AR-News: Monkey shortage article also in Atlanta Journal and
KarenDawn at DawnWatch.com
Wed Aug 13 14:43:19 EDT 2003
(The Atlanta Journal and Constitution takes letters at: letters at ajc.com )
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
August 12, 2003, Tuesday
Lack of Monkeys Slows Medical Gains, Scientists Say
By Charles Seabrook
A shortage of monkeys commonly used in medical research is seriously
impeding efforts to find treatments for AIDS, anthrax and other human ills,
The monkeys, known as rhesus macaques, are favored by researchers because of
their physiological similarity to humans. The AIDS crisis and bioterrorism
threats have increased demand for the monkeys, but the demand is not being
met, scientists say.
Researchers are paying up to $ 10,000 per animal, said Dr. Joseph Kemnitz,
director of the National Primate Research Center at the University of
Wisconsin in Madison. "The [monkeys] are extremely valuable in that they
make subjects for testing and developing new therapies for diseases and
understanding human physiology," he said. "The new therapies need to be
evaluated in animals before we start using them in people."
Eight federally funded centers that breed the monkeys have increased the
total number of monkeys from 12,000 in 1996 to 15,000 now, but that is still
not keeping up with demand, scientists say.
Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center is one of the few
exceptions to the problem. The center's breeding compound near Lawrenceville
produces an average of 400 rhesus macaque monkeys per year, spokeswoman Lisa
Newbern said. In addition, the center was able to purchase 200 monkeys over
the past two years. That has been enough to meet the demand for research
projects at Yerkes, Newbern said.
Kemnitz said Yerkes is fortunate to have a breeding compound. "Yerkes is in
an area where the warm weather is suitable for a breeding facility," he
said. "But our weather makes it impractical to have such a facility in
The National Institutes of Health, he noted, has pumped more money into
finding treatments for AIDS, polio and other diseases, but the agency has
not increased funding to build more breeding facilities.
The monkey shortage is stalling development for treatments that could
improve human health and quality of life, he said. Researchers at Harvard
Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, for instance,
had to slow research on a promising oral AIDS vaccine as they waited a year
on an NIH grant to buy, house and study 86 monkeys, according to The Boston
The shortage may worsen, scientists say. The NIH is providing $ 1.4 billion
in new grants for research into bioterrorism agents, including anthrax and
Ebola. That growing field could have as great an impact as the AIDS
epidemic, which increased demand for monkeys by about 30 percent, Kemnitz
Scientists are asking the federal government for $ 100 million to expand and
modernize the national primate research centers, including increased
breeding programs. But even if more breeding facilities are established, the
monkey population will be tough to build up because the animals have a slow
The beginning of the monkey shortage can be traced to the late 1970s, when
India halted export of the monkeys to the United States. Scientists have
known about the problem for years, but kept it quiet for fear of a backlash
from animal rights groups.
The Boston Globe and The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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