we refer to as the Outback. That’s where Mandy lives with chimpanzees Buck, April, Raisin and Buffy. Needless to say, I’ve fallen in love with all of them while watching them socialize and be the chimps they were meant to be. That’s why it’s hard for me to imagine April, Raisin and Buffy confined alone in small lab cages being exploited for things like hepatitis B research. Raisin’s records show at least 30 biopsy sedations of her liver and kidneys.  Thankfully, some strides have been made in ending the oppression of primates in research. In June 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified all chimpanzees as endangered, which made it unlawful to conduct invasive research without a permit. Soon after, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made an announcement that it would no longer support biomedical research on chimps and planned to retire all NIH-owned chimps to sanctuaries. However, the NIH continues to fund research on other primates including rhesus macaques, marmosets, olive baboons and grivet monkeys, all species who also have taken refuge at PPI. In fact, the number of monkeys used in U.S. biomedical research reached an all-time high in 2017—a staggering 75,000, according to data released in late September by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The rise could reflect the agency’s expanding investment in these studies—NIH gave 249 grants in 2017 that supported nonhuman primate research, up from 171 in 2013. The rising demand for rhesus macaques appears to be driven by researchers studying HIV/AIDS, the brain, Alzheimer’s disease and addiction, according to an NIH report released in September. The biomedical community has said it is committed to reducing the use of research animals by finding replacements and using these animals more selectively, Thomas Hartung, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing in Baltimore, Maryland, told Science Magazine. But, he added, the new numbers suggest “people are just blindly running toward the monkey model without critically evaluating how valuable it really is.” I couldn’t agree more. During an interview with the American Anti-Vivisection Society I learned that animals have proven to be very poor models for human disease research. For example, chimpanzee research failed to develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS. And despite millions of animals used in cancer research, roughly 95% of cancer drugs that enter human clinical testing fail despite what the animal experiments may have led researchers to assume. "We have cured cancer in mice for decades – and it simply didn’t work in humans,’’ said Richard Klausner, former director of the National Cancer Institute. Thankfully, organ-on-a-chip technology (micro-chips lined by human living cells that closely mimic key physiological functions of body organs) is showing great potential to replace animals in laboratories, including in some instances, primates. And greater public interest has garnered more media attention, leading to more coverage of atrocities. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that a record 52% of Americans oppose animal research. So, while the USDA’s data is disheartening, the silver lining is that Friends of Animals and Primarily Primates will be here as long as any primates exploited by research need us. And your support makes that possible. To make a donation or sponsor an animal, visit this page