Wikipedia Entry on Unethical Human Research Conducted in the United States

The other day I was reading an article about the U.S.-funded study of syphilis in Guatemala from 1946-48 that deliberately infected subjects with the disease, and came across a link to Wikipedia’s excellent and horrifying entry on Unethical human experimentation in the United States. Well worth a read if only for the “it can happen here” effect.

Animal Experiments in UK Up Slightly, But Still Far Below Highest Levels

The UK’s Home Office released a report earlier this month noting a slight increase of 2.3 percent in the total number of animals experiments country. But at just 2.85 million laboratory procedures involving animals, the number of procedures requiring animals in 2004 was almost half of what it was in the mid-1970s indicating the success of the effort to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in medical research.

Research involving genetically modified animals continued to increase. Thirty-two percent of all animal experiments in the UK in 2004 involved genetically modified animals compared to 27 percent in 2003.

The number of research involving non-human primates, however, declined significantly, with only 4,208 experiments involving such animals in 2004 — a 12 percent decline from 2003.

There were a total of 2.78 million laboratory animals used in research in the UK in 2004, a 2.1 percent increase over 2003.


GM animal tests continue to rise. Paul Rincon, BBC, December 8, 2005.

Kenya’s Institute of Primate Research Woos Western Drug Firms Wary of Animal Rights Extremism

British newspapers reported in early October on efforts by Kenyan medical research institutes to attract European drug firms who have had enough of runaway animal rights extremism on that continent.

Kenya’s Institute for Primate Research, for example, was established by Richard Leakey in the 1960s to further the study of primate evolution, and is now one of the leading research centers in Africa. It is actively promoting the advantages of doing animal research in Kenya where costs are cheaper and animal rights lacks the cache it has gained in parts of Europe.

Institute for Primate Research director Emmanuel Wango told The Telegraph,

We want to encourage and develop a closer relationship with companies from outside Kenya so they can come and see that we will be able to do their work without the problems they have elsewhere.

Our costs are almost a tenth of those in America and we have a much more comfortable way of working. We have everything you need to the same standards, but without these people trying to petrol-bomb your family.

Not that Kenya doesn’t have homegrown animal rights activists. Jean Gilcrhist of the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals bemoans the proposal,

We are not happy with this proposal. If animal experiments are to be done — and we believe that alternatives should be used when possible — then these should be very, very strictly controlled.


Scientists offered animal research haven in Africa. Rob Crilly, The Scotsman, October 8, 2005.

Africa offers haven to drug firms plagued by animal rights activists. Mike Pflanz, The Telegraph, October 25, 2005.

Basic Research With Animals Is Not Immoral — It Is Imperative

In an article for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, writer Tali Woodward writes about the controversy surrounding the University of California San Francisco’s animal research program. In September, UCSF agreed to pay $92,500 to settle a number of outstanding charges brought against it under the Animal Welfare Act.

Woodward provides a fairly balanced account of animal research until the very end when she resorts to calling for a utilitarian analysis to judge the morality of animal research,

Polls show that the American public supports animal research — but only when efforts are made to contain animal suffering. So it seems almost instinctual that experimenting on animals should require weighing the pain and suffering of animals against the potential to understand and ultimately cure disease.

. . .

. . . But the central question posted during this [experiment approval] process is: Is this a valid line of scientific inquiry, one that might yield knowledge?

And that is the only question that should be asked.

Woodward’s question — how likely is this experiment to produce a cure or improved understanding of a disease — is that with very few exceptions any given experiment is incredibly unlikely to produce the sort of information she demands. Science just does not work like this.

Medical research is not a 60 minute-long TV episode in which the protagonist performs a single test and has a miracle cure for the latest ailment after the next commercial break. Rather, medical knowledge tends to advance slowly, with information accreting from a diverse range of experiments and published studies.

Consider, for example, animal research into spinal cord injuries. Not a single one of those experiments, to my knowledge, could be said to have met Woodward’s criteria. For the most part, such research kills animals for relatively marginal increases in knowledge. Examined separately, using Woodward’s test, almost none of these experiments would have been justified.

But, taken together, the research on spinal cord injuries over the last couple decades has made significant advances in understanding why nerve tissues in the spinal cord do not regenerate and how they might be spurred on to do so. Even with this advance in knowledge, however, we are still many years from any sort of cure that can heal such injuries.

In fact, the one set of experiments that Woodward seems impressed by was based simply on furthering scientific knowledge rather than solving a specific problem, although it would later be used to solve a problem to great success.

Here’s Woodward’s version of the story,

In the 1950s Dr. John Clements, then working in Boston, experimented on animals to ascertain how lungs work in newborn humans. He found that most animals have a substance called surfactant in their lungs that helps them breathe. But premature babies, who often struggle with breathing, lack the lung goop.

By the late 1980s Clements had moved to UCSF, where he worked with other researchers to develop a synthetic surfactant. When it was made widely available in 1990, the number of premature babies dying from respiratory problems was cut in half.

The first paragraph is largely untrue. Clements did experiment on animals and was the first to discover lung surfactant, but he did so largely because he was curious about the mechanical functioning of the lungs. In fact, Clements research was so far out of the mainstream of lung research that his paper summarizing his findings was initially rejected by Science.

