Monkeys in our Midst, Providing Insight into Human and Animal Health

Posted on: Wednesday, 6 November 2019

In the past few decades, the rights of animals have received extensive attention from one type of animal, humans. Extensive attention has occurred in regard to whether humans should be eating other fellow animals. Should we be relishing our yummy McDonald’s burger, or should we feel great guilt for eating the parts of conscious creatures that share many of our characteristics? A related issue is the personal treatment of fellow animals in areas such as public zoos and research facilities.

Pearl Rotarians heard on November 6 from two representatives of the Oregon National Primate Center in Beaverton who sought to convince us that their research on animals such as rhesus monkeys has positive benefits for human health and minimal cost for the monkey subjects. They emphasized that research on non-human subjects was very important for developing health measures for humans. Furthermore, their Center takes numerous steps to make life bearable, even enjoyable, for many of the animal subjects.

The speakers were Diana Gordon, education and outreach coordinator for the Center, and Greg Timmel, a veterinarian and the associate director of the Center. Their Center, connected with Oregon Health Sciences University, is one of seven in the United States that is supported by federal funds and donations from citizens and citizen groups.

Diana and Greg were so enthusiastic about their Beaverton center that they urged Rotarians to take one of their guided tours of the 165-acre facility.

In the 1960s, numerous reports of abuse toward animals in captivity were reported (all over the country) to the public, especially through the communications media. This led to the federal passage of the Animal Rights Welfare Act of 1966 which set numerous controls on the treatment of animals, although it did not satisfy completely many of the critics of animal treatment. The Act has been amended numerous times, but the basic legal themes remain the same. Diana and Greg emphasized that their Primate Center carefully follows the rules in regard to animal treatment.

Biological researchers like to talk about their “research models” which refer to the steps that are taken to answer scientific questions. The Beaverton model is very similar to the procedures at other scientific centers. The major difference is that their model emphasizes the use of monkeys and mice as research subjects. As citizens, we Rotarians find out mainly the brief results of research, but there is typically a long-involved process that starts with the development of a research idea and a search of the relevant previous literature.

Most of the proposed projects are submitted to federal agencies. In the submission stage, the proposal is reviewed internally at the Primate Center, followed by outside reviews that often involve information on how the animals will be treated and what will be done to them in the project. So, there are concerns in the review about protecting the animals, the scientific benefits of the research, and the probable positive consequences for improving the health of humans. Typically, research occurs first on mice and then switches to monkeys.

Why the use of monkeys? Greg told Rotarians that monkey body functioning is similar in many respects to that of humans. For instance, the Primate Center does substantial research on female reproduction in monkeys, partly as a means to develop more effective contraception techniques for humans.

Diana and Greg discussed several image slides of the Primate campus which seems to have a bit of the character of a college campus. Facilities for monkeys include quite large cages where they can socialize and fenced off areas with play equipment. Greg pointed out that the “snow monkeys” at Beaverton have especially enjoyed the periodic snowfalls that occur. During these periods, the monkeys spontaneously make snowballs, often large. They do throw snow on each other, but not in the form of hard balls.

One benefit of life on the Primate campus, according to the speakers, is that the monkeys have a somewhat longer life expectancy than they would if living independently in the wild. Greg attributed this partly to the fact that rhesus monkeys live in a very hierarchical society, involving a lot of physical exploitation of each other, a problem that is less evident at the Primate campus. As Greg noted, “we have quite a lot of protection for these people. We are concerned about what animals experience in their participation. How do we keep them comfortable? How do we reduce their stress?

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