Curiosity, they say, killed the cat -- but this time a cat-killing study may kick it. It all started when Ohio State University (OSU) vet researcher Michael Podell, funded by the National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA), infected 50 cats with feline HIV and hooked them on methamphetamines. When he later dissected them, he found that meth had upped FIV in their brains 15-fold. NIDA said the finding "suggests we need to examine the possibility that there is a connection between methamphetamine use and a potential increase in HIV-related dementia" -- not a bad idea given rising rates of meth use among gay HIVers [see "Life vs. Meth," POZ, July/August 2002]. Podell began prepping for experiments on another 70 felines.
But the fur flew when animal-rightists caught on. Protect Our Earth's Treasures (POET) staged protests and posted pics of caged kitties on its website. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a lawsuit against NIDA, and PCRM prez Neil Barnard, MD, barked, "It's embarrassing that a veterinarian not working toward any treatment goal could get a grant by calling this AIDS research." University of California/San Diego scientists are studying the effects of meth in HIVers, Barnard notes, and experiments could also be done with HIVers taking prescribed amphetamines.
OSU rep Earl Holland leaped to Podell's defense, disputing PCRM's claims that the cats -- which are bred expressly for research -- were mistreated before they were killed. "I've yet to find one researcher...who jumps for joy at the prospect of harming animals," said Holland, a cat owner, pointing out that OSU research has led to vaccines for big kitty-killers like feline leukemia.
Holland also said the study was intended not "to find a clinical approach to dealing with HIV treatment among meth abusers," but rather to shed light on how brain HIV replicates, and on whether a wide range of drugs, both illicit and prescribed, might have an effect.
But OSU's backing wasn't enough to compensate Podell for a dozen death threats, and he fled the university for a private vet practice. By September, OSU hadn't named anyone to rescue the study from up its tree.