NASA’s plan to zap monkeys with radiation riles physicians’ group

A physicians’ group is asking NASA to delay plans to zap up to 27 squirrel monkeys with radiation to see how cosmic rays might affect humans on a three-year trip to Mars, Florida Today reports.

The monkeys will be hit with a single blast of gamma rays, then observed to see how they perform certain tasks.

“There could be horrible side effects, for all we know,” says Dr. John J. Pippin with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The non-profit group calls the $1.75 million NASA-funded project “one giant leap backward for NASA,” which hasn’t experimented on monkeys since the 1970s, the paper says.

NASA officials say the agency would follow widely accepted ethical standards in the four-year study, which will be led by a Harvard associate professor of psychobiology.

“We understand their concern, which is one of the reasons that we followed such rigorous standards and procedures before we do any kind of research on primates,” said Ashley Edwards, a NASA spokeswoman.

She tells the paper that monkeys make good candidates for the experiment because they’re easily trained and genetically similar to humans.

But Pippin, a cardiologist, says using monkeys is unnecessary and unethical.

“This looks like total nonsense to me,” he tells Florida Today.“It’s almost as if they had some money, they had some monkeys, and they had to find out something to do with it.”

(Posted by Doug Stanglin)

source: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2009/11/nasa-plans-to-zap-monkeys-with-radiation-riles-physicians-group/1

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