Witch doctors tell Swiss voters what to say: “Ooh-ee ooh ah ah!”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:
WINDHOEK, LONDON, ATLANTA– –
Swiss voters on June 7 rejected a proposed
moratorium on research involving genetically
modified animals by a 2-to-1 margin.
Swiss referendums have historically
favored animals. The very first, held more
than 100 years ago, banned the slaughter of
livestock without prestunning. However,
Swiss-based multinational drug firms reportedly
spent more than $35 million to defeat the
proposed genetic research moratorium. The
coalition of 50 animal protection groups who
backed the measure spent only $1.3 million.
Swiss citizens may have relatively
little concern about the outcomes of genetic
research, but in Eehama-Omulunga, Angola,
sensational reports of transgenic experiments
fed rumors that goats kept by Mateus Shihelp
and Ricardina Otto have given birth––twice
since March––to creatures with goat-like bodies
but human heads. Neither survived.
Zimbabwean authorities attributed a
similar incident in April to hydrocephalus, a
failure of prenatal development.
Eehama-Omulunga residents joked
with Oswald Shivute of The Namibian t h a t
“maybe some gentleman had sex with a goat.”
Shivute was summoned by tribal
elders from Windhoek, Namibia, to document
the phenomenon. The elders were concerned
about the possible involvement of mad scientists,
in part because of the mid-April revelation
of bizarre transgenic experiments done by
the former South African apartheid regime in
an attempt to slow black population growth.
The South African project began
when the Johannesburg Zoo acquired three
chimps from an unnamed British zoo in the
1980s, supposedly for captive breeding.
Instead, veterinary pathologist
Daniel Goosen told the Johannesburg Sunday
I n d e p e n d e n t, they were used by Roodeplaats
Research Laboratories as “a cover for developing
an anti-fertility vaccine. We were to have
carried out important research on interspecies
breeding,” Goosen said, “transferring chimpanzee
embryos to baboons. In transferring
the embryo, the recipient baboon may reject it,
and in the rejection process the immune system
becomes involved, and immunology leads
to vaccinology. The vaccine, had we produced
it, could have been used clandestinely
on black people,” Goosen continued.
“If we developed an anti-fertility
vaccine, we could have curbed the birth rate,
and there would be fewer starving kids. I
joined the project,” Goosen said, because “I
thought we were involved in a war for survival.
The project was approved by the South
African Defense Force at the highest level.”
Goosen was reportedly appointed
first managing director of Roodeplaats
Research in 1983, which was identified by
Christopher Munion of the London Daily
T e l e g r a p h as “a front company set up and
financed by the ‘dirty tricks’ department of
[South African] military intelligence. He was
recruited by Wouter Basson, head of the military’s
biological and chemical warfare department,”
Munion said. Basson is now facing
fraud charges pertaining to management of the
biological warfare program.
Eventually all three chimps were
delivered to the Johannesburg Zoo. Two of
them later died, reportedly of natural causes.
Goosen apparently still pays visits to Daisy,
the survivor, to check on her health and care.
Imutran goes Dutch
That episode may have been ancient
history, but similar concerns were raised on a
more sophisticated level in Europe on May 10,
when Marie Woolf of the London S u n d a y
O b s e r v e r revealed that “Genetically modified
pigs, bred for use in human transplants, have
been secretly flown out of Britain for controversial
Woolf alleged that, “Imutran, the
Cambridge company that bred the pigs, carried
out a pioneering pig-to-monkey kidney
transplant” at the Biomedical Primate
Research Centre in Rijswijk (the Netherlands)
last week”––a facility whose animal care standards
the Royal SPCA found deficient in 1996.
The Dutch lab was used, Woolf
said, because in Britain the transplants would
have required approval from a governmentappointed
Animal Procedures Committee. The
APC is reluctant to authorize pig-to-primate
research because of the chance that newly discovered
pig endogenous retrovirus diseases,
PERVs for short, may be accidentally transplanted
into humans along with replacement
organs cultivated within pigs’ bodies.
Imutran knew of the British concern,
having only 12 days earlier announced that it is
working with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention to see if any PERVs or
other pig-transmitted viruses have infected 150
human patients who have already received
transplants of pig tissue or whose blood has
been perfused through pig organs.
Reporters attending a March xenotransplantation
workship hosted by the New
York Academy of Sciences learned that
despite an informal U.S. moratorium on
approval of interspecies transplants involving
humans, the Food and Drug Administration
has allowed external use of pig livers to prolong
the lives of at least five patients while
they awaited donations of human organs.
Many other trials of pig parts in
human bodies are already underway.
Twelve patients, for example, either
have received or are soon to receive transplants
of small intestinal submucosa from pigs,
called SIS, as a replacement for damaged knee
ligaments in experimental surgery at Aspen
Valley Hospital in Aspen, Colorado, and
Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys,
California. The first such operation took place
on January 22, 1998.
