Exclusive: Oscar-Winning Actress Anjelica Huston Urges National Institutes of Health to Stop 'Cruel' Animal Experiments

Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston is calling on the U.S. National Institutes of Health to stop "pointless, wasteful, or extremely cruel" experiments on animals and focus on more effective treatments that could benefit Americans.

In a letter sent to NIH director Francis Collins, and shared exclusively with Newsweek, Huston, 68, says animal experiments by the government agency have not yielded "a single treatment for humans," yet have cost the U.S. taxpayer "$36 million over the last 13 years."

The Prizzi's Honor and Witches star believes this cost and effort is no longer sustainable as the U.S. continues to suffer from the human and economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The letter was sent by the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Huston's behalf Tuesday.

"As our nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more important than ever to ensure that scientific and fiscal decisions are sound," says Huston. "People are dying for lack of ventilators, effective treatments, and even hospital beds, and many Americans are now confronting difficult choices about the best way to use their shrinking resources. NIH is in a similar position. Studies that are pointless, wasteful, or extremely cruel should be ended now, and that means the emphasis should be placed on non-animal studies, because they offer real promise."

Anjelica Huston
Anjelica Huston attends the 'John Wick: Chapter 3' world premiere at One Hanson Place on May 9, 2019 in New York City. Mike Coppola/WireImage

In particular, Huston urges the NIH to end alleged experiments on monkeys, referring to video footage obtained by PETA. The organization, which published an investigation into the experiments in February, claims the primate subjects have parts of their brains surgically removed, are placed in cages and frightened with rubber snakes and plastic spiders.

"These cruel, pointless experiments aren't worthy of the world's premier research organization, yet NIH has funded them for four decades," says Huston in the letter, which can be read in full below.

A spokesperson for the NIH told Newsweek that "non-human primates (NHPs) continue to be of immense value in research to understand and improve human health, including the development of treatments and interventions," adding that the NIH "will continue to carry out and support animal research conducted in accordance with the highest scientific and ethical principles."

"NHPs have similar developmental paths in neuroanatomy, physiology, genetics, and neural functions, as well as cognition, emotion and social behavior as humans. Thus, research with NHPs has been critical for advancing our ability to treat stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson's disease, OCD, a vaccine for Ebola, and much more," the spokesperson said. The full response from the NIH can be read below.

Huston has a longstanding relationship with PETA and is well-known for her animal advocacy. The actress has previously campaigned for a ban on the sale of fur and fur farming. She was also named PETA's Person of the Year in 2012.

The actress recently appeared in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and is due to appear in Wes Anderson's next movie, The French Dispatch, which features an all-star cast including Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Christoph Waltz, Edward Norton, Elisabeth Moss and Frances McDormand.

Anjelica Huston's letter to National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins

Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Director
National Institutes of Health

Dear Dr. Collins,

As our nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more important than ever to ensure that scientific and fiscal decisions are sound. People are dying for lack of ventilators, effective treatments, and even hospital beds, and many Americans are now confronting difficult choices about the best way to use their shrinking resources. NIH is in a similar position. Studies that are pointless, wasteful, or extremely cruel should be ended now, and that means the emphasis should be placed on non-animal studies, because they offer real promise.

I have seen extremely disturbing video footage obtained by PETA showing NIH researchers locking brain-damaged monkeys inside metal boxes, and then suddenly scaring them with rubber snakes and plastic spiders. These cruel, pointless experiments aren't worthy of the world's premier research organization, yet NIH has funded them for four decades. They have cost taxpayers $36 million over the last 13 years alone and have yet to yield a single treatment for humans in any mental or physical health area.

NIH is charged with providing "leadership and direction to programs designed to improve the health of the Nation." Now more than ever, we need that guidance.

I thank you for your service during this difficult time, but I urge you in the strongest possible terms to end these monkey fright experiments and reorder your agency's priorities so that your focus is on human-relevant research and human health.

Sincerely,

Anjelica Huston

NIH's response in full

Non-human primates (NHPs) continue to be of immense value in research to understand and improve human health, including the development of treatments and interventions. NHPs have similar developmental paths in neuroanatomy, physiology, genetics, and neural functions, as well as cognition, emotion and social behavior as humans. Thus, research with NHPs has been critical for advancing our ability to treat stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson's disease, OCD, a vaccine for Ebola, and much more. Currently NHP research is helping investigators more clearly understand COVID-19 pathogenesis, which is informing the development of vaccines and antiviral drugs for the disease. NHP research is also guiding a more focused search for effective COVID-19 treatments in people. NIH supports studies involving monkeys to supplement the studies of human beings and, in some cases, stand in when human studies aren't possible.

Importantly, scientists can study animals in ways they cannot study people. Rigorous experiment studies must be conducted in controlled environments to yield meaningful results. Such studies cannot be carried out in humans. Animal studies conducted in the laboratory allow scientists to control factors such as temperature, humidity, light, diet, or medications that might affect the outcome of the experiments. These rigorous controls enable a more precise understanding of the biological factors contributing to disease and provide greater certainty about experimental outcomes when developing treatments and preventions.

All animals used in federally funded research, whether non-human primates or not, are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their comfort. Fulfilling these protections is a collaborative effort between NIH, federally supported scientific investigators, and research institutions. NIH-funded investigators must also submit a scientific justification for the use of animals in research to a local Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The IACUC has policies and procedures in place to evaluate the appropriateness of the species, the number of animals requested and consideration of alternatives to the use of animals, appropriateness of care, and plans for minimizing pain or distress. OLAW also investigates all allegations concerning animal welfare and appropriate animal care in NIH-funded studies.

NIH will continue to carry out and support animal research conducted in accordance with the highest scientific and ethical principles.

To learn more about NIH's policies on animals in research please visit: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/air/index.htm

This article has been updated to include comment from the National Institutes of Health.

Exclusive: Oscar-Winning Actress Anjelica Huston Urges National Institutes of Health to Stop 'Cruel' Animal Experiments | Culture