Animal Aid

Monkeying around with human health

Victory over the Cambridge Primate Centre!

In January 2004, the campaign against primate experiments won a landmark victory when Cambridge University announced it was abandoning plans for a multi-million pound primate research centre it had hoped to build. The University announced its decision just weeks after the Deputy Prime Minister granted planning permission for the new lab, which would have been the largest of its kind in Europe.

The project had been simmering for many years but had been held up by the local district council's refusal to grant planning permission. The University eventually appealed and a public inquiry was carried out, presided over by a government inspector. Evidence was submitted by parties both for and against the project. Animal Aid played a central role in bringing together a coalition of doctors, scientists and animal welfare organisations to dispute Cambridge's claims that the new centre would be of 'national importance' and to demonstrate the futility of primate experiments.

The results of the inquiry were staggering: Presiding Planning Inspector, Stuart Nixon, concluded, in a lengthy report, that Cambridge University had failed to show that there was a 'national need' for the laboratory and categorically recommended that the project not go ahead. The report was as comprehensive a rejection of Cambridge's case as can be imagined. It is no exaggeration to state that his findings, in themselves, amount to an historic victory for opponents of animal experiments.

Amongst some of the comments Inspector Nixon made were:

'... On the basis of the technical input, I could not conclude that need in the national interest is demonstrated insofar as this pertains to the scientific/medical research and procedures undertaken by the University', and 'In fact, if one accepts the premise that wherever possible research should not involve animals, it would be a stronger argument to say that it is nationally important to keep together and service the excellent and acknowledged research expertise in Cambridge to catch up on alternative forms of research to that employing animals.'

However, in spite of his conclusions, Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, chose to ignore Inspector Nixon's report and gave the labs the go-ahead.

As outrageous as his decision was, it was not entirely surprising given that both Tony Blair and Science Minister Lord Sainsbury - a man with a major financial stake in the biotech industry, and who is also a major donor to the labour party - had already publicly supported the project.

Animal Aid joined together with the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) to challenge in the High Court John Prescott's decision. With that hearing pending, the news that the University was abandoning its plans was announced.
The University blamed lack of funding for its u-turn. The reality is that it was besieged on all sides:

  • It had already failed at the public inquiry to prove the proposed merits of the research to be carried out there.

  • Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society had filed a High Court challenge to John Prescott's decision.

  • In 2003, more than 130 MPs had signed an Animal Aid-initiated Early Day Motion calling for all primate experiments to be banned - on the grounds that they cause suffering and are not medically useful.

  • The public had registered its opposition to monkey research through opinion polls we commissioned (NOP, April 2003).

  • There was growing resistance within the university itself due to the controversial nature of the project and the massive financial burden it would place upon an institution already heavily in debt.


Animal Aid, working alongside local Cambridge campaigners, played the leading role in bringing together the National Anti-Vivisection Society, Uncaged, PETA, Naturewatch and local activists, X-CAPE (Cambridge Against Primate Experiments), for joint written and oral submissions to the Cambridge Inquiry. The 'coalition's' scientific witness was Ray Greek MD, Medical Director of Europeans For Medical Advancement and co-author of two ground-breaking books on the failings of the 'animal model' for human medical research. Read his written evidence here - plus further evidence on the NAVS website. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection made a parallel presentation to the inquiry, based on the findings of its Cutting Edge undercover investigation of primate research at Cambridge University itself.

Future moves

As things stand, the planning permission granted by Prescott is active for five years. Technically, within that time-frame, Cambridge can come forward and announce it has the money to build the new centre after all. Which is why we shall not abandon the legal challenge until we are certain that Cambridge's monkey centre plans are disposed of for all time. (At the time of going to press, the High Court hearing has yet to take place.)

Meanwhile, primate experiments continue to be carried out within existing departments at Cambridge University, and at other universities across the UK.

Current primate research at Cambridge University

Cambridge University already conducts monkey brain experiments related to the study of stroke, Parkinson's, Huntington's and other neurological disorders. Animal Aid exposed serious flaws in these experiments in its 2001 Mad Science Awards.

Additionally, the BUAV published a report in May 2002 arising out of a ten-month undercover investigation of Cambridge University's primate brain research programme ( The report reveals shocking evidence of animal suffering and a number of breaches of Home Office licence regulations.

The cutting edge

Marmosets were subjected to major surgery in which their skulls were sawn open and parts of their brain sucked out. They were then left unattended overnight, while suffering tremors and bleeding head wounds. Incredibly, these experiments were formally categorised by the Home Office - which is charged with regulating such activities - as leading merely to 'moderate' rather than 'substantial' suffering.

