PETA Media Center. “AIDS: Contagion and Confusion” – “Nonhuman Primates Dying in Labs
Until recently, research had focused on injecting the HIV virus into chimpanzees. Many AIDS-infected chimpanzees were locked in small steel-and-glass isolation chambers in laboratories, where these highly social animals typically became psychotic from stress and isolation. The stress of confinement also suppressed the chimpanzees’ immune systems, making accurate AIDS studies impossible. After years of trying to infect chimps with the virus, in 1996, a 15-year-old chimpanzee named Jerome, who had been infected with HIV in 1986, died of AIDS.(3) No chimpanzee has ever developed AIDS from normal exposure to the virus, and Jerome only developed AIDS because he was injected with three different strains of HIV, which formed a new hybrid strain that was unlike the ones found in humans.
The high cost and endangered status of chimpanzees have prompted more researchers to inject AIDS-like viruses into other animals. In 1999, a monkey named “798” was injected with a trial vaccine, and from that point on, experimenters regularly injected him with 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, “798” got sick and, after a year of suffering from debilitating, body-wasting AIDS symptoms, he died.(4)
Such experiments are designed to mimic the HIV virus and involve infecting monkeys with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and cats with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). However, like other AIDS-related viruses, these viruses do not resemble HIV. AIDS researcher Marc Girard stresses, “One should realize that we still do not know how the SIV or SHIV model compares to HIV infection in humans. Extrapolating from vaccine protection results in non-human primate studies to efficacy in man may be misleading ….”(5) Another researcher was quoted as saying “What good does it do you to test something in a monkey? You find five or six years from now that it works in the monkey, and then you test it in humans and you realize that humans behave totally differently from monkeys, so you’ve wasted five years.”(6)
Every HIV vaccine that passed animal testing has failed in human clinical trials. Jerome’s death and the endless suffering of other nonhuman primates from this horrible disease have not produced any benefits for human patients and draw precious research funds away from the study of the disease in infected humans. A research scientist working on AIDS therapies wrote in New Scientist that “Animal research merely gives false hope to people who need real cures and detracts financially and intellectually from more appropriate research.””