The project, a five-year $1.63 million project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tests the effects of methamphetamine, or speed, on the brains of cats infected with the feline immunodeficiency virus.
Members of POET are opposed to the research, which began two years ago under the title of "Feline Model of Neuroaids and Drug Abuse," but has since been changed to the "Psychostimulants and Lentiviral Infection of Neural Cell."
OSU researchers began the project in hopes that its findings would correlate to the treatment of HIV.
The debate, which appears to be continuing because of several miscommunications between the groups involved, has escalated to the current point of protest.
"They have changed the name of the project and there are new investigators, but it is totally ridiculous and wasteful for this experiment to be started for a second time," said Rob Russell, director of POET.
POET protested the research from its beginning, but organized today's rally before the Board of Trustees meeting at the Longaberger Alumni House because of comments included in an e-mail sent by Earle Holland, director of research communications, to Dr. William Yonushonis, director of laboratory animals.
In the e-mail Holland is quoted in a press release from POET, "NIDA is very interested in having the work continue here under the direction of another investigator so that it doesn't look like the animal rights protesters won on this issue."
Holland said that his words were taken out of context and explained the project actually never ended. However, its direction and method of research did change, and Holland decided some clarification was needed after the departure of Dr. Michael Podell, former lead investigator of the project and associate professor of clinical sciences and neuroscience.
"My e-mail was sent because there was potential for people to misunderstand the status of the research when Dr. Podell announced he was leaving Ohio State. The only question in limbo at that time was who would replace him as the chief investigative leader," Holland said.
The project has since been taken over by Dr. Lawrence Mathes, professor of veterinary biosciences and director of the university's Center for Retrovirus Research.
Holland said in contrast to what POET believes, the research has proven to be beneficial, leading to the discovery that FIV can replicate 15 times faster than initially believed. This is important because the virus can kill cells by reproducing inside them until the cells burst, spreading the infection to healthy cells.
Holland said the research no longer involves the testing of animals.
"We are not using cats in our research at this point in time or in the foreseeable future. The research has shifted to conventional, basic tissue culture work. No animals are being harmed," Holland said.
In spite of these claims, opponents from outside the OSU community remain concerned that the method of research will not continue to work solely with tissue cultures, and may revert back to animal testing in the future.
"There is no question that we can conduct all of the relevant research in these experiments without the use of animals. Drug abuse and HIV can be assessed ethically and non-invasively in humans, and government-funded research already is testing humans. FIV is not HIV, no matter how they try to paint it," said Neal Barnhard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Barnhard said that he is not opposed to the use of tissue samples, although they are the product of prior animal testing.
"It is a waste of taxpayers' money, but I think that a reasonable compromise could be reached if the researchers would make it clear that this is a final decision and animals will not be used in future experiments," Barnhard said.