ZOLA, one of the countrys leading neuroscientists
and a well-known public advocate for medical research, is also
a part-time magician. At office holiday parties, he can perform
card tricks that leave a roomful of high-powered scientists
reeling. While hes smoothly manipulating the cards, he
tells his audience how hes been trying to figure out why
simply tapping themlike soactually alters their
molecular makeup, so that the secretly selected king of hearts
magically becomes the one on top. This distracting talk is called
wont reveal how he does his tricks; that would be breaking
the magicians code. But as the new director of Emorys
Yerkes National Primate Research Center, a role he assumed
in September, he means to lay all his cards on the table. One
of Zolas top priorities for Yerkes is to develop a more
open, positive relationship with the public, swapping scientific
patter for straight talk. He believes he can better serve the
center and its work by offering outsiders a window onto the
process of scientific researchincluding the aspect that
has turned both Zola and Yerkes into lighting rods for controversy:
the use of animals.
is a man driven to understand how things work. He became interested
in magic while watching a magician do a simple silk vanish trick,
again and again, outside a shop. Zola thought, I know
about the brain. I can figure this out. After watching
the performance some thirty times, he was amazed to learn that
it was easy, a mere trick of perception.
say Zola knows about the brain is an understatement. He has
studied its structure and function for more than thirty years.
Much of his research has involved monkeys, a practice that has
exposed him to vociferous criticism from those who oppose such
experimentation. Repeated encounters with animal rights activists
have led Zola to become an outspoken supporter of research and
the critical role of animals in scientific progress and lifesaving
medical developments. He speaks with conviction about the value
of clear, candid, and continuing communication between scientists
and the public, a fresh approach in a field often assumedlike
the performance of magicto be shrouded in mystery and
complexity. Zola brings his philosophy of openness and edification,
along with his renowned contributions in the field of neuroscience,
to Yerkesa research facility whose scientific reputation
has been inextricably linked with conflict over its use of animals
for medical research.
sense is that scientists have a new part to their job description,
to educate, explain, and counter the misinformation that can
be damaging to our work, Zola says. It is clear
we need to take the initiative ourselves, to be proactive rather
this notion of educating the public about research really stems
primarily from the joy of research itself, and wanting to share
that joy of discovery and knowledge. I feel that its something
the public ought to know about.
congenial man with graying hair, glasses, and hands that appear
too large for card tricks and brain surgery, Zola seems more
like a friendly family doctor than a neuroscientist who has
spent years examining monkeys brains in an effort to unlock
the mysteries of human memory. He slips into conversation about
his own research as easily as if he were talking football at
a backyard barbecue, punctuating his increasingly complex explanations
with, Am I going too fast? and That may be
more detail than you were looking for
a relative newcomer to Yerkes and Emory, Zola says he was drawn
tothe sense of genuine excitement and heady ambition that has
propelled work at the center in the last few years. Before he
paid a casual visit to Yerkes two years ago with former director
Thomas R. Insel, Zola had no plans to leave his post in the
psychiatry department at the University of California at San
Diego, where he had spent most of his career conducting research
and teaching. Zola also was a research career scientist at the
Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Diego and earned
masters and doctoral degrees in neuroscience from Northeastern
University in Boston. In his new role, he holds titles as professor
in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emorys
medical school and research career scientist at the Atlanta
Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Most of his days are spent
was struck by the energy that I felt here, he says, now
comfortably ensconced in his roomy office at Yerkes main station
at Emorys Atlanta campus. Everybody was looking
forward, everybody was full of energy and enthusiasm and commitment.
The excitement hereat Emory in generalwas absolutely
contagious. There was obviously a supportive administration,
making it a terrific place to do research. It became clear that
this was one of the most exciting places in science to be.
of only eight primate research facilities in the nation funded
by the National Institutes of Health, Yerkes is the oldest,
founded in 1920 by Yale scientist Robert Yerkes. In 1930, the
Yale Laboratory for Primate Biology was packed up and moved
from chilly Connecticut to a climate better suited to primates,
Orange Park, Florida. Emory bought the laboratory in 1956, then
moved it to Atlanta in 1965.
has long been best known for the multitude of biomedical and
bio-behavioral studies conducted on its primate population.
When Insel took the helm in 1994, the center broadened its scientific
scope, setting its sights on breakthrough medical discoveries
and advances that will more directly benefit human health. Under
Insels leadership, Yerkes affiliated itself with four
focused research centersthe Vaccine Research Center, the
Center for AIDS Research, the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience,
and the Living Links Center, which concentrates on evolution
studyand began working more closely with Emorys
Health Sciences Center. In 1999, Insel stepped down to head
the new Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, choosing to focus
his leadership in his own field of research.
