An animal welfare group wants Wake Forest University officials to investigate a medical school professor's involvement in a research project that denied monkeys food and water and forced them to endure hours of loud sounds and strobe lights.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a letter Wednesday to university President Nathan Hatch that monkeys used in a recent research experiment "were subjected to unrelenting and extreme torments" that amounted to "torture."
Wake Forest Baptist Health said Friday that its professor's involvement was as a consultant and adviser to the project.
In an article published in January in Translational Psychiatry, researchers describe how they treated five adolescent cynomolgus monkeys — small primates native to east and southeast Asia that are also known as crab-eating or long-tailed macaques. Translational Psychiatry is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that publishes papers on neuroscience research and treatments.
For five weeks over nearly two months, researchers at China's Chongqing Medical University in Chongqing subjected five caged monkeys to what they called "chronic unpredictable mild stressors." PETA characterized the research as "catastrophically flawed and obscenely unethical experiments."
According to the published paper, these five monkeys were deprived of water for 12-hour periods and food for 24-hour periods. At other times, the monkeys got 6-volt shocks on their feet, were exposed to a strobe light for a 12-hour period or were sprayed with 50-degree water for 10 minutes.
The monkeys also were subjected for 12-hour stretches to a shrill chirping sound measured at 100 decibels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that level of sound is equal to a sporting event or a car horn from 15 feet away and louder than gas-powered lawnmowers and motorcycle engines.
The researchers said in their journal article they were hoping to develop a nonhuman primate model to do further research on depression in human adolescents. The stressors appeared to have their desired effect: Researchers said the affected monkeys showed apparent signs of depression and anxiety.
The published paper lists 14 researchers, including 11 affiliated with Chongqing Medical University and Carol Shively, a professor of pathology and comparative medicine at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. She's credited as one of the paper's five authors but isn't listed among the researchers who designed or performed the experiment.
Shively on her webpage on the medical school's website said her research focuses largely on the study of primates to understand how environmental factors such as diet and stress influence women's health and chronic aging diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Wake Forest Baptist Health said in a statement Friday that Shively is an academic colleague of the Chinese researchers and works on similar research topics. The health system also noted that this experiment wasn't performed at Wake Forest School of Medicine or carried out by any researchers at the university's medical school.
"Dr. Shively’s role in this study was strictly to consult and advise," the health system said in a statement. "There was no financial compensation or intellectual property concerns."
The researchers said in their paper the experiment was approved by Chongqing Medical University's ethics committee.
PETA also sent a similar letter Wednesday to the National Institutes for Health, which it said had provided some federal funding for the research.
Shively has received nearly $6 million in NIH funding for research projects since 2007, according to NIH grant records. But Wake Forest said Friday the NIH wasn't involved in this particular project and that an erroneous reference to NIH funding in the printed journal article has been removed from the online version.
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.