Editor's note: Titles of sources and quotes used in this article have been updated to correct previous inaccuracies.
The nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is pushing for the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) to close after alleged mistreatment of animals and withholding of records. PETA has opened a lawsuit against WaNPRC to acquire records through the Washington Public Records Act.
"I resigned over their animal use failures and to be a leader in the way we provide animal oversight," Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel, a former UW research assistant professor associated with the anthropology department, who left her position at WaNPRC, said.
WaNPRC made headlines in early 2021 when PETA filed a lawsuit asking them to turn over public records.
At the front of the conflict is Jones-Engel, who has spent decades in the field. In 2019, Jones-Engel accepted a senior position at PETA and has been fighting WaNPRC and animal testing since.
"The UW strives to limit the use of animals in research as much as possible," Tina Mankowski, health sciences senior director and associate vice president for medical affairs, said.
PETA has pushed to stop animal testing since 1980, though many medical treatments have been found through animal testing.
"Arguably, every major medical discovery of the last and current century has depended upon animal research," Dr. Michelle Basso, WaNPRC director and professor with UW School of Medicine, departments of biological structure and physiology and biophysics, said.
WaNPRC continues to use primate testing, which has led to several medical advances.
"WaNPRC’s work in gene therapy and regenerative medicine has helped with diseases such as heart disease, infectious disease such as HIV, etc.," Dr. Basso said.
WaNPRC came under fire, however, for its treatment of primates, including instances where primates consumed water contaminated by perchlorate and became ill with Valley Fever.
"UW brought in [diseased animals to Arizona facilities] and didn't even report it during a global pandemic," Jones-Engel said.
WaNPRC claimed they made an administrative error by not reporting the outbreak of Valley Fever but said they have fixed the problem. Additionally, WaNPRC said it is working to ensure the health and safety of its primates, despite reports from outlets like 12news.
"Primates are bred to be specific pathogen-free," Dr. Basso said, adding that WaNPRC receives oversight from UW Environmental Health & Safety to "ensure the safety of the people working with animals."
Some organizations have discussed alternatives for animal testing, including Frontiers for Young Minds, which has proposed the use of human tissue or blood samples.
"It's a matter of redirecting the resources away from primates,” Jones-Engel said. “You can use 3D-printed tissue, artificial intelligence, and many other options."
As of now, WaNPRC plans to continue its biomedical research on improved therapies and medical care. In contrast, PETA will continue to protest against WaNPRC’s treatment of animals as it pushes for the research center’s closure.
Reach contributing writer Gillian McMahon at email@example.com. Twitter: @itsgillianm
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