Research Ethics Roundup: Pitfalls of Studying Only Male Lab Mice, Retirement Issues for Lab Chimpanzees, New SUPPORT Trial Findings, Zika Vaccine Pricing Concerns

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup the ramifications of only using male lab mice in preclinical research, why so few lab chimpanzees have been sent to sanctuaries, Public Citizen’s letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on new SUPPORT trial findings, and the ethics of pricing a Zika vaccine.

Research on Male Animals Prevents Women From Getting Best Drugs
In this New Scientist article, Alice Klein highlights a new lab mice study that suggests genetic diseases may show up differently, depending on the sex of the animal, and this should be considered when determining treatment options. One of the study’s leading scientists, Natasha Karp of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, told the New Scientist that researchers should no longer exclude a female animal solely because of hormonal differences, especially since drugs tested only on male animals may later prove to be less effective in women during clinical trials.

Research on Lab Chimps is Over. Why Have so Few Been Retired to Sanctuaries?
David Grimm reports for Science that the number of lab chimpanzees sent to sanctuary communities has been far less than expected despite a longstanding push to rehouse the animals. Although several years have passed since the federal government announced it would end its support for research with chimpanzees, only 22 private lab chimpanzees and 51 government chimpanzees have gone to sanctuaries that offer a more natural environment than a lab. Experts say this is because the government did not have an adequate retirement plan in place for the chimpanzees and that the sanctuaries themselves don’t have the financial resources to provide for their adequate care.

Controversial Trial of Premature Infants Faces Fresh Scrutiny Following Release of Documents
In this STAT article, Casey Ross reports that Public Citizen sent a letter to the Office for Human Research Protections at HHS requesting the government to expand its current investigation of the SUPPORT trial to review information they obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Public Citizen says this new information raises further ethical concerns about the oxygen experiment, , including “the truthfulness of key statements in the IRB approved consent forms signed by the parents of premature babies enrolled in the trial.” Over 1,300 premature infants from around the country were enrolled in the multi-site trial, which took place from 2004 to 2009.

Florida Congressional Members Want US Army to Hold Public Hearings on Zika Vaccine
In this Miami Herald article, Daniel Chang finds that Congressional representatives from Florida are requesting that the US Army hold a public hearing before Sanofi Pasteur, a French drug company, is awarded exclusive licensing rights to a Zika vaccine. Sanofi Pasteur previously declined to respond to a US Army request that the drug be priced affordably despite the fact it was developed by scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research using American taxpayer-funds.