Posted by Dr Katy Taylor on 1st December 2016
Monkeys are still suffering for ineffective HIV research
30 years of animal research has not found a cure
This World AIDS day, spare a thought for the countless monkeys suffering in laboratories in the name of HIV research
Over 30 years ago, HIV was identified as the cause of AIDS. Since then it has tragically infected more than 70 million people around the world1.
Unfortunately monkeys have been used in cruel experiments for years in an attempt to find a cure for the disease. But did you know that monkeys are not susceptible to the HIV virus and do not develop AIDS?
Instead, they are infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which causes a disease similar to, but significantly different from AIDS.
In fact, SIV differs from the genetics of HIV by a staggering 50%. So it is no surprise that although monkeys have been used in AIDS research for the last 30 years, there is still no effective vaccine available for humans.
Figures from 2008 show that out of 85 potential AIDS vaccines that have been tested in 197 human trials, only seven have reached phase III trials, which involve a large group of human volunteers, and none of these were successful2.
Despite all the evidence that monkeys are poor surrogates for studying human AIDS, researchers continue to pursue SIV as a means of understanding HIV transmission and AIDS development.
The monkeys used in this ineffective research, are forced to suffer weight loss, major organ failure, breathing problems, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of appetite and neurological disorders.
For example, 22 macaque monkeys were recently infected with SIV by researchers in the UK in a cruel experiment to learn more about the neurological complications in late-stage HIV infected human patients. All the animals were subjected to repeat blood sampling for up to ten months. The monkeys were killed at various points so that the researchers could dissect and study their brains4.
UK scientists have also teamed up with researchers in the USA to develop antiviral vaginal rings that can be used by women to prevent the transmission of HIV during sex. In a recent study, these rings were inserted into the vaginas of female macaques for 28 days while blood and vaginal fluid samples were repeatedly taken to assess the safety of the device5.
These experiments cause immense suffering to the monkeys. Plus they are diverting critical resources away from humane research that would be of more benefit to humans. If they really want to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, we believe scientists should stop wasting time, money and lives on cruel animal research. Instead they should use their expertise to research the use of human cells and tissues to screen anti-AIDS drugs, as well as more sophisticated methods such as genetic engineering techniques and reconstituted human tissue models.
So this World Aids Day, please spare a thought for the monkeys, as well as the humans, forced to suffer for this tragic disease.
- An Assessment of the Role of Chimpanzees in AIDS Vaccine Research. (2008). Alternatives to Laboratory Animals. 36, 381-428
- Another HIV vaccine failure: where to next? (2013). Nature Medicine, 19: 1576-1577
- Attenuated SIV causes persisting neuroinflammation in the absence of a chronic viral load and neurotoxic antiretroviral therapy. (2016). AIDS, 30(6): 2439-2448.
- Lack of in vitro-in vivo correlation for a UC781-releasing vaginal ring in macaques. (2015). Drug Delivery Translational Research, 5(1): 27-37.