Posted by Dr Katy Taylor on 17th February 2016
Pregnant monkeys to be infected with Zika virus in cruel research
Experiments in monkeys are unethical and unreliable – There has to be a better way to tackle the threat of emerging viruses.
Scientists from the USA have announced plans to infect pregnant monkeys with the Zika virus in an attempt to find a solution to this most recent global pandemic.
In January, the World Health Organisation declared the Zika virus a global emergency following the rapid outbreak of infection across the Americas. The virus, which is transmitted by mosquitos, has been suspected of causing a rare birth defect called microcephaly, where babies are born with small heads and underdeveloped brains1.
Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison are about to start infecting macaques with the virus in order to learn more about the disease and how it spreads. They are also planning on infecting pregnant monkeys to see if their babies are born with the same devastating defects seen in humans2.
Sadly, these monkeys are likely to be the latest in the long line of animals who have suffered in vain for human medical progress. ‘Breakthroughs’, so-called successes in animal tests, rarely translate to actual treatments for human diseases due to intractable species differences. This has been the case for drugs in general, as well as hundreds of failed HIV/AIDS vaccines, hepatitis C interventions, stroke treatments, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease treatments. Currently 95% of new drugs that enter human clinical trials fail even though animal tests appeared to show they were effective and safe3. There are no special grounds for optimism for Zika virus treatments and vaccines based on results in monkeys.
The Zika virus was first discovered over 50 years ago in Uganda and was thought to cause nothing more than short-lived mild flu-like symptoms in just 20% of those infected. The fact that these obscure viruses have a tendency to slip under the radar until it is too late highlights the need for a more effective and long-term solution to tackling the threat of emerging diseases. For example, novel mosquito control methods are currently being investigated in Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam and have already shown considerable promise4.
Cruelty Free International Director of Science, Dr. Katy Taylor, said: “While we support effective and humane research in the search for vaccines and treatments for Zika virus, we have serious concerns regarding the use of monkeys and other animals for this purpose. The poor relevance of using monkeys to study human disease and the greater relevance of human-based approaches, means that it is scientifically and morally indefensible to deliberately infect monkeys with Zika virus and/or to test therapies and vaccines on them”.
- Micocephaly/Zika Virus. (2016). World Health Organisation, 8 Feb: http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/en/
- UW-Madison researchers begin work on Zika virus. (2010). University of Wisconsin-Madison News, 10 Feb: http://news.wisc.edu/uw-madison-researchers-begin-work-on-zika-virus/
- KMR Group Inc. Annual R&D General Metrics Study Highlights New Success Rate and Cycle Time Data CHICAGO, Illinois, August 8, 2012. https://kmrgroup.com/PressReleases/2012_08_08%20KMR%20PBF%20Success%20Rate%20&%20Cycle%20Time%20Press%20Release.pdf
- Zika virus outbreak in the Americas: the need for novel mosquito control methods. (2016). The Lancet, 1 Feb: http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/langlo/PIIS2214-109X(16)00048-6.pdf