Animal Aid

TRUTH - Or consequence

Posted 1 September 2002

They say the truth hurts - but lies hurt even more. Animal Aid's director, Andrew Tyler, comments on the reality behind animal experiments.

In the Cambridge campaign pages, we describe Cambridge University's plans for a massive new laboratory complex in which, every year, hundreds of monkeys would be subjected to traumatic and ultimately lethal brain experiments. The declared purpose is to advance knowledge of human neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and schizophrenia.

Not only are the disease constructs inflicted upon the animals phoney (done by mutilating their brains through surgery or with chemicals) but there are vital biological and behavioural differences between a human being and, say, a marmoset, that render the experiments pointless. Most people, applying what is (often dismissively) called common sense, recognise that human beings are not marmosets, nor are they mice - and it is a dangerous fraud on the part of the research community to act as if they are.

But for those behind the Cambridge proposal, the truth itself is a hurtful thing. Animal experiments have become for them an addiction. They have built their careers on the back of the 'animal model'. They have conducted 'important' research into important diseases and been published in important specialist journals. Along with the status this brings comes intellectual arrogance - and money too; riches in the form of lucrative research grants (often paid through your taxes) and collaborations with drug and biotech companies whose overriding concern is profits.

How painful is it for such people to say: 'We got it wrong. Let's change direction'? But how much more pain is caused by their refusal to come clean; painful not just for their animal victims but for all the current and future sufferers of human neurological conditions who require that honesty be at the heart of the endeavours of all those conducting medical research or delivering treatments.

The penalty paid for using primates in an attempt to advance human medicine is no more starkly illustrated than by the case of polio vaccine research. Ten years ago, in my previous life as a national newspaper journalist, I wrote a lengthy article for The Independent that investigated a huge trial in the Congo region of Africa of an experimental polio vaccine. The trial took place during the 1950s and the production process for the experimental vaccine involved 'culturing' a 'safe' version of the polio virus in mashed-up kidney obtained from African green monkeys or chimpanzees. The evidence pointed to some of the kidney tissue being contaminated with Simian Immune Deficiency Virus (SIV) - the monkey equivalent of the organism that causes AIDS in people. Given the facts of where and when human AIDS subsequently developed, the hypothesis I explored was whether this Congo vaccine trial was the start of the catastrophic human AIDS pandemic.

Three years ago, came publication of a massive, thoroughly researched book by writer Ed Hooper, called The River, which explored the same theory. The scientific establishment took fright but support gathered from brave, dissenting scientific voices. Eventually, the Royal Society was forced to stage a special conference on the subject - even though the agenda and format were fixed in favour of the anti-Hooper camp. (And his best-qualified supporter was killed 'by malaria' on a final fact-gathering trip to Africa just prior to the meeting.)

Needless to say, the Hooper hypothesis is an appalling prospect for mainstream medical research: the biggest infectious disease catastrophe facing Africa and much of the rest of the world having been caused by cutting edge science; caused because of its stubborn fixation on animal tissue and animal data.

If the Congo hypothesis is valid, then where does that leave the vaccine manufacturers who still insist on using monkey kidneys and other animal tissue to make their products? And let's remember that the evidence shows that SIV is just one dangerous organism amongst an unknowable number that are harboured by monkeys and other species; organisms which can, and have, transferred to people - sometimeswith devastating effects. Other monkey-borne pathogens include SV40 and herpes B.

Truth or consequence?

Whether the penalty paid by our own species for using monkeys is a viral pandemic or loss of medical progress by chasing up the wrong trail, the price is too high. The price paid by the animal victims is also a tragedy of such immense and unsettling proportions, you wonder how those responsible sleep at night.


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