A Critical Crossroads for Biomedical Research

The Rise for Animals Team, September 8, 2022
Illustration: Rise for Animals

The field of medical research and testing is at a critical crossroads.

Do we continue to dump billions of taxpayer dollars into outdated, unreliable, costly, and inhumane animal testing that overwhelmingly fails to produce real results for human health? Or do we embrace the burgeoning field of human-biology based alternatives that offer far more accurate results while minimizing suffering?

Nowhere is this crossroads on more stark display than at Johns Hopkins University.

Johns Hopkins is a big spender when it comes to research and development, investing over $3 billion in 2020 alone. It is also a university divided.

On one hand, it’s home to the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), whose mission is to “promote humane science by supporting the creation, development, validation, and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education.”

On the other hand, other labs at Johns Hopkins conduct cruel, unnecessary, and archaic tests on thousands of animals each year. In 2021 alone, researchers at Johns Hopkins University conducted experiments on nearly 4,000 animals, including hundreds of non-human primates and dozens of cats and dogs.

The contradictions found at Hopkins grow even more stark when we zoom in on the issue of non-human primates. 

Thomas Hartung, MD, PhD—the director of CAAT—has been outspoken in his views on the use of non-human primates, calling out scientists who are “blindly running toward the monkey model without critically evaluating how valuable it really is,” and warning that researchers who experiment on monkeys are in danger of “repeating the mistakes of the past.” 

Hartung is right about the problems with non-human primate testing, yet his own university doesn’t seem to be getting the message. 

Hopkins not only continues to conduct invasive, traumatic tests on hundreds of non-human primates each year, it also recently received more than $2 million in taxpayer-funded grants to support the creation of a Marmoset Breeding Center intended to produce hundreds of additional marmosets that will be sold to research facilities around the country.

Johns Hopkins University, founded in 1876, claims to be the oldest research university in the U.S. (stock photo)

There is no evidence that the majority of these non-human primate studies will result in any tangible benefits to human or animal health, but there is evidence that researchers at Hopkins have repeatedly failed to appropriately care for the monkeys in their labs. 

Recent documented examples of negligence resulting in the unnecessary injury and/or death of non-human primates at Johns Hopkins include: a September 2021 incident where several monkeys escaped their cages and entered a hallway, where one entered an uncovered drain pipe where it became trapped and died, a June 2021 incident where a juvenile monkey became entangled in a door cable and died, and an experiment conducted on monkeys in which “50% of the cranial implants performed by the principal investigator had a negative outcome resulting in euthanasia due to infection from environmental contaminates.”

The last thing Hopkins should be spending time and money on is breeding even more monkeys to perpetuate antiquated science that fails to yield meaningful results—especially when they can’t even care for the monkeys they already have. 

The rhesus macaque is commonly used in biomedical research (stock photo)

As frustrating as these incidents are, they’re rendered even more so by the fact that they’re continuing to occur even as, elsewhere in the same institution, superior alternatives to animal testing are being developed, practiced, and advanced. 

For too long, Johns Hopkins University has been attempting to champion two dichotomous paradigms. The time has come for them to make a decision

They can remain stagnant by clinging to outdated, expensive animal research models that harm sentient beings and fail to prioritize human health. Alternatively, they can go boldly into a brighter future where investments are shifted to cutting-edge, humane research models that have the potential to revolutionize the understanding and treatment of critical human health conditions. 

Your simple, one-minute action can help save animals’ lives, promote improved science, and unearth faster medical cures for humankind. Ask Johns Hopkins University to shift more of their funding away from animal harm and towards human-relevant science at CAAT. 

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