BY SUSAN SIMPSON Modified: November 30, 2009 at 10:37 am •  Published: November 30, 2009
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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.