Oregon Regional Primate Research Center Teams Up with March of Dimes to Help Prevent Birth Defects

08/14/01    Portland, Ore.

Scientists respond to PETA's attack on research that saves babies' lives

The Oregon Regional Primate Research Center maintains that its non-human primates -- including those participating in a medical protocol partially funded by the Oregon Chapter of the March of Dimes to help prevent premature births and birth defects -- play a vital role in helping scientists save human lives and cure diseases.

The animal extremist organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is criticizing the March of Dimes for its three-year, $191,000 grant to the primate center to help determine what causes premature labor and subsequent birth defects. The grant helps fund research performed by Miles Novy, M.D., senior scientist in reproductive sciences, OHSU's Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, and professor of obstetrics and gynecology, OHSU School of Medicine.

Novy has worked for more than 30 years with non-human primates to develop surgical techniques and intervention strategies to reduce premature births -- a major public health problem both in the United States and around the world.

Premature births lead to lung and brain damage, cerebral palsy and death. About 1 out of 10 babies born in the United States is born prematurely. Pre-term deliveries inflict an annual cost of at least $4 billion a year in health care, special education and disability-related expenditures. The pre-term birth rate (anything prior to 37 weeks' gestation) rose from 9.5 percent in 1980 to 12 percent in 1999.

Novy's goal is to reduce the incidence of premature labor by attacking its underlying causes. His work with monkeys enables him to understand what triggers early maternal labor and to work with obstetricians to head off some early deliveries through contraction-suppressing drugs and surgery performed on babies while they still are in the womb.

All of the non-human primates housed at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center -- one of eight such medical research facilities in the country -- are cared for by a dedicated team of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, pathologists, surgeons and animal behaviorists. In addition, the monkeys' care is overseen by the federal Animal Welfare Act, OHSU's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

"Animal extremist groups advocate halting all medical research that involves animals and maintain they are the only ones who care about these monkeys," said Dr. Gwen Maginnis, a veterinarian who heads the animal care division at the primate center. "But the animal care employees here work every day to make a tangible difference and improve the lives of these monkeys. Without the monkeys' valuable contributions, the scientists could not discover new cures and treatments that benefit all of us -- including the people who carry protest signs and belong to animal extremist organizations."

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