The Only Thing Inaccurate about HIV Animal Studies is Ray Greek

The January 26, 2002 edition of The British Medical Journal features a letter from Ray Greek and Pandora Pound arguing that HIV research using non-human primates is unreliable. Greek writes,

Thomas Insel, former director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Center in Georgia, said: “[An animal model] that takes 12-14 years to develop doesn’t sound to me to be ideal . . . I can’t tell you what it is that those studies [with chimpanzees] have given us that has really made a difference in the way we approach people with this disease. Animal models of HIV have been notoriously inaccurate for two reasons.

Firstly, the immune response is intensely complicated and there are many disparities between the human response and those of other animals. Secondly, viruses are usually species specific.

. . .

The fact that 20 years on there is still no cure or vaccine for HIV is surely partly because too much money, time, and effort have been invested in animal research which has produced little, if nothing, in return. To make any impact on this global pandemic during the next 20 years, funding needs to be concentrated on research methods that have come up with the goods.

This is a typical modus operandi with Greek — lie through omission.

For example, take the problems with chimpanzee research into AIDS especially given the long time it takes chimpanzees to develop AIDS. Greek conveniently forgets to mention that this is the major reason why animal research into AIDS Has large switched from chimpanzees to monkeys. Greek forgot to add that although Insel said there are too many limitations with chimpanzees, he added that, “I wouldn’t say that about the monkey work.” (One of the biggest problems with chimpanzees, by the way, is their sheer cost — the cost of simply caring for a chimpanzee in a long-term AIDS study can exceed $100,000).

As Nancy Haigwood, the director of the viral vaccines program at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, notes in her reply, for a number of reasons much AIDS research now focuses on macaques which have served important roles in helping determine optimal treatment regimens for those afflicted with HIV.

At one time, for example, there was a lot of controversy over whether people who tested positive for AIDS should receive short-term treatment with anti-viral drugs immediately, even though they were symptom-free. Many researchers feared that the anti-virals would cause lots of side effects for patients while the long term benefits were considered to be small.

Research in macaques, however, demonstrated that short-term treatment of the animals with anti-virals immediately after they were infected with AIDS could help keep the disease under control. Haigwood writes that, “Subsequently, many of the critical parameters and limitations of interrupting treatment have been discovered using these models.”

In addition, Haigwood notes that testing of cutting edge genetically engineered vaccines in macaques has helped researchers better understand the obstacles they must overcome to create such a vaccine for humans. Haigwood writes,

Live attenuated SIV, genetically engineered to eliminate pathogenicity, protects adult macaques from lethal challenge. While an attenuated HIV vaccine was under consideration for humans, this same highly attenuated SIV vaccine was found to cause AIDS in newborn macaques. Without these studies, the need for additional safeguards might have been missed — with dire consequence.

As Haigwood sums her reply up, the issue is not whether researchers conduct animal studies or clinical studies, but rather that all tools available must be utilized in finding better treatments for AIDS. “Animal models must be used to complement epidemiological and clinical studies in humans,” Haigwood writes. “Answers will come faster and the research will cost less if the clinical work is focused on strategies that have been pretested in models.”


Animal studies and HIV research. Ray Greek and Pandora Pound, British Medical Journal, 2002;324:236, January 26, 2002.

Animal models for HIV advance and complement clinical studies. Nancy Haigwood, British Medical Journal, 2002;324:236, January 26, 2002.

One thought on “The Only Thing Inaccurate about HIV Animal Studies is Ray Greek”

  1. “Greek conveniently forgets to mention that this is the major reason why animal research into AIDS Has large switched from chimpanzees to monkeys.”

    Let’s overlook the grammatical mistakes in your assertions.

    Where did you get the fact that animal research “Has large” (sic) switched from chimps to monkeys? Please reference your source on this.

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