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Are nonhuman primates good models for SARS?

Posted by plosmedicine on 30 Mar 2009 at 23:56 GMT

Author: Robert Hogan
Position: Assistant Professor
Institution: University of Georgia
Submitted Date: July 05, 2006
Published Date: July 11, 2006
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

The subject of this letter is the recent commentary by Drs. Haagmans and Osterhaus published in May, 2006, in PLoS Medicine. I have been actively studying SARS virus both in vitro and in numerous animal models including mice, cotton rats, ferrets, and macaques since April of 2003 (approximately 6 weeks after the virus was first identified). While I do concur with some of the statements made, I am compelled to provide an alternative view. I completely agree with the stance that an animal model which mimics the severe disease observed in human cases is needed. However, the continued use of nonhuman primates in these studies is simply not warranted. Indeed, multiple groups have tried unsuccessfully to reproduce this model including the referenced paper by Paragas For example, I attended the WHO meeting regarding SARS in Rotterdam in February, 2004, and heard the following statement:
"If I were one of those monkeys, maybe I'd just take a Tylenol" says Steven Jones of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada. This comment was published in volume 303 of the journal Science in February, 2004.

With my colleagues, I conducted a study in which both rhesus and cyno macaques were infected with SARS-CoV. I did not see any clinical signs of disease or any marked pathology. These data were published in the Journal of Virology in October, 2004.

In a published article by Subbarao, the authors state in the first line of the abstract "SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) administered intranasally and intratracheally to rhesus, cynomolgus and African Green monkeys (AGM) replicated in the respiratory tract but did not induce illness." These studies were published in Virology in December of 2004.

Perhaps the most interesting issue is that the publication that Dr. Osterhaus and colleague reference clearly states that "SARS-CoV infection of cynomolgus macaques did not reproduce the severe illness seen in the majority of adult human cases of SARS".

To my knowledge, only Dr. Osterhaus's lab and laboratories from China have reported severe disease in SARS-CoV infected macaques. He mentions that the variability in results may be due to factors including the strain of virus used, and this is certainly true. However, he has not released the virus isolate used in these studies to me or my colleagues in spite of requests. Given that so many groups (e.g. CDC, USAMRIID, NIAID, etc.) with excellent scientific skills and credentials have reported contradictory results with numerous strains of SARS-CoV, it is troublesome that the use of nonhuman primates in SARS pathogenesis, vaccine, and therapeutic testing continues.

No competing interests declared.