Maternal Deprivation Studies at UW Madison

by Harry on December 13, 2012

Lori Gruen has had a post up for a while at New APPS, on the renewal of maternal deprivation research at UW Madison. Here is her description of what the researchers plan to do:

A psychiatry professor who has a distinguished record of research on anxiety disorders plans to separate more monkey babies from their mothers, leave them with wire “surrogates” covered in cloth (a practice developed by Harlow) to emulate “adverse early rearing conditions,” then pair them with another maternally deprived infant after 3-6 weeks of being alone. The infants will then be exposed to fearful conditions. The monkeys in this group and another group of young monkeys who will be reared with their mothers, will then be killed and their brains examined.

Here is the experimental protocol and here is a history of maternal deprivation studies at UW Madison, from a site established by critics of the research.

The protocol describes the value of the research as follows:

While numerous studies have been performed examining the effects of surrogate/peer in nonhuman primates, no studies have been performed examining the effects of this rearing modification on brain development using state of the art imaging and molecular methods. These efforts will allow us to identify the exact brain regions affected, the changes in gene function in these regions, and the specific genes that are involved increasing the early risk to develop anxiety and depression. Such information has the potential to identify new targets in specific brain regions that can lead to new ideas about treatment and even prevention of the long-term suffering associated with early adversity. For example, understanding the involvement of brain chemicals that have never before been implicated in anxiety, will allow the field to begin to search for medications that affect these newly identified systems. In addition, the molecular information, combined with the imaging data, may allow for interventions that target novel brain regions that are critically involved in anxiety and depression.

Part of me is very resistant to forgoing human benefits for the sake of non-human animals. The other part of me thinks that the more like a human being an animal is (and thus the more likely research on it is to be useful for the treatment of humans) the more likely it is that the animal has a high degree of moral status. And there can be no question that the monkeys will be caused psychological harm by this study, since the monkeys’ susceptibility to anxiety and distress is an integral part of the research. And while studies of this kind do differ from Harlow’s experiments involving total social isolation, they still seem spectacularly cruel.

The university seems to have been pretty unforthcoming about the research. A quick Google Search for “maternal deprivation UW Madison” shows the top hits as a page against the research by Alliance for Animals, a Madison-based animal rights group, a petition by Gruen to the UW Provost to stop the research, and another website hosted by Alliance for Animals that has a pledge for alumni to refrain from donating to UW until the maternal deprivation experiments are stopped. But I don’t see anything by UW. I’d be interested to know if anyone has seen more information. Or could offer a convincing defense.

{ 30 comments }

1

Tony Lynch 12.13.12 at 3:06 am

I imagine that one “convincing defense” would be, ‘Well, we have “state of the art imaging and molecular methods” and all these monkeys…’

2

Meredith 12.13.12 at 5:53 am

“For example, understanding the involvement of brain chemicals that have never before been implicated in anxiety, will allow the field to begin to search for medications that affect these newly identified systems.” Yeah, that search for medications, and for big pharma funding.

I am not a PETA person or automatically opposed to use of animals in research. (I don’t know how to justify my inchoate positions, either.) But this sounds terrible, on top of unnecessary (for the advancement of knowledge that will benefit people, and other animals) — and it’s probably not unusual but all too usual.

The art of getting funded. Puke.

3

Deskpoet 12.13.12 at 6:56 am

There is no defense for animal testing of any kind. None. There is only justification, usually of the self-serving “alpha predator” or “jesus dominion” varieties. How you treat another creature–ESPECIALLY one that is “less” than you–is the measure of how you treat yourself and those like you (yeah, that’s a Gandhi paraphrase.) It should come as no surprise that torture and murder are such prevalent human pastimes: we subject other species to these things and more, all in the name of furthering “our” own nebulous evolutionary agenda.

Crooked timber, indeed.

4

David Duffy 12.13.12 at 8:58 am

You might have seen my response to the original post, which links this type of work
to the human literature on the serotonin transporter promoter polymorphism, stress, and depression. There are now numerous studies in abused or neglected children of this gene, but the rhesus monkey model remains relevant because the human studies can never be as informative.

