fat monkey03.jpg
Leah Nash/The New York Times
Kevin L. Grove, a scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center tells The New York Times : "We are


NYT: Oregon Scientists Fattening Morbidly Obese Monkeys for Research

fat monkey03.jpg
Leah Nash/The New York Times
Kevin L. Grove, a scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center tells The New York Times: "We are trying to induce the couch-potato style." He's not talking about how he spend his weekends, but how he spends his weekdays, fattening rhesus macaques to unbelievable weights so he can better study the obesity epidemic that's taken hold in America.

The monkeys (about 150 of the ONPRC's 4,000 primates) are given food loaded with around 35 percent fat and plenty of sugar--similar to the grub Americans wolf down regularly. On top of the rich foods, the primates are kept in cages most of their lives to keep them from exercising.

The point, of course, is so researchers can try out anti-obesity treatments, and to understand what a life of KFC and channel-surfing will do to an actual human (something a trip to Mississippi would accomplish easily).


The corpulent primates serve as useful models, experts say, because they resemble humans much more than laboratory rats do, not only physiologically but in some of their feeding habits. They tend to eat when bored, even when they are not really hungry. And unlike human subjects who are notorious for fudging their daily calorie or carbohydrate counts, a caged monkey's food intake is much easier for researchers to count and control.

The photos are rather disturbing.

Here's "Fat Albert" (a monkey from a different facility) enjoying a snack:

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Barbara C. Hansen, University of South Florida

And here's a DEXA scan that shows body weight composition:

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Kevin L. Grove/Oregon National Primate Research Center

The research has produced some results. An anti-appetite drug was tested which allowed the monkeys to lose 13 percent of their body weight in a few weeks with no apparent heart problems. Others have been tested with gastric bypass surgery and forced dieting.

Some monkeys are also killed outright so their brains and pancreases can be examined.

The research is not altogether new. And animal rights groups have raised hell about it before.

But while slowly fattening monkeys is not the typical kind of research one hears about being performed on animals, it is important.

And one could easily argue that if someone believes in using animals to test medicine, it shouldn't matter whether that testing involves prolonged force-feeding or the introduction of viruses or whatever else is done to the creatures.

Still, seeing the caged and obese monkeys is a valuable reminder of the moral down payment breakthroughs in medicine often require.

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