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Chapter 6 Page 6
The Cystic Fibrosis Discovery Suppressed by Yerkes Primate Center
Issued March 5, 1978, the Emory University Press Release quoted from McClure and others words of praise for the Wallach discovery, but soon they would reject the very findings they celebrated as an extraordinary discovery.
News copy from
Release Date: Sunday AM’s – March 5, 1978
Subject: First case of Cystic Fibrosis Discovered in Nonhuman
Scientists at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center of Emory University have discovered cystic fibrosis in a young rhesus monkey at autopsy–the first nonhuman case of this disease known to medical science.
“This appears to be the first animal model of cystic fibrosis, and we’re excited about its implications,” said Drs. Joel Wallach and Harold McClure, veterinary pathologists at the Yerkes Center.
Since cystic fibrosis is thought to be a genetic disease, there is a possibility that the parents or relatives of the affected monkey can have additional offspring with cystic fibrosis.
An animal model of cystic fibrosis will permit investigators to learn a great deal about the basic causes of the disease and how it might be treated, the Yerkes scientists explained. At present, the basic defect of the disease is not known.
Cystic Fibrosis is a disease of children, adolescents, and young adults, which is characterized by abnormal mucus secretions and fibrous scarring in various organs such as the pancreas, liver, lungs, and reproductive and digestive systems. Many of its victims die in early life of complications such as malabsorption and pneumonia.
More than 25,000 white people in the United States have the disease, but a much larger number–five percent of the white population–are thought to be carriers of the recessive gene of cystic fibrosis. It is rarely seen in the black population or in people of Asiatic origin.
The discovery came as Dr. Wallach, assistant veterinary pathologist at the Yerkes Center, was performing a routine autopsy on a six-month old male rhesus monkey that had died of unknown causes. He noticed pancreatic disease and bronchial mucus production; evaluation of the tissue later under the microscope revealed “a classic textbook case” of cystic fibrosis as pictured in human medical literature, the Yerkes scientist said.
Studies of tissue from other organs confirmed that the monkey was indeed a victim of cystic fibrosis, Dr. Wallach said. Dr. Wallach’s diagnosis was confirmed by Dr. Victor Nassar, an Emory pediatric pathologist at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital and by Dr. John Easterly, pathologist at the Chicago Lying-In Hospital, who is a national authority on cystic fibrosis.
A report on the discovery was made yesterday (Saturday, March 4, 1978) at a Primate Pathology Workshop held in Atlanta. Drs. Wallach and McClure gave the presentation at Emory’s Glenn Memorial Building near Grady Hospital.
They said the affected animal was bred in a colony of rhesus monkeys supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for studies pertaining to the U.S. space program.
“We have here a classic example of serendipity,” said Drs. Wallach and McClure. “These animals were being studied for the space program but are now also providing us clues in a different area altogether.”
Dr. Nelly Golarz de Bourne, histologist at the Yerkes Center, is conducting NASA studies on the monkey colony in collaboration with Dr. Geoffrey H. Bourne, Yerkes Center director. Their records go back at least 10 years, and include information pertaining to breeding and diseases of the animals. “We can now go back and look at slides of animals that died to see whether any of them might have had any of the more subtle changes of cystic fibrosis,” Dr. McClure explained.
“This discovery has made us aware that these animals can have the disease, so we can make an all-out search for new cases, both in the past and future. If we can breed a supply of animals with cystic fibrosis, using the parents, siblings, or other relatives of the one that had the disease, this will be a great boon to researchers.”
Up to now, research efforts toward understanding and curing cystic fibrosis have been severely hampered by lack of an animal model.
“We are very fortunate that the rhesus monkey is the animal model that was found by Dr. Wallach, because more is known about this animal than about any other nonhuman primate,” Dr. McClure said. “They are also available for research in fairly large quantities.”
Dr. James A. Peters, medical director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which has its headquarters in Atlanta, commented: “We eagerly await the results of Dr. Wallach’s studies because of the importance of an animal model to both basic and clinical research on cystic fibrosis.”
He noted that Dr. Wallach will participate in a May 25-26 workshop in Bethesda, MD., on the animal model for the study of cystic fibrosis, which will be jointly sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Disease and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.