5

Tyler Bickford 12.13.12 at 12:23 pm

Isn’t the point of research like this to provide ammunition for shaming poor mothers for not spending enough time with their children (and shaming middle-class mothers for letting their kids play with their iPads)?

6

Neil 12.13.12 at 12:29 pm

Tyler: no. Well, you asked.

7

Tyler Bickford 12.13.12 at 12:58 pm

Neil: Well that’s how the “Romanian orphanages” story gets used, so it seemed like a reasonable question.

e.g.: http://youtu.be/BoT7qH_uVNo?t=3m58s

(“Dimitri Christakis is a pediatrician, parent, and researcher whose influential findings are helping identify optimal media exposure for children.”)

and of course Heckman can’t not mention it in the Boston Review piece.

8

Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.13.12 at 1:34 pm

I signed the petition in question and happen to be spiritually and morally opposed to virtually all forms of animal experimentation. Be that as it may, here is a sample of literature from philosophy and other fields that some may find helpful in addressing the sorts of questions raised by these and other studies (an acquaintance generally with the literature on animal ethics and rights is also helpful):

·Adams, Carol J. and Josephine Donovan, eds. Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals. New York: Continuum, 1996.
·Barnard, Neil D. and Stephen R. Kaufman. “Animal Research is Wasteful and Misleading,” Scientific American 276, No. 2: 80-82, 1997.
·Bowd, Alan D. and Kenneth J. Shapiro. “The Case against Laboratory Research in Psychology,” Journal of Social Issues 49: 133-142, 1993.
·Bryant, Tamie L. “Similarity or Difference as a Basis for Justice: Must Animals Be Like Humans to Be Legally Protected from Humans?,” Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 70, Winter 2007: 207-254.
·Cohen, Carl and Tom Regan. The Animal Rights Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
·Fano, Alix. Lethal Laws: Animal Testing, Human Health and Environmental Policy. London: Zed Books, 1997.
·Fox, Michael Allen, “Antivivisectionism,” Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, 2nd ed. Ed. Marc Bekoff. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press/ABC-CLIO, 2010, vol. 1: 74-77.
·Fox, Michael Allen. “Animal Experimentation: A Philosopher’s Changing Views,” Between the Species, 3: 55-60, 75, 80, 82.
·Fox, Michael Allen. Deep Vegetarianism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1999.
·Guerrini, Anita. Experimenting with Humans and Animals: From Galen to Animal Rights. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
·Herzog, Harold A. and Lauren L. Golden, “Moral Emotions and Social Activism: The Case of Animal Rights,” Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 65, No. 3 (2009): 485-498.
·Jamieson, Dale (with Tom Regan). “On the Ethics of the Use of Animals in Science,” reprinted in Jamieson’s Morality’s Progress: Essays on Humans, Other Animals, and the Rest of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002: 103-139.
·Jamieson, Dale. “Experimenting on Animals: A Reconsideration,” reprinted in Jamieson’s Morality’s Progress: Essays on Humans, Other Animals, and the Rest of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002: 140-151.
·LaFollette, Hugh. “Animal Experimentation in Biomedical Research,” in Tom L. Beauchamp and R.G. Frey, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011: 796-825.
·LaFollette, Hugh and Niall Shanks. Brute Science: Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation. New York: Routledge, 1996.
·Lesco, Phillip A. “To Do No Harm: A Buddhist View on Animal Use in Research,” Journal of Religion and Health 27 (Winter 1988): 307–12.
·Monamy, Vaughn. Animal Experimentation: A Guide to the Issues. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
·Ryder, Richard D. Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research. London: National Anti-Vivisection Society, 2nd ed., 1983.
·Salt, Henry S. Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress. London: Centaur Press, 1980 (first published in 1892).
·Sapontzis, Steve F. “On Justifying the Exploitation of Animals in Research,” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 13: 177-196, 1988.
·Taylor, Angus. Animals & Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003.
·Wise, Steven M. Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2001.
·Wise, Steven M. Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002.

