Chimpanzee HIV Vaccine Trial Fails

By Jason Baker and Kathy Guillermo
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The headlines have just hit the newspapers: A monkey in what was originally
touted to be a promising vaccine trial for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV,
suddenly dropped dead.

For the monkey, it may have been a blessing. Against his will he was caged
and deprived of fresh air, sunshine, freedom of movement, companionship of
others of his troop-just about everything that would make his life worth
living. Instead, he could only stare, day after day, at the bars of his
isolated
prison, and beyond these, at the barren walls of a sterile room in a
laboratory.

He was coldly named monkey number 798, as though he
didn't feel the chill of the steel bars and yearn to touch and groom a
companion, as though he was just a non-living "sample." In 1999, he was
injected with the trial vaccine, and from then on experimenters regularly
shot him full of virulent forms of HIV. Like all the monkeys in the trial, he
tested positive for HIV but didn't
develop symptoms. The experimenters trumpeted their success in medical
journals, all the while poking, prodding, and repeatedly jabbing the monkey
with needles to withdraw still more blood.

Then suddenly, monkey 798 got sick and, after a year of debilitating, wasting
AIDS symptoms, he died. So, experimenters are right back where they
started-they have no HIV vaccine, and once again, the terrible suffering of
animals has brought us no closer to stopping or preventing the disease.

A medical colleague of ours, Dr. Murray Cohen, believes that AIDS experiments
on
animals will never bring a cure or prevention for the disease. "The reality
is that all attempts to develop 'animal models' of AIDS have failed
dismally," says Dr. Cohen. "AIDS researchers are recognizing more and more
that to understand AIDS, humans must be studied."

He points to the researchers' own statements: "The lack of appropriate animal
models for HIV research makes the application of animal research to humans
uncertain," and "No animal models faithfully reproduce [HIV] infection and
disease in humans," and "… there is no predictive animal model for HIV
infection in humans," and "Animal models do not fully mimic the
characteristic tissue pathology of human HIV infection."

Even so, more money than the entire budget of a small developing country go
into animal studies on HIV/AIDS every year. And every year, more animals are
made sick, while the number of AIDS cases worldwide, especially in Asia and
Africa, increases.

"Then why do many animal researchers continue to defend, support, and
promote it?" asks Dr. Cohen. "Because it is a lucrative business, and
participants are loath to disembark from the government AIDS-animal research
gravy train."

One of my co-workers decided to do something about it. He volunteered for a
human HIV vaccine trial. He knows that whatever the researchers learn from
his blood and from the data they collect will help them learn more about
helping other people. Ultimately, studies like these will bring us forward in
the fight against this devastating disease. All the bodies of animals that
have littered the journey from the discovery of AIDS in 1982 until now are
tragic reminders that we can only learn about human disease by studying
people.

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