In April 1998, neurosurgeon James
M. Schumacher, M.D., of Neurological
Associates Inc. in Sarasota, Florida,
announced a 20% average rate of reversal of
the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease in 11
patients who received transplants of fetal pigs’
brain cells a year earlier. No PERV symptoms
have been detected.
The FDA has approved further
experiments with the anti-Parkinson’s Disease
technique, to be done at the Movement
Disorders Center at Tampa General Hospital
and at Emory University in Atlanta.
Results from the Imutran/CDCP
study of possible PERV transfer are due in
July, but in the fervor to be first on the market
with custom-grown organ replacements,
Imutran didn’t want to wait that long to start
the pig-to-monkey experiments.
Race heats up
The competition intensified in midApril
when staff at the Austin Research
Institute in Melbourne, Australia, announced
their discovery of a means of introducing a
human gene into a potential transplant recipient
that will block the formation of a sugar
called GAL on the surface of pig organ cells.
This sugar in turn triggers organ rejection in a
foreign host. The human gene in effect converts
the host to blood type O, the “universal
donor.” The Melbourne team, led by Mauro
Sandrin, Ph.D., tested the method by transplanting
the hearts of genetically modified
mice into normal mice, who survived afterward
for 100 days.
Sandrin told media that the breakthrough
“should allow the breeding of transgenic
donor pigs” ready to produce organs for
humans “within a few years,” according to
Sydney Morning Herald reporter Bob Beale.
Yet another contender joined the
race on June 2, as the Mayo Clinic, of
Rochester, Minnesota, announced it is beginning
a parallel effort to develop donor pigs,
working in partnership with Baxter Nextran, a
division of Baxter Healthcare Corporation.
The Imutran example of hopscotching
nations to accelerate research progress
illustrated the lack of uniform global safeguards
pertaining to genetic research. Many
nations have adopted relevant regulations and
review procedures, but haphazard international
coordination has left openings to abuse and
error, and has produced much confusion
among researchers as well.
The Netherlands has been as attentive
to potential risks as most nations. For
example, the Dutch government in February
banned the so-called nuclear transfer cloning
technique as scientifically unnecessary, only
days after researchers from Pharming Inc., of
Polsbroek, and the University of Luik, in
Belgium, jointly produced two genetically
The technique was earlier tried in the
U.S.––and Pharming immediately announced
that it would continue nuclear transfer cloning
work in both the U.S. and Belgium, hoping to
breed cattle with milk of medical value.
No player in the biotech field seems
to believe it can afford to stand idle in deference
to either ethical or public health concerns
when rival firms and approaches are proclaiming
breakthroughs almost daily.
The experimental use of fetal pigs’
brain cells to fight Parkinson’s Disease, for
instance, is challenged by progress in developing
a similar method that uses genetically
modified embryo tissue from cattle. A
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
team led by neuroscientist Curt Freed, M.D.,
announced in late April that they had already
used cattle tissue to successfully treat symptoms
of Parkinson’s disease in laboratory rats.
Freed said trials in humans would
begin within a year to five years. A decade
ago he was part of the team who developed a
similar treatment, but it used cells from aborted
human fetuses. Further development was
restricted by Congress in 1992.
The application of genetic engineering
to human disease is believed to have the
quickest profit potential, but agricultural
applications have also attracted significant
investment, leading to some of the most
important advances, including the now disputed
cloning of the ewe Dolly, born in July 1996
at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Texas A&M University molecular
embryologist Jorge Piedrahita in early June
1998 told Steve Farrar of the London Sunday
Times that his team is within 18 months of producing
calves with genetic resistance to bovine
spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease,”
which has ravaged the British cattle
industry since 1986. The ailment is also
believed to have killed at least 25 humans,
who developed a new form of CreutzfeldJakob
Disease, a degenerative brain ailment,
after eating beef or cattle byproducts.
Less sensationally, but with greater
longterm import for animal husbandry, Gensel
Biotechnologies Inc. of Guelph, Ontario,
announced in February that it has found a way
to sex-select bull semen, so that farmers can
breed deliberately for either cows as replacements
for older members of milking herds, or
bulls, to be castrated and sold as beef.
At the seemingly esoteric end of the
scale, the New Zealand Rare Breeds Society
on June 2 announced the birth two weeks earlier
of the first Enderby Island bull calf to be
conceived via artifical insemination from the
sperm of the last Enderby Island adult bulls,
who were shot in 1993. Enderby Island cattle
adapted to a diet of seaweed, after being abandoned
on the remote isand, 400 miles south of
New Zealand, in 1894. Pressured by birders,
the New Zealand government killed all members
of the herd but one cow, now an estimated
12 to 13 years old. The Rare Breeds
Society has spent a estimated $20,000 in
attempts to preserve her line.