Details of UNMC monkey’s death revealed by watchdog group

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Jessica Wade
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

A rhesus macaques monkey used for HIV research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) was euthanized late March after displaying abnormal behavior due to a hemorrhage in the brainstem after an attempted spinal tap.

Details of the monkey’s death were released via a press release Tuesday morning by SAEN, an Ohio-based nonprofit watchdog group that monitors U.S. research facilities for illegal activity and animal abuse.

The group had obtained internal documents outlining the incident as well as another incident that occurred in July during which two monkeys had escaped from their cages, causing injuries to two other monkeys. One animal was treated for minor injuries and three underwent “minor surgical repair.” All four healed.

“These are powerful, clever monkeys and they’re hard on the equipment and occasionally things on the cages break, and in this particular circumstance that’s what happened,” Director of Comparative Medicine Dr. John Bradfield said.

Bradfield said the monkeys are used for an HIV study.

“The problem with HIV is it infects humans and doesn’t naturally infect other animal species,” Bradfield said. “The only related virus that will give any information about HIV is this SIV [simian immunodeficiency virus], and it infects only macaques species monkeys and behaves in monkeys just like HIV behaves in humans.”

The study was probed by UNMC earlier this year after 10 monkeys received the wrong medication. The mix up was detailed in an Omaha World-Herald article.

Bradfield stated that animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century. From the discovery of antibiotics, analgesics, anti-depressants and anesthetics, to the development of organ transplants, bypass surgery, heart catheterization and joint replacement.

“UNMC is a model for the country in its care and use of animals, and we meet and exceed all federal and state requirements in these areas,” Bradfield said. “Our facilities are inspected at least once a year, including an unannounced visit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

According to the group’s press release, SAEN has filed an Official Complaint with the USDA.

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