Bipartisan lawmakers ask NIH for information on ‘disturbing’ studies on monkeys

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Members of Congress are calling on the National Institute of Health (NIH) to supply information on testing on monkey brains following a watchdog group’s release of videos of the testing. 

“New reports about disturbing taxpayer-funded experiments on monkeys at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, demonstrate why more Congressional oversight of NIH primate research is urgently needed,” lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the NIH Friday. 

“We have serious concerns about whether this questionable research deserves the continued support from Congress and taxpayers,” they added. The lawmakers called for the NIH to provide information on the tests. 

The letter is signed by Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.). 

The NIH received the letter and will respond directly to the authors of the letter, a spokesperson told the Hill. 

The letter follows an investigation from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which said it plans to hold a protest on NIH’s monkey experiments on Thursday. 

“While Americans wait for cures to deadly diseases, this country’s premiere health agency is sucking out parts of monkeys’ brains and then scaring them with ‘snakes’ and ‘spiders,'” PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said in a statement. “PETA is calling on NIH to shut down this horrific laboratory and retire the surviving monkeys to sanctuaries.”

The members of Congress cited information released by the watchdog group White Coat Waste Project in raising their questions.

The group released documents and video footage of NIH experiments on monkeys, totaling nearly $100 million in studies since 2007. 

The videos and documents were obtained by the watchdog group through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. 

The White Coat Waste Project reported that the NIMH was slated to use 149 monkeys on a single $16 million project that damaged monkey’s brains, citing documents obtained in the lawsuit.

In addition to 60 animals that the NIH said it would purchase new, the rest were sought through a recycling program that uses animals transferred from other experiments rather than being retired. 

Released videos of the experiments show monkeys in cages presented with rubber spiders and mechanical snakes — objects the watchdog notes the primates instinctively fear — to observe their reactions. The videos show the monkeys jumping in fear when shown the objects.

Researchers also destroyed parts of the monkey’s brains with toxic acid to “intentionally worsen the primates’ fear,” according to the watchdog’s report. 

According to NBC News, the study says it’s measuring the monkeys’ reactions to provide “insights into the neural regulation of defensive responses to threat and inform the etiology and treatment of anxiety disorders in humans.”

The NIH defended the study in an additional statement to NBC News. 

“Monkeys are used in research because of their marked similarities to humans with respect to anatomy, physiology, and behavior,” the agency said in a statement to NBC News.

“Testing procedures produce a range of animal responses, mirroring human traits and attributes, ranging from no response to momentary and transient anxiety. Each animal’s well-being was closely monitored during and after testing by experienced and trained animal care staff and veterinarians. The procedures under question resulted in no harm to any of the animals tested.”

The experiments haven’t provided “improved outcomes” for human patients battling with anxiety or depression, according to a clinical psychologist quoted in the lawmakers’ letter to the NIH.

The lawmakers called on the NIH to provide a list of all active grants supporting the research, including titles, project numbers, start and end dates. They also asked the NIH to identify how many years each project has been funded, how much taxpayer money it received and a total cost over the lifetime of the project. 

The lawmakers also asked how many primates have been used in the research and if the NIH allows primates to retire after research. 

The requested information was not available on the NIH and other government databases, lawmakers wrote. 

—Updated at 7:42 p.m.

Tags Animal rights Animal testing Brian Mast Dina Titus Lucille Roybal-Allard Matt Gaetz NIH
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