The UW recently came under scrutiny for the death of a macaque research monkey due to dehydration. An inspection report conducted by the animal welfare branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed that the monkey’s water line had been disconnected for two to three days.
The technician involved no longer works for the UW. However, the death outraged a number of animal rights groups who believe this is part of a larger pattern of negligence and abuse of research animals at the UW. The university is currently in the process of constructing a $124-million underground animal research facility, a project that has been met with national outcry.
Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), an animal rights group based in Ohio, submitted an open letter to UW president Ana Mari Cauce on March 29, documenting numerable incidences of fatal misconduct over the past three years, which included an official warning against the UW from the USDA in 2014.
A 2015 USDA annual report shows that 2,153 animals were kept for research at the UW, including 88 dogs, 12 cats, and 762 non-human primates.
Michael Budkie, co-founder and executive director of SAEN, first encountered animal experimentation while studying for his animal health technology degree at the University of Cincinnati. What he witnessed there inspired his opposition to animal research.
“So essentially the things that [SAEN is] working to end now are, to a large extent, practices and procedures that I was literally taught how to do,” Budkie said.
Budkie questions the efficacy of animal research, claiming that the medical advancements attributed to these methods are “somewhat overblown.”
“Currently the diseases that are killing most Americans — things like cancer, heart disease, AIDS — cannot reliably be studied in other species of animals,” Budkie said.
He used the example of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which does not affect other species. Non-human primates suffer from a different variation of the disease, known as simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). According to Budkie, AIDS research conducted on non-human primates is done by splicing HIV and SIV together, a process that produced over 80 vaccines, none of which were useful in preventing humans from developing the disease. In certain instances, it was even shown to increase human susceptibility.
Campus Animal Rights Educators (CARE) at the UW, an activist group that promotes intersectionality and veganism, has been seeking to educate the college population about the use of pigs in the paramedic training program.
CARE, along with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), claims that human simulators for paramedic training not only exist, but offer superior training.
“Other very reputable universities are using simulators instead,” CARE officer Victoria Cummins said. “And it’s not that [the UW does not] have access, because we do know they have one of the most renowned simulator facilities in the United States.”
Tina Mankowski, director of Health Sciences/UW Medicine News and Community Relations and Associate Vice President of Medical Affairs News and Community Relations and Marketing, defended the use of animal experimentation. She stated that many advancements have been made in human health and protection from diseases, such as AIDS treatment, medical protection for premature babies, and Zika virus research.
“What we do is we use non-human primates when we are really getting close to a treatment, a vaccine, a medication ... and [a] non-human primate is as close to the human body as we can get right now,” Mankowski said. “And our researchers are constantly looking for different ways to conduct the research not using animals, so whenever we have a breakthrough in either using a manikin or a model ... we’ll use that before we’ll use an animal.”
Mankowski also defended the use of pigs in paramedic training, claiming that the program was the most advanced in the country. A collaboration between the UW and the Seattle Fire Department led to the creation of the Medic One System in 1976.
“We believe, in this point and time, that some of the procedures that the paramedics are asked to do out in the field are best tested and practiced on the animal model,” Mankowski said.
Both SAEN and CARE endorse alternatives to animal testing. These include organ-on-a-chip, which involves growing miniature functional human organs on microchips, and 3D bioprinting that can replicate human skin for transplants and testing chemicals, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products.
“We can’t assume that just because they aren’t the same species we are, that they’re less intelligent or that their lives have less value,” Budkie said.
Reach reporter Alexander Tufel at email@example.com. Twitter: @alexUWDAILY