Thousands of Monkeys Made to Suffer Post-9/11: Report

Long-tailed macaques are among the types of monkeys that have been experimented on, sometimes without pain relief, in the post-9/11 biodefense research boom. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

The boom in biodefense research following 9/11 has caused many monkeys to suffer, BuzzFeed News reports.

The research primates—composed primarily of rhesus macaques, long-tailed macaques and African green monkeys—have been exposed to a slew of deadly bacteria and viruses, sometimes without pain relief, in a quest to develop drugs that could combat biological, chemical and radiological terrorist attacks.

A week following the September 11, 2001, attacks, two senators and several news media offices received letters containing deadly anthrax spores, which killed five people and caused 17 to become ill. The event led the U.S. government to dedicate billions of dollars to developing drugs and vaccines in the event of mass exposure to harmful agents.

Part of the development has included exposing monkeys to plague, anthrax, Ebola, smallpox, nerve agents and lethal amounts of radiation.

Some of the experiments, deemed "Column E" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, include experiments in which animals experience pain or distress, but it's not fully alleviated by drugs such as painkillers or tranquilizers.

In one experiment, long-tailed macaques were made to inhale a lethal amount of anthrax. They were later recorded as having difficulty breathing and were vomiting and losing control of their bowels. Many of the monkeys in the untreated control group were left to die. Other experiments have caused monkeys to collapse, have seizures or be put down to severe illness.

These types of experiments have nearly doubled since 2002 and have averaged more than 1,400 a year since 2009, the BuzzFeed News analysis found.

Column E experiments are regulated to keep them rare. To conduct one, an institution must have the experiment reviewed by its animal care committee and must also provide a justification to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in its annual report, as dictated by federal regulations.

The nearly 100 justification reports reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that the increase in pain-involved monkey experiments has been driven by biodefense research.

In fact, three institutions have led the charge in these types of experiments: the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute and the Battelle Memorial Institute. Collectively, these institutes have used more than 6,400 Column E monkeys since 2002.

While some argue that this type of testing is needed to ensure that humans have the necessary drugs to combat a biological attack, others are not convinced testing on monkeys is appropriate or reliable.

"We should use a bare minimum of primates," Chandan Guha, a radiation oncologist at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York who sees the merits of some monkey experiments, told Buzzfeed News.

Monkeys do not always show the full range of symptoms in humans. But when it comes to Ebola, for instance, they do—monkeys have the same deadly internal and external bleeding after exposure. A vaccine that had been monkey tested was one of two rushed to human clinical trials after the virus spread in West Africa earlier this year.

But Thomas Hartung, head of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University, said that 95 percent of the drugs used on humans after promising results in animal testing fail.

Until there is a viable alternative, monkeys will remain entangled in the ongoing war on terror.