The BUAV investigation additionally revealed that several aspects of housing and husbandry at Cambridge contravened the Universities For Animal Welfare guidelines. Before and after surgery the monkeys were deprived of water for 22 hours per day to force them to perform the tasks for which they were being trained. Food restriction was also employed as a motivational tool. Stress is inevitable if animals are unable to drink when thirsty or can see cage-mates being fed while they are not. Yet the university stated in its Cambridge inquiry evidence that 'it is vital for the experiments that the animals are stress-free'.

Most of the University's primate experiments have been performed on marmosets. But future research will focus on macaques, because marmosets' brains, Cambridge hasadmitted, are 'too small'.

Centre of excellence

The UK could be a centre of excellence in neuroscience without resorting to animal use. The Neurosciences Research Institute at Aston University is a prime example of such foresight, with its new 'Academy of Life Sciences' scheduled to open in 2004. The £8 million Academy will provide the opportunity for innovative cross-disciplinary work by the integration of clinically related research in neuroscience. It will include research groups working on behavioural and cognitive sciences, neuro-imaging, vision and ophthalmology - the focus being entirely on humans, rather than animals.

World-class research on human brains, both living and post-mortem, such as that conducted at Aston University, the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre and Cambridge Brain Bank, is the key to the future of neuroscience. It is time the public knew that using nonhuman primates is archaic and dangerous to human health.

'The true enemy of excellence is conservatism, an unthinking adherence to the shibboleths of the past' - The Observer, 17 Nov 2002, Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, Oxford University

Second legal challenge to Cambridge

Following hard on the heels of the joint Animal Aid/NAVS High Court challenge, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) launched its own important case in which the government and Cambridge University are again in the dock.

Said a BUAV statement: 'We are taking the Government to court in a Judicial Review, using our shocking undercover investigation of primate brain research at Cambridge University as the main evidence. The BUAV believes that the Government routinely underestimates (and therefore misrepresents to the public) the level of suffering experienced by animals - particularly primates - used in experiments. The BUAV's undercover expose at Cambridge University, as well as many other BUAV investigations dating back over 14 years, provide ample and damning evidence.

The BUAV aims to show how the Home Office fails to take account of many aspects of lab animal suffering when applying what the law calls the "cost:benefit" test (weighing up the cost to the animal against the perceived benefit of performing the test). The appalling Cambridge experiments (involving monkeys having the top of their skulls sawn off and parts of their brain sucked out) were categorised by the Government as causing only "moderate" suffering. The BUAV intends to use its Cambridge investigation evidence to challenge this position.'

Oxford University undeterred

With media coverage of the Cambridge saga only just dying down, reports of a new facility under construction at Oxford University started to appear.

Media coverage reported that the new building would only house animals and that no actual research would be carried out. The Guardian quoted a university representative as saying: 'The most important point to stress is that this is not a research facility, it is for housing animals...'

Unfortunately however, this is far from the truth.

Animal Aid has seen the planning application and it clearly states that the university is applying for permission for 'Demolition of existing buildings and construction of research facilities' and for 'Provision of research laboratories and specialist accommodation to support research groups in the adjacent Science Area'. The plans state that 31 staff will be transferring to the new facility from the departments of Experimental Psychology, Zoology, Physiology, Human Anatomy, Biochemistry and Pharmacology and that a further 47 new research staff will be accommodated.

A researcher from Oxford also tipped off campaigners that, for some time, Cambridge and Oxford universities had been in discussion over the possible transfer to Oxford of some primate research originally planned for Cambridge. The fact that the new centre will be linked by a high level walkway to the University's existing departments of Experimental Psychology and Zoology - both known for conducting primate experiments - backs up this suspicion.

Animal Aid will, once again, take on the challenge of showing Oxford University the only way forward is to abandon primate research (and all animal experiments) and focus on human-based research instead.