9

Neil 12.13.12 at 2:23 pm

Tyler, if you look at the work on SES and the brain in humans, (eg, by Martha Farah), the subtext is clearly the urgency of addressing poverty. I think the parallel with Romanian orphans is a good one. Clearly such orphans are not the victims of selfish mothers. Yet the story can be used in the way you mention. What that shows is that liars are gonna lie: if you refrain from doing anything that can be twisted to bad ends, you will have to refrain from anything at all.

None of this is to say that this particular work is justified: I can’t make that judgment without a heck of lot more information.

10

SusanC 12.13.12 at 3:05 pm

I’m shocked that they’re doing this, as it’s so close to Harlow’s experiments, which are now one of the text-book examples of “Things the Institutional Review Board ought to say ‘no’ to”. (John Money’s experiment on David Reimer being one of the others).

In psychology, it’s often the case that the obvious experiment to measure something you’re interested in cannot ethically be done, because it would harm a person or an animal of a species people care about. A lot of the art of experimental design is working out alternative ways to investigate something in a harmless way.

Experiments on human subjects rely a lot on trust: your experimental participant needs to be be confident that you wouldnt do anything that would harm them, and also your institution wouldn’t let you do anything that would harm them.

This kind of experiment, although on non-human subjects, is rather damaging to public trust.

11

adam.smith 12.13.12 at 6:24 pm

I’m not going to try to defend this, but I think torturing a couple of Rhesus monkeys to gain insights that may actually help people (maybe attachment disorders can be better medicated or so, what do I know) is much, much, much less bad than torturing millions of pigs who are much nicer animals, just as cute, and probably just as smart so that people can eat unhealthy food.
So anyone who isn’t a vegetarian doesn’t get a say in this ;-)

12

Robin Marie 12.13.12 at 6:24 pm

I’ve watched footage of the original Harlow research, and I can honestly say it was one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve ever seen. I cannot wrap my mind around how we can justify doing such things not only to sentient beings, but sentient beings quite close to ourselves in their experience of psychological trauma. Maybe I too am missing something, but this just seems quite self-evidently wrong to me.

13

Dr. Hilarius 12.13.12 at 6:25 pm

I’m not absolutely opposed to animal testing (I did some in my own research on reptilian physiology) but intentionally inflicting severe trauma to primates should only be allowed when the research benefits are so great as to justify the abuse. The proposed research hinges on the notion that changes in brain structure due to experience are somehow noteworthy. Every memory, every experience results in changes in the brain. Learning a language, riding a bike all produce changes in brain structure. It’s a trivial idea conflating changes in the brain with pathology.

The goal of the research clearly is coming up with a new pill for depression. Depression, in particular, caused by deprivation in infancy. Now, I’m all for beneficial medications but this line of research is too close to the pervasive drugging of children now for suspect diagnoses of bi-polar disorder, ADHD, depression and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (it’s in the DSM). Rather than attempt the expensive task of giving children a better home or environment, give the kid a pill to suppress the unwanted behavior. This drugging, as a side note, often involves the “off-label” use of drugs not even approved for children. The UW research appears to be more work in service to Big Pharma.

Harlow’s experiments were unnecessary in the first place. Only idiot behavioral psychologists required experimental evidence that maternal deprivation in primates would be harmful. I’ve always found it grimly ironic that behaviorists were (are?) similar to creationists in thinking there to be a big gap in learning, emotion and cognition between mankind and brute creation.

14

bekabot 12.13.12 at 6:49 pm

“Part of me is very resistant to forgoing human benefits for the sake of non-human animals.”

I’m not that crazy about monkeys, but a cavil occurs to me. Are you guys sure that there will be any human benefits to forgo? Are you guys sure that the object of these studies is to learn how to alleviate anxiety and depression? Are you guys sure that the object of these studies isn’t to learn how to bring anxiety and depression about, or how to intensify them once they’re there?

15

SusanC 12.13.12 at 7:12 pm

In discussions of research ethics, there is sometimes a notion a bit like counter-transference in psychoanalysis: why does the researcher want to do this experiment? Yeah, sure, the scientific value of the results … but possibly also the researcher is trying to satisfy other desires/needs under the cover of “science”, possibly without being consiously aware that this is what they are doing. The question then arises, should academic institutions go along with enabling them to satify these desires? For many experiments, the unspoken desire is fairly harmless and thus not a problem. Here, not so much.