Yerkes is poised to offer a potentially successful AIDS vaccine,
a treatment for cocaine addiction, a new therapy for Parkinsons
disease, and cutting-edge technologies to combat cardiovascular
disease, as well as scientific findings that will increase our
understanding of memory, vision, aging, evolution, and the brains
relationship to behavior.
is a moment ripe with possibility. Zolas challenge is
to build on the momentum begun under Insels leadership,
while helping to refine and elevate Yerkes public image.
Such a balancing act requires clear-headed vision, sure leadership,
and a genuine devotion to scienceand some days, a little
magic wouldnt hurt.
Primate Center has never played a more central role within the
Health Sciences Center, says Michael M.E. Johns, director
of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and executive vice president
for health affairs. At Yerkes, Stuart Zola has come into
an already strong and burgeoning institution and is making its
role even more forceful as a linchpin for research collaborations.
has a number of qualities that are very well-suited to the center,
says Thomas Gordon, associate director for scientific programs
at Yerkes. Gordon served the center as interim director and
consults with Zola daily. He is an effective communicator,
a highly energetic and detailed person, and he has a genuine
vision for the center. He has an understanding of where it is
and where it can and should go.
also shares with his colleagues a born passion for scientific
discovery. Each day he walks through the Yerkes laboratories,
keeping abreast of various research projects. The labs, some
of which line the perimeter of the three-story Yerkes main building,
are interconnected to encourage conversation and collaboration
among the centers fifty-two faculty scientists. Each brightly
lit room is filled with the sorts of works-in-progress one might
expect to find in a research laboratory: trays of vials filled
with liquid, slides under microscopes, computer printouts, humming
machines. There are also house plants on the windowsills alongside
framed school pictures of the researchers children. Its
a striking juxtaposition, making the scientific process of,
for example, identifying the brain chemicals triggered by cocaine
seem both mysterious and surprisingly routine.
didnt come here just to be an administrator, Zola
says. I wear a number of hats, and one is that of a researcher.
I want to stay at the forefront of that aspect of Yerkes, as
well as create a context for the best research to happen. The
excitement of the process: thats where the joy is.
has experienced that joy in his own work on human memory, a
lengthy and exacting process that has yielded his most notable
findings. Using monkeys because of the similarity of their brain
structures to humans, Zola has experimented by administering
cognitive memory tests, then surgically removing portions of
their brains and testing the monkeys again to see whats
missing from their memories. In this way he has made significant
progress toward mapping out the human brains intricate
memory systems, in hopes of better understanding the memory
failure that accompanies conditions such as amnesia, traumatic
head injury, Alzheimers disease, aging, and depression.
The study of humans with such memory problems has provided an
equally important complement to his research.
initial phase has been focused on identifying what these memory
structures are, Zola says, and we have come a long
way in that direction.
Yerkes, Zola has the chance to both draw upon and enhance the
work of other researchers who are studying the brains
more elusive functions, such as perception and emotion. He believes
strongly in the value of scientific cross-pollination.
groundbreaking work being done in the area of immunology, for
example, may be more closely connected to ongoing research in
neuroscience than scientists have previously realized. Studies
conducted in the Vaccine Research Center suggest that cells
that fight infection may actually remember how,
through a process similar to the way the brain remembers how
to tie shoes.
a link between the two fields, Zola says. The concepts
that have developed indicating that cells have both short term
and long term memory in their immune response parallel
what happens in the brains memory system. We are talking
about ways to explore how [the brain and the immune system]
inform each other, how they behave like each other. So there
are natural links in addition to the aspect of just doing science
together. We have the benefit of both kinds of work going on
under the same roof, each enhancing the other.
addition to the development of vaccines that could potentially
save millions of lives, critical projects at Yerkes include
a possible medication for cocaine addiction, which doctors hope
will work in much the same way methadone helps heroin addicts;
medications for Parkinsons disease that would target specific
receptors in the brain, reducing or eliminating the negative
side effects of current therapies; and new treatments for cardiovascular
disease, complex vision problems, and organ transplant recipients
struggling with rejection. Each of these efforts is underscored
by the work of other Yerkes scientists seeking to more thoroughly
understand the neurological basis for myriad behaviors and functions;
in other words, how our brains tell our bodies what to do.
common denominator in all these projects is the use of animals.
The federal government requires that most new medical treatments,
including drugs and vaccines, be tested in animals before humans,
but that is typically one of the final steps in a long journey.
