Facility runs tests on St. Kitts monkeys

monkey_2_AP
Photo by Associated Press.

Small Caribbean monkeys are some of Yale’s newest collaborators on the forefront of scientific research.

The St. Kitts vervet monkeys’ tendency to eat everything from ripe fruit to vegetable crops has been a problem for local residents ever since the primates arrived on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts three centuries ago. Lacking resources, the federation’s government has made only irregular attempts to control the highly observant and intelligent animals. Although scientists can control the monkey population by using them for research in facilities such as the Yale professor-run St. Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation, this practice has generated criticism from animal rights activists.

The Biomedical Research Foundation, founded by Yale psychology and neurosurgery professor Eugene Redmond, uses the monkeys in research on stem cells or gene therapy to cure Parkinson’s Disease, said Bijan Stephen ’13, who worked as a summer research assistant at the foundation. Stephen said in an email that the foundation was testing stem cell treatments on monkeys with an “animal model” of Parkinson’s disease.

Monkey overpopulation is a serious problem in St. Kitts, Redmond wrote in an email to the News. The large number of monkeys on the island makes it eaiser for the foundation to get healthy specimens. Besides research, he said the foundation also helps control the monkey population in non-lethal ways.

Without the monkeys, he wrote, important scientific research would be impossible to conduct. The foundation conducts its research on the island of St. Kitts, but many other labs in North America, such as one at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, use monkeys from St. Kitts.

Redmond said the Yale lab follows the appropriate guidelines and only uses monkeys in cases of clear need.

“The facility is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International, the same organization that inspects and accredits the major American universities and biomedical research institutions in America, including Yale,” Redmond wrote. “For projects to be accepted, there have to be compelling potential public health benefits as well as no alternatives to the use of the monkeys.”

Still, the testing has proved controversial among some animal rights advocates, who hold that the monkey trade stems from corporate profit motives, rather than population problems.

Don Anthony, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida communications director, criticized the decision to use monkeys for research. He said overpopulation of monkeys on St. Kitts has been a problem for centuries but research companies are over-publicizing this problem to justify the export of the monkeys.

“Shipping them off to the laboratories in other countries is not the solution,” Anthony said, “That is done to make money for the research companies and the people who ship them.”

Instead of exporting monkeys for research or shooting them, as some islanders suggested, Anthony suggested other solutions to overpopulation, such as a spaying program. He added that tourists in St. Kitts should tell the government that the monkeys should be treated better.

“Problem is that most people who visit this destination don’t know that these animals are trapped in cages, injected with all kinds of different toxins in research facilities in other countries.” Anthony said.

About 600 vervet monkeys live at the foundation.

Comments

  • AnimalsFlorida

    For more information about the cruel export of monkeys from St. Kitts & Nevis, visit StolenFromParadise.com

  • JDJENTSCH

    Critics are correct in stating or implying that population control is not a sufficient argument for research on monkeys.

    Instead, the argument in support of work like this is scientific and ethical.

    Scientific progress in medicine requires the humane and responsible use of animal subjects. In this same issue of the YDN, there is a report on the role for Yale scientists in avant garde cancer research. Today, we understand a lot about how various genes control the growth of malignancies, and the article reviews how monitoring of the expression of these genes (tumor-profiling) can help in the selection of appropriate interventions. All the information that was necessary to provide this information on gene function and to advance tumor-profiling as a viable option was discovered first in animals. Without those studies, conducted mostly in rats and mice, the advantage of the tumor profiling approach would not be possible.

    Studies involving monkeys are particularly crucial in trying to understand and conquer diseases of the brain and nervous system. From studies of new drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia to innovative cures for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease, research involving vervet monkeys in St Kitts have been crucial contributors to scientific advances, and Yale faculty and students have been responsible for driving this work forwards.

    We are surrounded by ultimately preventable disease and death, including psychiatric and neurological disorders. Only scientific research into prevention and intervention will address these problems. People and animals suffer from their disease, and limited, regulated use of animals in laboratory research is required to address it. Those who are suffering have a right to the scientific advances that come from research, and scientists are ethically bound to address the needs of those patients in a socially responsible way.

    David Jentsch, Ph.D. (Yale University, 1999)
    Professor, University of California, Los Angeles

  • aagrace

    To suggest that the motive for using these animals is monetary is astoundingly naive. Primates represent a small but essential component of biomedical research; if one wants to find treatments for devastating human conditions it is necessary to use animals across the phylogenetic scale. Snails or isolated cells are certainly useful for initial screens of how chemicals act on channels or cellular processes, but such studies must be extended to vertebrates (mice, rats) to determine how actions change in a systems level, and at the last stage in primates to see if treatments are really transferable to humans. Without such a level-specific approach, advancement towards an eventual cure cannot take place. All animals, regardless of species, are treated in a manner consistent with the strict regulations of the federal government and the US public health service to ensure minimal suffering and maximal well-being; to do otherwise is not just inhumane, but is bad science. Unfortunately some animals must be used if we are to make progress in alleviating human suffering, and using these primates in a laboratory is much more humane than the exterminations that would be done on them otherwise.

  • bca

    JDJENTSCH – is biomedical experimentation on non-human primates really “socially responsible”? There are some pretty good arguments saying that it is not. Is it “socially responsible” to inflict serious physical and psychological pain on living, thinking, feeling primates that are known to be experience emotions much like our own? Who are known to have close social bonds, sometimes for life, with their families and group-mates? This doesn’t teach anybody anything about compassion, which is possibly the root of any “socially responsible” action. And it’s not as though we are guaranteed a cure for cancer if only we “sacrifice” enough monkeys. The welfare of thousands – millions? of non-human primates is not worth less than the welfare of the human beings that their suffering MIGHT help! It’s “people” who need “cures” that you say need this. But (as I am one of them) so many of us don’t want it at that cost! You can say that biomedical experimentation on non-human primates is essential to your work, that may well be the case. To your work. But please don’t claim “social responsibility” or that the human race needs your work. It’s not and we don’t.

  • August

    @bca- If you don’t like the “cost” of having animals used in research to find cures than I suggest you never get another vaccination, medical treatment or procedure again. Guess how most of those were developed.