As an article for The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal notes (emphasis added),

Dr. Avery’s much admired colleague at Johns Hopkins University, pathologist Peter Gruenwald, was one of the rare scientists in this group. So was her co-author on the 1959 paper, Dr. Jere Mead, head of a respiratory physiology laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health. But the scientist who actually proved that surfactant existed and precisely measured how it performed was Dr. John Clements, a physiologist then working at the United States Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, Maryland.

When Dr. Avery heard that Dr. Clements had identified surfactant, she instinctively knew it was the missing piece of the hyaline membrane disease puzzle. During her Christmas vacation, Dr. Avery drove from Boston to Maryland to meet with Dr. Clements. “The gift I gave her,” Dr. Clements later wrote, “was a demonstration of my homemade…balance [for measuring the effect of the hitherto only suspected surfactant material] and an exposition of everything I knew about lung physiology.”

The following Christmas, Drs. Avery and Mead–an old colleague of Dr. Clements–gifted him in return. Publication of Avery and Mead’s widely heralded article abruptly ended what Dr. Clements has called the “monastic era” of lung surface tension and surfactant research. No longer were he and other scientists working in the shadows, their research of interest only to students of lung mechanics. What had seemed theoretical, esoteric research–perhaps even useless research–now had been shown by Drs. Avery and Mead to have immediate, powerful clinical applications.

Dr. Clements’ research was exactly the sort of research that Woodward implies would be unacceptable — research done on animals with little or no prospect that it would ever have any sort of application in treating human health problems.


Bubbles, Babies and Biology: The Story of Surfactant. Sylvia Wrobel, The FASEB Journal, 2004; 18:1624e.

Animal instincts. Tali Woodward, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 28-October 4, 2005.

Brisbane City Council Punts on Animal Research Ordinance Until After November Election

The City of Brisbane, California, considered and then deferred a decision on an ordinance that would modify the city’s existing rules on animal research.

Media accounts of the Brisbane animal research proposal are muddy, but Brisbane apparently does not have any sort of ordinance regarding animal research — a company would simply have to get a building permit and comply with zoning and other ordinances. The city was apparently contacted by a company that is interested in building a campus-like animal research facility within the city’s limits, however, and that company suggested that the city update its general development plan to make that explicit.

After much debate and the resignation of a council member that led to a 2-2 vote on the proposal in July, the Brisbane City Council currently has three options. According to a summary produced by the City Attorney,

Ordinance 501 was considered for adoption at the regular Council meeting on September 19, 2005 and the matter was continued to provide staff an opportunity to draft alternative language pertaining to the use of live animals for research and development. The proposed draft now contains 3 separate options concerning this subject. They are as follows:

Option 1: All animal research is a conditional use:

This is the language contained in the proposal Ordinance. It would require that any research and development involving the use of live animals be classified as a conditional use for which a use permit would be required. The activity would need to comply with the performance standards in Subsections 17.20.050.F and 17.21.050.F.

Option 2: All animal research is a permitted use:

This option would restore the existing regulations from the M-1 district which allow any form of research and development (including use of live animals) as a permitted use. The performance standards in Subsections 17.20.050.F and 17.21.050.F would be deleted.

This option would allow any other type of animal research, such as research involving the use of rats, mice or guinea pigs, to be conducted as a permitted use.

Council member Lee Panza told the Bay City News, “We couldn’t decide whether [animal testing] should be outright banned, completely open or have some type of restriction.”

The council will take up the issue again after the November 8 election when there will be a full council of 5 seated and at least two new members.


Brisbane City Council tables animal-testing issue. Bay City News, October 5, 2005.

PETA Protests Against Land Acquisition By Covance

Animal testing firm Covance Inc. recently purchased 38 acres of land in Chandler, Arizona, which prompted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Citing an undercover video it shot of Covance’s Vienna, Virginia, laboratory and a several hundred page complaint PETA filed against Covance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, PETA wants Chandler to prevent Covance from building a facility in that city.

In a press release, PETA’s Mary Beth Sweetland said,

Chandler should be showing Covance the door, not rolling out the red carpet. Covance has an abysmal record of animal abuse and threats to public health that shouldnÂ’t be welcomed by any city.

PETA’s Alka Chandna told the Chandler News,

We have to petition Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn and the Chandler City Council to pull up the carpet and prevent Covance from setting up shop. These are hardly the sort of people Chandler residents want as their neighbors.

For its part, Covance is suing PETA and the undercover activist who shot the video, and denied that it engages in animal cruelty.

The land that Covance purchased is currently zoned agricultural, so any decision by Covance to build a facility on the land would require a zoning change. A Covance spokesperson told the Chandler News that it has no immediate plans to build on the site and has not applied for any building permits yet.

City spokesman Dave Bigos, however, told the Chandler News that the city council sees attracting biosciences firms to the area as crucial,

Biosciences is a growing presence in the Valley. It’s critical for the future of the Valley and Chandler.


Bioscience firm irks PETA, Covance busy land in Chandler. Alex Pickett, Chandler News, August 23, 2005.

PETA calls on Chandler to reject CovanceÂ’s proposed animal-testing lab. Press Release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, August 15, 2005.