- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2020

Federal taxpayers have shelled out millions of dollars to pay for research that involves keeping monkeys in cages and intentionally frightening them with mechanical snakes and plastic spiders, according to an animal rights watchdog group.

The White Coat Waste Project released video Monday that it pried loose from the National Institutes of Health showing the experiments, which the activists said have yet to produce drugs or cures for ailments.

“These experiments have been funded for 43 straight years with no benefit to anybody,” said Justin Goodman, a vice president of White Coat Waste Project. “Some people have made a career out of torturing monkeys.”

When contacted Monday, NIH asked for a written list of questions to be submitted. It had not replied to the questions as of Monday night.

The Waste Project says the experiment to frighten monkeys has run for more than a decade at a cost of $16 million, while NIH’s broader primate research has cost nearly $100 million since 2007.

In the video clip the group released, a technician puts a mechanical snake or rubber spider in front of a monkey chained inside a cage. When the cage screen is lifted, the monkey visibly recoils and grips the bars of the cage, rocking back and forth.

The Waste Project said it filed an open-records request last summer seeking information on wasteful experiments. NIH admitted it had 50 hours of video, but the Waste Project said it had to sue to force the government to release any of it.

Experiments on primates for reasons ranging from makeup to disease have long attracted animal rights activists and others who insist the tests are cruel and unnecessary. Physicians and scientists counter that there are no biological systems as similar to humans on which the efficacy of drugs and vaccines can be tested.

A network known as the National Primate Research Center handles most of the science, and it has long defended its work as not only justified but also one that has brought tangible benefits.

“NPRCs conduct and enable studies that make breakthrough discoveries of causes, preventions, treatments and cures,” it says on its website. “The highly regulated study of nonhuman primates (NHPs) is critically important, as it often precedes clinical trials in humans and cannot be replicated any other way.

“While NHPs account for just one-half of 1% of animals in current medical research,” an NPRC white paper concluded, “it is no exaggeration to say they are essential to our ability to find cures for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, obesity/diabetes and dozens of other diseases that cause human suffering and death.”

With the coronavirus raising global fears about a pandemic, a private company last week said it had hit on a vaccine for the virus. That vaccine was made possible through an NIH grant, according to Greffex, though the company said it produced it chiefly through proprietary biotech.

The monkey experiments are of dubious value, according to some professionals.

“Subjecting primates to invasive brain experiments of this nature is without any legitimate scientific, economic or ethical justification,” said Cynthia Radnitz, a clinical psychologist at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “The physical and psychological trauma these monkeys experience will not translate to improved outcomes for the real human patients that my colleagues and I treat for anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders.”

The White Coat Waste Project stands opposed to all taxpayer-funded research involving animals.

In December, it helped push bipartisan legislation signed by President Trump that will require federal agencies to provide more detailed and precise documentation of both the methods and goals of their research on live animals.

Some of the lawmakers involved in that effort blasted NIH Monday for the monkey-scaring research.

“These ridiculous NIH primate experiments do not deserve taxpayers’ support,” said Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. “As Congress fights to reduce our nation’s $1 trillion budget deficit and set the NIH budget for 2021, I will fight to get this multi-million-dollar monkey business on the chopping block.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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