Using an astonishing range of research techniques, scientists
look to animals first to help them identify what to treat and
how to treat it, an intense process that can take many years
of study. Typically, experimental treatments are tested first
in rodents, then, if warranted, in monkeys, then finally move
to human trials. On principle, researchers use the lowest order
and the smallest number of animals they can in any given study
to achieve the necessary results.
that end, Yerkes houses about three thousand apes and monkeys,
at both the twenty-five-acre main station at Emory and Yerkes
117-acre field station in Lawrenceville. The vivarium at the
main station also holds some two thousand mice and other rodents,
many of which have been genetically engineered and manipulated
to imitate specific human biological systems or conditions.
most common species of primate at Yerkes is the rhesus macaque,
wizened, fierce little creatures whose specific biological similarities
to humans make them invaluable to research on AIDS, malaria,
vision, tissue transplantation, reproductive biology, and psychobiology.
In their large, open compounds at the Yerkes field station,
they scamper about, playing on old tires and fire hoses; one
compound features a recycled McDonalds playground. Neighboring
humans live close enough to see into the monkeys compounds
and hear them chattering at night.
Yerkes primates include pigtail macaques; baboons, used primarily
for cardiovascular research; capuchins, whose learned cooperation
with one another has revealed much about behaviors like social
affiliation and reciprocity; squirrel monkeys, used for studies
on drug addiction; sooty mangabeys, used for research on immune
function and reproductive biology; and chimpanzees, the subject
of non-invasive studies of their cognitive and genetic makeup
and social intelligence.
Yerkes animals are either bred by Emory or purchased from licensed
breeders specializing in research animals. They are cared for
by veterinarians, animal care technicians, and enrichment specialists
in compliance with the regulations of the Animal Welfare Act
and the National Institutes of Health, and the guidelines set
forth by the independent Association for the Assessment and
Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. Those
that are not the subjects of daily, monitored research live
much as they would anywhere in captivity: close quarters, lots
of company, toys, plentiful food in metal bowls.
the regulatory measures are both useful and reassuring, Zola
says, its the scientists who actually work with these
animals who have been at the forefront of the effort to ensure
that they are treated as humanely as possible.
scientist in the world wants to walk into a lab and mistreat
animals, Zola says. If we didnt have to, we
wouldnt use animals at all. Wed use computer models,
cell cultures, other tools at our disposal, and we do. But for
some of the most critical steps we simply need the whole organism.
Its the best strategy we have.
believes researchers have done themselves a disservice by attempting
to downplay the crucial part animals play in scientific advances
that already have saved, literally, millions of human lives.
Speaking up about their usefulnessand how they are usedwont
silence those opposed to animal research, but Zola hopes it
will present a more balanced picture to a confused and concerned
has an active animal rights contingent which stages regular
protests of Yerkes. The most memorable, in 1997, turned ugly
when demonstrators attempted to break into the facility and
threw a steel barricade through the window of a squad car. Police
resorted to mace and tear gas to subdue the fray. Zola himself
was a favorite target of activists in San Diego. Before he even
arrived in Atlanta, his new neighborhood was blanketed with
leaflets warning his neighbors about his treatment of animals
in the name of research. Although Zola will talk at length about
his research and his hopes for Yerkes, hell say little
about his family, his personal life, his pets.
heated debate over animal research will go on as long as the
practice exists. Animal rights activists are passionate and
eloquent, organized and well-supported. They claim that using
animals for medical experimentation is specist,
in the same way discriminating against other races is racist.
In addition to their ethical objections, protestors say animal
research is bad science that has not directly contributed to
human health because animals are biologically too dissimilar.
though, say they rely on animals to understand the most basic
biological processes, from the cellular level up: how the body
works, how it deals with illness, and how it responds to treatment.
They are able to analyze and manipulate these processes in animals
at intricate and systemic levels simply impossible in humans.
They proceed from the core belief that human life is to be valued
more highly than that of animals, and work toward what they
consider a greater good.
research has directly contributed to breakthrough scientific
advances including penicillin, insulin, polio vaccine, tetanus
vaccine, anesthesia, cardiac bypass surgery, and cancer chemotherapy.
The research taking place at Yerkes right now promises to yield
similar richesthe kind of discoveries that alter the landscape
of human heath and medical care.
Animal rights advocates have claimed that nothing weve
found using animals is applicable to humans, Zola says.
Theyre trying to rewrite history. Scientists need
to underscore the contributions animal research has made. This
work could not be done without animals.
the misinformation perpetuated by the animal rights movement
that keeps him up at night. Zola says he wholeheartedly supports
these activists right to publicly state their views, to
stage protests, to take reasonable, legal action. He is aware
that this is not a debate destined to end in a happy resolution,
nor is it a battle he can win. What he can doand what
he wishes the opposition would dois fight fair.
he did in San Diego, Zola is working to form a speakers
bureau at Yerkes to serve as a public resource for information
about the research going on there. He will continue to be an
advocate for better communication about science and research.
And he will himself continue to be an edifying voiceand
a target. Like the work of scientific research itself, he points
out, public education is a slow process, demanding patience,
hard work, and a commitment to truth.