Marmoset Monkey Deaths Add to a Long History of Animal Testing Incidents at the U


Emily Chirstensen

(Graphic by Emily Christensen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Emily Johnston and Porshai Nielsen


The University of Utah’s upper medical campus is home to multiple research labs containing animals for use in laboratory experiments. In these labs, animal deaths are not uncommon. 

According to The National Humane Education Society, “An estimated 50 to 100 million vertebrates are used annually, including over 20 million mice and rats, in laboratory experiments in the United States.”

At the dozen animal testing labs on the U’s campus, fish, mice, rats, rabbits and even monkeys are involved in their various experiments. 

“At any major research institution like the University of Utah, there’s going to be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of mice, zebrafish, rats, worms, all sorts of nonhuman animals that are involved in research,” said Dr. James Tabery, a professor of internal medicine and philosophy at the U.

These animal test subjects housed at the U are used for research projects involving a multitude of medical topics, such as cancer and diabetes treatments. Some of the medical advances made possible from animal research at the U include antidepressants, asthma inhalers, insulin, breast cancer therapies and epilepsy treatments. 

When asked about the morality of animal testing, Dr. Tabery stated “At the highest level, the calculus hasn’t changed: Is the tradeoff of the knowledge that we can learn from this to make the world a better, safer place worth what the animals experience?”

However, what may seem like a necessary step in an essential research process has been called into question multiple times in the past. 

“There was a big dust-up with PETA in 2009,” said Dr. Tabery. “[Before 2009], the University of Utah not uncommonly got some of the animals that researchers performed on at shelters.” 

After public outcry, an official warning was issued to the U from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U ceased their practice of obtaining animal test subjects from shelters, but this was not the end of controversy surrounding animal testing.

In 2016, a macaque monkey was burned by a heater in an attempt to raise its body temperature while under anesthesia. The monkey later died as a result.

In 2017, 2019 and 2020, the deaths of a rabbit, a monkey and an additional group of marmoset monkeys occurred as separate incidents at the U.

Most recently, in February of 2022, an official complaint was filed against the U by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA urges the U to adopt their Research Modernization Deal to resolve their “violations of the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (PHS Policy).”

Last year, the U received $229,692,858 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and according to NIH, an estimated 47% of those funds supported projects that involved experiments on animals.

The U adheres to federal law regarding their treatment of laboratory animals. They particularly use NIH’s Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals by the U.S. National Research Council that is intended to “assist in institutions in caring for and using animals in ways judged to be scientifically, technically, and humanely appropriate.”

In NIH’s guide, the expectations for training staff are clearly outlined. “An effective program requires clearly defined roles that align responsibility with regulatory and management authority.”

“I wouldn’t say it was rigorous,” said Lucas Pereira, a former undergraduate laboratory technician at the U, describing the training process for handling pigeons in his lab. 

The U also adheres to the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, that is enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This regulates the treatment and standard of care for animals in research. 

In October of 2020, the USDA issued the U two citations from their focused inspections. The focused inspections are the result of a complaint being filed. 

The first critical finding involved two marmoset monkeys that were trapped in their nest box for 18 hours. The cause of death was due to overheating and distress. 

The second critical finding again involved marmoset monkeys, who died following a surgical procedure. Both times it involved inadequate veterinary care. 

“That kind of thing doesn’t really get talked about in research, like you won’t go around advertising that a monkey in your lab died from his treatment or anything like that,” said an anonymous former undergraduate researcher at the U.

A request for an interview with Dr. Alton Swennes, the executive director of the Office of Comparative Medicine at the U, was initially agreed to, but was later rescinded for an unknown reason.

Several questions were sent to the director of comparative medicine, but most were left unanswered.

When questioned about past non-compliance reports or official animal welfare complaints against the U, Dr. Swennes failed to comment.

Dr. Swennes does maintain that “Our animal care program is of very high quality and meets or exceeds standards typical of our peer institutions. I believe that the research performed at the university is necessary for the advancement of science and public health.”


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