Check out the snooty reply I got:
Dear Ms. Abington:
Thank you for your note regarding the obesity study that we are conducting here at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. As you know, obesity is a serious problem in our country and around the world. The CDC reports that as many 1/3rd of American adults are obese, and the condition is also increasingly seen in children. In response to these troubling statistics, First Lady Michelle Obama made the reduction of childhood obesity her personal cause. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and numerous other diseases. Understanding the root causes of obesity is critical to being able to offer preventions, cures, or treatments to the millions of people who are struggling with this condition around the world.
While we know that eating too much and not exercising enough can lead to obesity, it is a complex disease with many related health issues that are poorly understood. Furthermore, it is not well understood why it is so difficult to lose weight once a person becomes obese. Studies in nonhuman primates are beginning to reveal insights into these issues and provide important answers for how to prevent as well as treat obesity and its associated diseases. Dr. Grove’s research is focused on understanding how diets high in fats and calories (common in America, and increasingly common in the rest of the world) impact the long-term health of children, putting them at increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and even mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. This research could change how we look at and treat such childhood diseases.
It appears that you were given some inaccurate information about our center which you included in your letter. The first is that “over 4000 monkeys are kept caged for this research.” This is not true. We care for approximately 4,300 non-human primates at our facility. However, most live outdoors in large breeding groups, in much larger pens than any zoo would have. About 50 are participating in the obesity studies highlighted in the New York Times.
I would like to call your attention to an incorrect statement, namely that “the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has proven that there are kinder alternatives” to the need for animal models in biomedical research. Given that animal studies are very expensive and difficult to do, if alternatives existed institutions would rapidly adopt them. While scientists and others are working very hard to produce alternatives, those that are available have very narrow applications. We do make use of such alternatives here (including cell and tissue culture), but these options do not replace the need for a complex system that can only be provided by a living organism. And contrary to the beliefs of some, a computer cannot model a complex system, such as a breathing lung or a beating heart.
Also, I would like to take issue with your exhortation that we “look past monetary gain.” If you read the papers or keep up with the news, you know that the budget for research in this country is likely to be cut yet again. If monetary gain were an issue for scientists, they would be doing something else besides research. There is no money in biomedical research, just the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping millions of people and animals who are suffering from disease.
We recognize that accepting the need for animals in research can be a difficult process, and we appreciate your concern for the animals enrolled in the studies that are being conducted here. All research studies that are conducted at ONPRC must pass through an extensive review process by a number of oversight bodies before they are funded. Only the most important research questions and the most meticulously crafted research designs are undertaken. The care of all animals at the Center is regulated by a number of laws (including the Animal Welfare Act), and overseen by the USDA, which visits the Center at least twice a year (unannounced) to ensure that rules and regulations are being followed. For more information about external and internal oversight of the Center, visit http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/onprc/about/oversight/index.cfm
Before, during, and after participation in a study our animals receive state of the art veterinary care, compassionately and ethically delivered by personnel who, like yourself, care deeply about animal welfare. This commitment to the very highest standard of care results in our animals living nearly twice as long as their counterparts in the wild. If you would like more information about animal care at ONPRC, visit http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/onprc/caring/index.cfm
I realize that you and I may never agree on the essential need for animals in research, but I appreciate that you care for animals. The fact that they deserve our compassion and our respect, as well as the best possible care we can provide, is something I think we can agree on. If you would like to learn more about biomedical research, the following websites may be of interest to you:
I hope this information is helpful to you. Please let me know if you have questions, or would like additional information.
Education & Outreach Coordinator