Protesters Prompt Halt in Animal Research

Article excerpt

Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler last week ordered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to suspend funding for research on baboons at the University of Pennsylvania's Head Injury Clinical Research Center in Philadelphia after she read a preliminary NIH report's early release to Heckler and NIH Director James B. Wyngaarden was provoked by animal rights activists, scores of whom occupied NIH offices in Bethesda, Md., for several days last week to publicize the plight of the boboons.

The suspension specifically halts the work of neurologist Thomas Gennarelli, whose funding constitutes about one-fifth of the center's budget this year, and one-ninth next year. Gennarelli is trying to develop a reproducible experimental model of head injury in the boboon. He is studying head injuries' effects on the brain in order to understand what happens to human heads in automobile and other accidents. Head and neck injuries are the No. 1 cause of death among persons between 1 and 40 years of age in the United States, according to NIH officials.

In their experiments, Gennarelli and his colleagues put baboons' heads through a rapid acceleration that produces severe brain damage similar to that seen in human accident victims. The baboons wore helmets to prevent the complications of skull damage.

In a statement issued last week, Wyngaarden said that according to the preliminary report, Gennarelli's lab failed to comply with public health policy for the care and use of laboratory animals. The statement included special references to lack of adequate anesthesia and analgesia for the baboons, sterile technique and supervision and training of laboratory personnel.

Based on 60 hours of videotapes stolen from the lab year by the underground Animal Liberation Front and the examination of research papers and proposals, the Washington, D.C.-based People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has charged that Gennarelli's research is inhumane and without scientific merit. …