Why does the researcher enjoy torturing monkeys, and what is about their own childhood that they are trying to re-enact in these experiments?

[Also, a history of animal abuse is a really bad sign from a psychiatric diagnostic standpoint].

16

bjk 12.13.12 at 7:20 pm

There’s an easy workaround here. Have two of the male monkeys gay marry and then depriving the offspring of their mother is no problem.

17

Patrick 12.13.12 at 7:45 pm

18

Patrick 12.13.12 at 7:49 pm

Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection” provides a very interesting take on Harlow’s research.
You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=”” title=””&gt leaves something to be desired as documentation.

19

OCS 12.13.12 at 7:53 pm

I think moral questions over animal testing are completely legitimate. I don’t see, though, why this particular case is especially egregious. On the contrary, if you think animal testing is ever morally allowable, this study seems scientifically useful and does not seem even to rise (sink) to the level of unallowable cruelty.

If you look at the protocol, they are going to raise infant monkeys with a surrogate mother (cloth and wire), but otherwise have it in a normal lab environment, complete with visual, auditory and tactile stimulation, and contact with both humans and other monkeys. At six months the monkeys will be paired with another monkey for stimulation and socialization.

They’re doing this because they know it results in a monkey that is able to function, make social bonds, etc., but that also suffers from higher anxiety than a mother-reared monkey. The researchers reject alternatives such as prolonged isolation as too cruel.

The brain imaging and later euthanization and brain analysis is designed to gather information about the neurology and chemistry of the anxiety response which might be especially relevant to human children who have been neglected, physically or sexually abused, or otherwise traumatized in their childhoods.

Is this research intended to demonize poor mothers, or enrich drug companies? I doubt it. Could it be used for those purposes? Probably. So can a lot of otherwise useful research.

I guess the objection on humane grounds is that depriving a baby monkey of its mother, and providing a surrogate that provides less (but still some) comfort, is too cruel. Compared to our treatment of other animals, that isn’t obvious to me.

The scientific objections seem even less obvious. There are, it’s true, a lot of overblown claims made about neurology and brain chemistry, most of them in the popular press. (I’d be happy if I never saw another multi-colored brain image showing blood flow to some region and claiming it’s the key to understanding happiness, or anger, or enjoyment of music, or whatever.) But that doesn’t justify dismissing real brain research as somehow ridiculous.

I’m a lifelong sufferer of anxiety and depression (I’m medicated, although I can hate Big Pharma with the best of them.). I have children who also have anxiety disorders (they’re not medicated, and doing well with a lot of parental and some professional support). So maybe I’m especially biased in favor of scientific studies that could help us understand mood disorders.

This particular study isn’t going to cure anybody of anything. But research like it could eventually ameliorate a lot of human misery.

Whether animal research is ever morally justifiable is, as I said, a legitimate question. I think it generally is. But this study does not seem especially inhumane. And I don’t understand why anyone is questioning the scientific legitimacy of the work.

20

Brandon 12.13.12 at 10:36 pm

Farnsworth: Well, as a man enters his 18th decade, he thinks back on the mistakes he’s made in life.
Amy: Like the heaps of dead monkeys?
Farnsworth: Science cannot move forward without heaps!

21

universalizability 12.13.12 at 11:31 pm

OCS: would you volunteer an infant child of your own to a maternal deprivation study constructed according to the protocol under discussion?

22

chris 12.13.12 at 11:50 pm

Only idiot behavioral psychologists required experimental evidence that maternal deprivation in primates would be harmful.

The question is not *whether* it’s harmful, but *how*. Understanding the mechanism of the harm might be a first step to reversing it — and potentially not just in monkeys.

Of course, it could be abused. You can use electricity to build electric chairs, too. That doesn’t mean our species would have been better off never discovering it.

23

Tony Lynch 12.14.12 at 12:18 am

OCS:

“The brain imaging and later euthanization and brain analysis is designed to gather information about the neurology and chemistry of the anxiety response which might be especially relevant to human children who have been neglected, physically or sexually abused, or otherwise traumatized in their childhoods.”

