FDA ends nicotine study on primates after 4 monkeys die

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last Friday that they were ending a controversial experiment on nicotine addiction. The experiment involved having adolescent squirrel monkeys self-administer doses of nicotine until they were addicted so scientists could study the effects.

The study began in 2014. By the summer of 2017, four of the test monkeys had died, three while being given anesthesia during a catheterization procedure, and the fourth from gastric bloat.

Details became public last March after the White Coat Waste Project, an animal rights activist group that opposes taxpayer-funded animal experiments, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FDA asking for records on the nicotine study.

The study received more public scrutiny last September when Jane Goodall got into the act. Goodall, perhaps the world’s most famous primatologist, sent a strongly worded open letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in which she called the testing “shameful.”

Goodall wrote: “I was disturbed—and quite honestly shocked—to learn that the U.S. FDA is still, in 2017, performing cruel and unnecessary nicotine addiction experiments on monkeys.”

Goodall went on to decry practices that involved restraining the monkeys and videotaping their reactions to the side effects of the nicotine, including vomiting and diarrhea, and isolating them in solitary cells for up to three years during the experiment.

That same month, Gottlieb called a temporary halt to the study so that the FDA could review the wellbeing of the monkeys.

Last Friday, the FDA released a statement from Gottlieb addressing, in part, the “FDA’s strengthened commitments to humane and judicious animal research.”

In the statement, Gottlieb announced that the FDA was halting the study completely, and that “while the study animals are safe and being well cared for,” the FDA’s initial review of the study “raised several concerns,” including a “lack of adequate oversight” that could lead to issues with other procedures. Gottlieb also mentioned concerns about “repeated reported deficiencies” relating to the conduct of the third-party animal welfare contractor hired by the FDA to help administer the study.

As for the rest of the monkeys, they can breathe easy, and without benefit of nicotine: Gottlieb said in the statement that all the surviving monkeys who took part in the study will be placed “in a permanent sanctuary home.”

Maybe the nicotine monkeys are a bellwether.

One day after the Gottlieb’s statement, German car manufacturers united to condemn another study involving monkeys forced to breathe things that weren’t good for them: following reports that diesel fumes were carcinogenic, European car makers commissioned a study to test the dangers of inhaling diesel fumes. The lab they hired turned around and designed a study that involved monkeys being locked in an airtight chamber and forced to inhale fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle.

That study was completed last June. However, it’s unclear if the automakers knew that monkeys were being used in the study while it was still going on.


Photo credit: © iStock/Rolfst

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