Montgomery County police yesterday raided a medical research center in Silver Spring and seized documents, samples and 17 monkeys that they said may have been mistreated in ways that violate the Maryland State Animal Cruelty Law.
When police, acting on the basis of a search and seizure warrant, entered the Institute for Behavioral Research, they said they found "monkeys who were in such physical and mental stress that they appeared to have bitten off their fingers and arms, or whose cages were locked together so that they injured each other."
The raid resulted from information supplied by Alex Pacheco, a 23-year-old George Washington University student who had worked at the center for the last four months as a volunteer. Pacheco said he went to police earlier this week because he was appalled at the condition of the animals he saw.
"I saw one animal totally collapse from not being fed . . . " he said. "I was told to torment and frustrate the monkeys and watch their reactions."
According to Dr. Edward Taub, principal investigator at the Institute for Behavioral Research, the monkeys were used in invaluable experiments on the effects of damage to the central nervous system. The institute had received $60,000 from the National Institutes of Health for the study.
"We were concerned with neural regeneration and regrowth," Taub said, adding that the research had already resulted in important gains in learning how to enable humans to recover from strokes. "I'm surprised, distressed and shocked by this. There is no pain in these experiments. We surgically abolish pain."
But Dr. Geza Teleki, an international expert on primates and an associate professor at George Washington University who viewed conditions at the facility before the raid, disagreed. "There's no way to walk into that facility without feeling that you're in some kind of hell," Teleki said, adding that the raid was the first of its type on a biomedical research facility in the country.
No one employed at the research center has been charged, but police spokeswoman Nancy Moses said that experts would be brought in to examine the animals along with samples of food and feces that were also collected.
The penalty for animal cruelty is a $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail. "After examining financial and medical records seized, police will determine if any federal laws have been violated," Moses said.
The institute's chief executive, Joseph Vasapoli, said that IBR had just passed "an inspection from the state. Everything was fine. I have documents to prove that it was all right. We had appropriate clearances. We take very good care of our animals. We've been doing research with these monkeys for eight years or more."
Specifically, according to Taub, that research involved a process called "deafferentation" -- where the spinal reflexes of crab-eating macaque monkeys are "abolished" by surgery. The central nervous systems of the monkeys are then tested to determine their recovery from the damage, Taub said. He said that the research has resulted in invaluable insights in improving the recovery of stroke victims.
"What the research has told us is that a certain percentage of stroke victims learn not to use the damaged limb," Dr. Taub said.
The experiments involve strapping a monkey's good limb in a way that forced it to use the limb that had no feeling, Taub said. He added that the process was similar to "lazy eye" treatment in which the good eye is covered, forcing a person to use the weak eye, which is strengthened through use.
Taub said that such a process means that "the monkey frequently cannot help damaging himself because there is no sensation in that limb . . . We have set procedures we carry out routinely and they have been approved by the Department of Agriculture."
Laboratories at the institute's two-story building in an industrial park near the Walter Reed Hospital annex were inspected twice this year by the Agriculture Department's animal and plant health inspection service, according to Dr. I.H. Huff, the official charged with Maryland. Huff said yesterday that he had "just chewed out the inspector for 45 minutes" after hearing about the police raid.
According to Huff, the institute was cited in an April 1981 inspection for deficiencies in "interior surfaces, sanitation and cleaning," but that an inspector subsequently ruled in July that those deficiencies had been corrected and "no new deficiencies recorded."
"I think that the animals surely suffer under this type of research," Huff said. "But this has been judged a worthy study by NIH. If it is determined that suffering is a necessary condition of the test, then we can't interfere."
Also contributing to this story was Washington Post staff writer Carla Hall.