Doctors Sue NIH Over Controversial Cat Experiments
WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) will file a lawsuit tomorrow against the federal National Institutes of Health (NIH) for concealing information about a controversial experiment involving live cats at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus.
The experiments, conducted by OSU veterinarian Michael Podell and funded by NIH, involve giving cats methamphetamine ("speed"), a drug of abuse. Podell also infects the cats with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), reportedly hoping to create an "animal model" showing the brain damage known to occur in humans who are both drug abusers and infected with the AIDS virus. Podell subjects cats to spinal taps and other stressful and painful procedures before killing them to examine their brains.
PCRM is suing NIH under the Freedom of Information Act for withholding numerous details about Podell's work, including his justification for choosing cats as a suitable animal upon which to experiment, behavioral testing procedures, and his plans for removing the cats' brains. PCRM received a copy of Podell's grant application earlier this year, but NIH had removed large portions of pertinent data. The suit is being brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
"We believe these documents will show there is no reason to carry out these experiments on animals," says PCRM president Neal D. Barnard, M.D. "We aim to find out why NIH is spending $1.68 million on this controversial and ill-advised project. Studies of human patients have already shown the dangers of drug abuse and HIV."
PCRM argues that further research into the effects of amphetamines and HIV is more properly done in HIV-positive individuals already being treated with amphetamines for depression and in HIV-positive drug abusers. "Cats cannot show language deficits, subtle learning problems, hallucinations, delusions, or other neurological effects that are known to occur in drug abusers," Dr. Barnard says. "Moreover, the cat virus—FIV—is very different from HIV, and cat results would not apply to people."
Numerous critics, including neurologists, an AIDS activist organization, and a physician who specializes in drug addiction, have spoken out about the study's serious scientific shortcomings. Despite these criticisms, dozens of protests by an animal protection group in Columbus, and national news coverage, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of the NIH, recently granted Podell the second installment on his five-year, $1.68-million study.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.