Examples of experiments on monkeys:

  1. At Cambridge University, 12 marmosets were given ten or more injections into their brains of a seizure-causing chemical. For nine months they were set tasks. One involved having one hand immobilised with sticking plaster then being forced to reach for food 'rewards'. Unsurprisingly, the researchers noted that the brain damage caused 'clumsiness''. In other tests, researchers bound the monkeys' feet with sticky labels and checked how long it took them to bite and tear their way free. At the end of the study the monkeys were killed. (30)
  2. At Oxford University, monkeys were brain-damaged by injection of a toxic chemical or by surgical mutilation. To investigate their reaction to stress and frustration, the researchers devised a 'frustration task', in which food was visible but out of reach. (31)
  3. At Guy's, King's and St.Thomas' School of Biomedical Sciences in London, 18 marmoset monkeys were nerve and brain-damaged, through daily injections a toxic chemical, in an attempt to mimic certain symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The animals suffered a range of dysfunctions, including freezing of movements, tremors, loss of control and unstable posture, and they were unable to make any sound. (32)


Viral threat to humans

There is a real and potentially serious risk of an outbreak of human infection resulting from primate use and consequent disposal of their waste products and body parts into the drainage and disposal systems. Primates carry a range of diseases that can be harmful, even fatal, to humans. The herpes simian B virus, which infects 80-90% of macaques, is a classic example of a virus that can be dangerous to humans once out of its host species in whom it causes no illness. Twenty-nine people have died from B virus infection, all of them laboratory researchers or animal handlers.

Marburg Disease is named after the German town where the first outbreak occurred in 1967. Twenty-nine laboratory workers became infected, suffering high fever, slow heart rate, headaches, inflammation of the eyes, stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhoea, and prostration. Seven died. They had been exposed to tissues or cell cultures from recently-imported African green monkeys.

In 1989, the US authorities in New York State banned all imports of long-tailed,rhesus and African green monkeys when it was suspected that long-tailed macaques supplied from the Phillippines were infected with the lethal Ebola virus. They were actually infected with Reston Strain Filovirus, as were two other macaques in 1996. The Philippines government temporarily banned the export of monkeys while levels of filovirus infection were investigated; one facility holding animals infected with the 'Reston' virus was subsequently closed and hundreds of monkeys were destroyed.

Between 1955 and 1963, millions of people were exposed to monkey virus SV40 through contaminated oral polio vaccines made from monkey kidneys. At the time, the virus was thought to be harmless. SV40 is now known to be associated with several human cancers. Nevertheless, monkey tissues are still used in vaccine production.

Monkeys undoubtedly harbour innumerable viruses that science has not yet identified. Clearly, it is impossible to screen for agents that we don't yet know exist. Who can predict what perils we may unwittingly unleash upon ourselves, without even realising our mistake for years or decades? This is especially the case where disease symptoms take time to become evident - as with AIDS or CJD.

Twenty-four monkeys escaped from primate research facilities in the US in March 2003 alone, illustrating that total containment, even of the live animals, cannot be assured in practice. Mistakes can and will occur.

Following the public inquiry into the proposed Cambridge primate labs, Inspector Stewart Nixon's report declared:

'... it is worth noting the Oxford Professor who cites the closure of part of a building in Oxford University as a direct result of viral escape.'

Did primate experiments cause African AIDS catastrophe?

On September 11-12th, 2000, the Royal Society hosted an extraordinary meeting, convened to examine the theory that the AIDS epidemic was sparked by trials of oral polio vaccine (OPV) in Africa in the 1950s. The theory claims that SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), an organism naturally carried by chimpanzees without ill effect, was unwittingly passed to humans in contaminated polio vaccines which were cultured in ground-up chimpanzee kidneys. Once in its new host, the virus mutated into HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) with devastating effect: 50 million people are now infected, most of them in Africa. The evidence which first pointed to such an outcome was the striking correlation between the earliest African AIDS cases and the sites of OPV trials in the former Belgian Congo between 1957 and 1960. The theory's main proponent is former UN official and BBC correspondent, Edward Hooper. Having researched the issue for more than 10 years, he sets out his case in The River: a Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS (Little Brown, 1999).

What you can do

Experiments on primates have no future. Science is moving away from outdated studies of human disease in the wrong species, towards more productive and clinically relevant methodologies.

There are a number of ways you can support the campaign against primate research. Your help is vital. Without public pressure, researchers will continue to waste time and money on primate experiments, causing enormous suffering and to the detriment of human health.

Get Active!

  • Send for a free End Animal Experiments action pack describing ways you can help us end all animal experiments.

  • Write to the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University thanking her for pulling out of the monkey lab project. Ask her to build on that decision and put Cambridge at the forefront of science by implementing a University-wide ban on primate experiments and focus on human-based research instead.

