I attended a seminar today by a well known scientist in the field of stroke rehabilitation. During this thoroughly fascinating presentation, which revealed some ground breaking research on cortical reorganization (in a nut shell, how to teach the brain to rewire itself to restore limb function after a stroke), he was asked by a young physical therapist in the audience why it has taken so long for this research to bear fruit -- after all, cortical reorganization theory is not something new. He briefly recounted the story of a colleague of his, Dr Edward Taub, a pioneer in this area of research, whose research program and career had been all but decimated by a fledgling group of animal rights activists in the early 1980's. A group, who have since gained national recognition largely owing to their sensational infiltration of Dr Taub's NIH research lab, called PETA. However, the lecturer did not provide too many details about this seemingly ominous case--known as the Silver Springs Monkey Case--and promptly resumed his talk, presumably to avoid derailment of his presentation. I was, however, intrigued by this (it might surprise you that I have little tolerance for "activists", both on the right <i>and</i> left, and the mere mention of PETA tends to raise my hackles) so I did a bit of digging around the web tonight to see what I coud find out about this case. My first stop was the <A HREF="http://www.peta-online.org/about/hist.html">PETA web site</a>. I guess I wasn't too surprised to see this case listed as one of their crowning achievements. <i>"PETA uncovered the abuse of animals in experiments in 1981, launching the precedent-setting Silver Spring monkeys case. This resulted in the first arrest and conviction of an animal experimenter in the United States on charges of cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused laboratory animals, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals in laboratories."</i> I didn't have to dig too much further to find out what happened (see sources <A HREF="http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v1/n2/slideshow/nrd727_bx1.html#B13">here</A> and <A HREF="http://www.animalrights.net/articles/2000/000035.html">here</A>): <i>"In May 1981, Dr Edward Taub of the Institute of Behavioural Research at Silver Spring, Maryland, allowed a political science major at George Washington University, named Alex Pacheco, to work in his laboratory. Taub was studying the somatosensory apparatus, trying to determine whether primates could re-learn the use of deafferented limbs. Pacheco volunteered to work in Taub's laboratory, claiming to be interested in medical research. In fact, Pacheco was one of the founders of a tiny protest group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which had been organizing protests outside the National Institutes of Health (NIH) only weeks before. Pacheco's colleagues in PETA decided to send him to infiltrate Taub's laboratory and expose what they considered to be cruel and unnecessary experiments."</i> According to the scientist giving the lecture today, some of the monkeys whose arms had been deafferented (meaning the cutting of the nerves which control movements), had apparently interpreted the unfeeling limb as a foreign object and begun chewing on their own flesh. However, before Dr Taub could suspend the trials to treat the afflicted animals and devise a new approach to avoid this unpleasant side effect, PETA had him arrested and had his lab animals confiscated. <i>"Pacheco waited until Taub was away from his lab for an extended period to call in authorities to raid the lab. Taub's supporters argued that Pacheco intentionally neglected the animals to make Taub look bad during his absence, while photographs that PETA took of the monkeys in restraining apparatuses are probably the most widely circulated animal rights photographs ever taken."</i> One <A HREF="http://www.geocities.com/willc7/monkey_hand.html">photograph</A> which has received a lot of attention shows a dried monkey's hand that Dr Taub was apparently using as an ashtray. I have no idea of its authenticity. If true, I guess we can say this would be bad judgement on the Dr's part. But here's where we get down to brass tacks on the issue. It is clear now that Dr Taub's research has contributed significantly to the understanding of cortical reorganization, which is paramount in rehabilitation of patients following stroke. <i>"Last week [article from 2000], however, it was announced that Taub's research at Silver Springs combined with subsequent research on primates has led to the development of a new treatemtn for people affected by stroke-induced paralysis, which afflicts an estimated 4 million people. The whole point of Taub's original research was to discover if monkeys suffering from nerve damage could re-learn how to use their limbs. Taub's research demonstrated that, in fact, they could be re-trained to use their limbs and the result of that research is now finding its way into treatment of human beings -- albeit delayed for years thanks to PETA's actions.</i> As Taub himself put it in a 1990 letter, <i>The actions of the antivivisectionists have resulted in withholding the potential benefits of this treatment to a large number of humans whose quality of life has been greatly compromised by their stroke... If PETA and the animal rights movement had its way, these new techniques wouldn't just be delayed; they'd never see the light of day at all."</i> Was this research delayed for many years due to the opportunistic interference of a group of activists who wanted to hit the big time? <i>"PETA used the case of the 'Silver Spring Monkeys' as a springboard to national attention, eventually building itself into being the leading animal-rights organization in the United States. Indeed, it has been described as "...probably the most aggressive aboveground animal-rights organisation in the world". Alex Pacheco has been Director or Chairman of PETA for most of its existence."</i> An occupational therapist summarized things quite nicely <A HREF="http://www.animalrights.net/23996">here</A>. Good enough for me, anyway. What do you think? Should data gathered from animal studies, that may (or may not) have been "cruel" and "unethical", but that have revolutionalized medical practice, be kept from reaching the healthcare consumer--you and I?