The Daily, University of Washington
By Andrew Sengul
November 29, 2005
Nonprofit investigators have alleged that internal documents from the
UW's Washington National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) shed light on a
history of poorly justified research, cruel experiments and wasted
"Even if you're not concerned about the pain and suffering these
animals undergo, you have to wonder why we're spending taxpayer money on
the same research projects over and over again," said Michael Budkie,
executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN).
Budkie founded SAEN in 1996 to "force an end to the abuse of animals
in laboratories," and has since requested thousands of pages of
documents from labs across the country in order to uncover what he sees
as cruel and unethical activity at the facilities. SAEN publishes
reports on animal experimentation every year, and 2005's release focused
on primate research labs, including the WNPRC.
While previous animal rights campaigns have focused on alleged
cruelty at research facilities, SAEN's press release was aimed at
showing a pattern of redundant and unnecessary research at the WNPRC and
other labs that use primates as experimental subjects.
Albert Fuchs, Chris Kaneko and Michael Shadlen, a trio of research
professors in the University's psychology and physiology department, are
among the most prominently featured scientists in Budkie's collection of
documents. All study how the brain controls eye motion at the WNPRC,
presiding over some of the center's longest-running research projects.
Fuchs filed his first grant application for primate eye-tracking studies
in 1971, Kaneko in 1986 and Shadlen in 1997.
"There are six muscles that control the movement of the eye, making
it one of the simplest motor systems to study," Fuchs explained. "At the
time I started looking at the control of eye movements, there was no
data on how the brain deals with movement. Then, as I began to
understand what motor neurons do, I began to work my way back to higher
structures in the brain."
The three scientists perform similar experiments, but Kaneko said
such a research model is necessary to investigate a system as complex as
the brain. The basic procedure for primate eye-tracking experiments has
remained largely unchanged since the 1970s: a monkey is strapped into a
restraint chair, taught to visually track the movements of a light
across a screen and given drops of water or fruit juice as a reward for
successfully following the moving lights.
Electrodes implanted in the primate's skull track the direction of
its eyes and the electrical activity in its brain.
In SAEN's press release, Budkie points to the high degree of
similarity between the three scientists' projects as well as the length
of their grants to make a case that their research is duplicative and
produces little new information.
"They might change a few variables or other minute things, but for
the most part they're doing the same procedure again and again," Budkie
said. "The usefulness of the data is extremely tenuous, and when you
take into account the limited utility versus the very high level of
expense, you have to wonder if there are other alternatives."
Among documents collected by Budkie are applications submitted by
primate researchers to the UW's Institutional Animal Care and Use
Whenever a professor begins or renews a research project at the
WNPRC, he or she must submit a written summary of the procedure to the
IACUC. The committee must review and approve all procedures performed at
the lab to ensure animals are not treated cruelly or are otherwise
There is little visible difference between procedures written by
Fuchs, Kaneko and Shadlen. One of the main documents cited by Budkie as
proof of redundant research at the WNPRC is the transcript of an e-mail
conversation between Fuchs and an member of the IACUC that was found
among the animal use proposal records. The committee member was
concerned over the similarities between Fuchs's proposal and that of
another professor at the primate center whose name was withheld.
In the letter, the committee member writes, "I'm a little nervous
that your protocol is basically identical to [name redacted]'s protocol
... is it possible that the same person prepared both protocols and made
some editing/inclusion errors?"
Fuchs replied that he had included elements of the other professor's
experiments in his proposal because there was a chance he would want to
use them in his own research.
"With regard to the similarity of Dr. [name redacted] and my
proposals, we use essentially identical procedures in our experiments.
Indeed, Dr. [name redacted] learned many of them from me when he was my
postdoc," Fuchs wrote in a letter to the IACUC's committee member.
To Budkie, the letter bespeaks a professional culture where the risks
of innovative research are avoided in favor of known grant-winning
"Neurological research is, in my opinion, the most redundant research
out there," Budkie said. "Scientists have to deal with the publish or
perish mentality and they have to bring in research dollars for their
schools, so what better way to do that than with a protocol that's
already been approved?"
Fuchs said it is by no means atypical for scientists to copy each
others' protocols, and that experimental protocols used do not
necessarily have any bearing on the content and relevance of the data
produced by the experiments.
"Identical procedures are fine, but not identical experiments," Fuchs
said. "The only duplication we do is of procedures that have been
accepted by the scientific community. Some methods, like taking blood
samples, are common to us all, and we wouldn't want to reinvent the
wheel for every project. Duplication of protocols is a good thing
because it means we're using the most tried-and-true methods."
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