  • Write to:
    Professor Alison Richard
    Vice Chancellor's Private Office
    The Old Schools
    Trinity Lane
    Cambridge CB2 1TN

  • Write to Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council. Let him know that you do not want primates to be imprisoned and tortured for the supposed benefit of human health when it is known this type of research does not work. Urge the MRC to fund non-invasive research projects on human volunteers using state-of-the-art scanners and other techniques.

  • Write to:
    Professor Colin Blakemore
    Chief Executive
    Medical Research Council
    20 Park Crescent
    London W1B 1AL

  • Write to your MEP and ask him/her to vote for a complete ban on primate experiments when the European commission publishes its long-awaited proposal for a revision of Directive 86/609 (which determines how member states of the EU regulate the use of animals in experiments). To find out who your MEP is, go to or call 020 7227 4300.

  • Write to him/her at:
    European Parliament
    Rue Wiertz
    Brussels 1047

  • Sign the BUAV Zero Option petition demanding an end to all UK monkey experiments. Go to or call the BUAV on 020 7700 4888 to order hard copies.

Please keep letters polite!

Differences are in the genes

Evolutionary theory explains why we cannot use one animal to glean detailed knowledge about another. It is the different genetic make-up of different species (which ensures their reproductive isolation; the very definition of a species) that prevents them from being able to 'model' one another in terms of how they will respond to a disease or a drug. The differences are not between the structural genes (which build the body) - it is true that structural genes are remarkably similar across the species. Rather, the differences are in the way the structural genes are turned on and off by the regulatory genes. It is as though humans and monkeys share a common genetic keyboard on which very different tunes are being played. What matters is not similarity with respect to the keyboard but differences with respect to the order and timing of the pressing of the keys.

'Each species is a small universe in itself, from its genetic code to its anatomy, behaviour, life cycle and environmental role, a self-perpetuating system created during an almost unimaginably complicated evolutionary history.' (29) - Dr. Edward O. Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University


  1. Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals GB 2001, HMSO 2002
  2. Marie Woolf, Independent, 9th December 2002
  3. H D Nelson et al, Journal of the American Medical Association (2002) 288: 872-881, Cancer (2003) 97: 1442
  4. S Carson et al, Pharmacologist (1971) 18: 272
  5. CT Eason et al, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (1990) 11:288-307
  6. RD Mann, Modern Drug Use, an Enquiry on Historical Principles, MTP Press 1984
  7. Human Toxicology (1987) 6: 436
  8. CT Eason et al, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (1990) 11:288-307
  9. Lancet (1962) 599-600
  10. D Smith et al, Laboratory Animals (2001) 35: 117-130
  11. personal communication
  12. B Ekwall, Toxicology in vitro (1999) 13: 665-673
  13. New Scientist, 'Pioneers cut out animal experiments', 31st August 1996
  14. Leo Lewis, Independent, 8th September 2002; 'Will the genes map lead to a dead end?'
  15. See report at
  16. Statement before the Subcommittee on Hospitals and Health Care, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, House of Representatives, USA April 26th 1984 serial no. 98-48
  17. Atlanta Journal Constitution 21st September 1997
  18. The Scientist (1999) 13 (16): 7
  19. New Scientist (2003) 177 (2385): 7 - see also
  20. F Crick and E Jones, Nature (1993) 361: 109-110
  21. Science (2002) 296: 233-235 and 340-343
  22. A Varki, Genome Research (2000) 10: 1065
  23. PD Nixon and RE Passingham, Neuropsychologia (2000) 38: 1054-1072
  24. Medical Research Modernisation Committee, Perspectives on Medical Res. (1991) 3: 35-46
  25. PH St. George-Hyslop and DA Westaway, Nature (1999) 400: 116-117
  26. AL Kendall et al, Brain (2000) 123 (7): 1442-1458
  27. Stroke (1990) 21: 1-3
  28. BBC Radio Cambridge, 7th February 2002
  29. Trends in Ecology and Evolution (2003) 18: 77-80
  30. The influence of excitotoxic basal ganglia lesions on motor performance in the common marmoset, AL Kendall et al; Brain 2000 Vol 123, Part 7, p1442-58
  31. CE Stern & RE Passingham, Behavioural Berain Research, 1996, Vol. 75, 179-193
  32. The effects of central aromatic amino acid DOPA decarboxylase inhibition on the motor actions of L-DOPA and dopamine agonists in MPTP-treated primates, SA Treseder et al; British Journal of Pharmacology 2000 Vol 129, Issue 7, p1355-64.

This concludes our special report into primate experimentation. For the latest developments see our Cambridge campaign pages.

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