WASHINGTON—Federal inspectors charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act will investigate unlawful treatment of squirrel monkeys being used in NASA-funded radiation experiments. Two complaints filed March 10 by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) will trigger the inspections, and expected violations include the solitary caging of primates.
The experiments, proposed by Jack Bergman of McLean Hospital, involve exposing squirrel monkeys to harmful radiation at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The animals will then be shipped to McLean Hospital near Boston and compelled to perform tasks to test for cognitive impairment. These highly intelligent and social primates will be housed alone in steel cages for at least four years and subjected to daily restraint in primate chairs.
“If you can imagine the profound loneliness of deep space travel, you can envision the effect solitary caging has on a highly social primate such as a squirrel monkey,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., senior medical and research adviser for PCRM. “NASA’s monkey radiation experiments violate scientific principles, common sense, and federal law.”
The doctors’ group argues in its complaints to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the enforcement arm of the United States Department of Agriculture, “Social housing for nonhuman primates is required under specific conditions applicable to Dr. Bergman’s protocol (9 C.F.R. § 3.81(a) and 9 C.F.R. § 3.81(c)). The protocol does not include any of the listed exemptions to these regulations, and Dr. Bergman has not claimed any of the listed exemptions to these regulations.”
NASA is funding the monkey radiation experiments in an attempt to shed light on the effects of deep space radiation on a human astronaut bound for Mars. The $1.75 million slated for monkey experiments would be better spent on human-centered methods, including human phantoms equipped with sensors. One of the many scientific flaws in the proposed monkey experiments is that the monkeys will not be exposed to a true simulation of deep space radiation.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.