And “I’m … in favor of scientific studies that could help us understand mood disorders.”

Isn’t neglect, physical or sexual abuse, and trauma the way to understand the resulting “mood disorders”? Or do you want a pill or something that such an abused, neglected and traumatized person can take and Hey Presto! All that history stuff is washed away?

24

OCS 12.14.12 at 2:56 am

universalizability @21
No, I would not volunteer an infant of my own for such a study, and in fact would object to the study being done on any human infant. The question, though, is whether it’s moral to do this study on rhesus monkey infants. If you think there’s a moral equivalence between a rhesus monkey and a human, then I completely understand why you’d be against the study.

Tony Lynch @23
In fact, studying human victims of abuse and neglect is not necessarily going to tell us everything about these mood disorders. I mean, you can tell that people treated in that way will often end up with those disorders. But what’s the mechanism? Why do some people suffer the ill effects, and some not? Why are some people with abusive pasts not depressed, while some people with no significant traumatic events in their histories are depressed to the point of suicide? Are there better treatments than we have now? Animal studies might help answer these questions.

And yes, if someone could invent a pill that would make all the pain go away, I’d be all for it. I’m also be for eliminating abuse and neglect of children. I’m cynical enough about our society that I expect profit-driven drug companies to come up with their solution first.

25

js. 12.14.12 at 7:42 am

While numerous studies have been performed examining the effects of surrogate/peer in nonhuman primates, no studies have been performed examining the effects of this rearing modification on brain development using state of the art imaging and molecular methods. [emph. added---js.]

I’m not against animal testing in general, but the above is unconvincing at best. You can call me anti-science if you want, but the almost ritual invocation of “state of the art” techniques leaves me pretty damn cold.

26

Suzanne 12.14.12 at 8:20 pm

“The question, though, is whether it’s moral to do this study on rhesus monkey infants. “

Yes, and it seems rather obvious that it isn’t. I’m sorry that human beings, along with other creatures, become anxious and depressed. I don’t see the need to torture other less sophisticated animals to find the remedy, merely because we are cleverer than they are and can thus exert enormous power over them. We do not do ugly and vicious things like this experiment because it is necessary and beneficial. We do it because we can.

27

ezra abrams 12.14.12 at 11:33 pm

as a grad student, I had to make antibodies; this involved, basically, torturing rabbits.
I’m pretty ashamed of what I did, 30 years ago.
The justification was that it was cheap and easy and there *wasn’t a practical alternative*

Well, guess what: if the funding agencys or the regulatory agencys or the IRB says no, you can’t do that, people are incredibly resourceful and inventive, and they find new ways of doing things [phage display - all you do is torture E coli bacteria]
You say, NO, you can’t do these awful things to monkeys, people will find new ways of doing the experiments.
(to get this, you have to understand the drivers in NIH or NSF funded research; the driver is publications for the next grant; almost no one gets any gain from helping other people with new techniques (I know, a little hyperbole there,but basically right) so you have to change the drivers: pigouish so to speak.
Right ow, if you have an NIH or NSF grant, you will be dinged if you don’t use the right animal model. However, if the NIH said, starting tomorrow, no more monkeys, then people are incredibly resourceful and they would find new models; it is just like everytime the EPA says, no you can’t use that chemical anymore, at first industry howls, then they adapt)
although the vegan guy does have a point about pigs; perhaps a 2nd cousin to feeling strongly about gun massacres while not doning anything about things that caue way more death

28

Daniel Hooley 12.15.12 at 9:44 am

For those inclined to support this ridiculous experiment, ask yourself whether you’d hold the same view if the “animals” in question were human orphans with severe cognitive disabilities. I doubt anyone would. We continue to treat these animals as if they are our tools to use, but animals are not our tools and we are not their lords.

29

Michael 12.16.12 at 10:16 pm

So I cannot collect oral histories because of IRB ethics rules, but a scientist can do this? IRBs are so broken.

30

Jeffrey Davis 12.17.12 at 6:45 pm

I wish I didn’t know there were people who planned to do this.

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