STILLWATER — A project to test anthrax vaccines and treatment on baboons was quashed by Oklahoma State University administrators because the primates would be euthanized. Veterinary medicine researchers were told by e-mail last month that OSU President Burns Hargis wouldn’t allow the National Institutes of Health-funded project, even though an internal faculty committee had spent more than a year setting out protocol for the care and use of the primates. Veterinary scientists say the decision was sudden and arbitrary, and now they fear the president may call for ending other projects involving animal research. OSU administrators declined to comment for this story, but released a statement through OSU spokesman Gary Shutt stating "this research was not in the best interest of the university. The testing of lethal pathogens on primates would be a new area for OSU that is controversial and is outside our current research programs.” The Oklahoman attempted to contact Hargis, Vice President of Research Stephen McKeever and Veterinary College Dean Michael Lorenz. The statement also said: "OSU is focused on enhancing and expanding its existing research strengths including our ongoing programs in bioterrorism research. The proposed work would have distracted from those efforts.” Veterinary doctor Michael Davis said the research is justified because the implications of finding a cure or vaccine for anthrax could be important for humankind. "This isn’t a hypothetical thing,” said Davis, a member of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that approved the project. "There has in fact been anthrax terrorism in the United States. All those people are dead.” He said primates are the best animals to test treatments because they are similar biologically to humans. But the primates must be destroyed after anthrax exposure to ensure they don’t infect others. "We don’t want to, but by the same token we don’t want people to be killed by anthrax,” Davis said. "Right now, this is the only way and the best way we have of preventing someone from getting killed by anthrax.” Anthrax-laced letters killed five people and rattled the nation shortly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The project was to be conducted in a multimillion dollar lab at OSU designed for research on bioterrorism agents. Davis said administrators have known for years that primates would be used in research in the new lab. Veterinary scientist Richard Eberle said the faculty believes Hargis’ ruling was influenced by an animal rights advocate or other organization. He fears the decision will jeopardize future projects as well. "OSU is now seen by researchers at other institutions as an unreliable research partner and afraid of animal rights demonstrators,” Eberle said. "It is sad that such a golden opportunity for OSU and the state of Oklahoma to attain national recognition has been missed as the result of a single individual’s decision.” Davis also fears the change in policy might lead to more bans on research into other animals. Davis’s research into the metabolism of sled-dogs in Alaska has long been touted by OSU leaders. He does not euthanize the dogs he works with. "I don’t know if I’m going to be out of business tomorrow,” he said. "This can shut down careers.” Veterinary doctor and OSU professor Kenneth Bartels said Hargis failed to consult faculty before changing policy. "The president certainly has the prerogative to make this decision arbitrarily,” Bartels said. "But we have a standing committee that is approved by U.S. Department of Agriculture and works under auspices of Animal Welfare Act. That expertise shouldn’t really be ignored.”Comments
BackgroundIn April, OSU announced that animals will no longer be euthanized in teaching labs at the veterinary school. Controversy about euthanizing animals after students performed surgeries on them arose after Madeleine Pickens, the wife of billionaire benefactor and OSU alumnus T. Boone Pickens, threatened to redirect a $5 million donation to the vet school because she did not agree with such practices.