Monkeys brain-damaged and given ecstasy in ‘disturbing’ experiments

Posted on the 7th April 2014

Monkeys used more than once in punishing experiments
Made to develop uncontrolled movements and psychotic behaviour
Canadian experiments co-funded by UK charity

Animal Aid has condemned ‘profoundly disturbing’ experiments on marmoset monkeys, some of whom had already been used in similar studies. The experiments were performed in Canada but co-funded by a UK-based charity, the Cure Parkinson’s Trust.

The experiments involved the monkeys being repeatedly dosed with a toxic chemical called MPTP, in order to damage their brains and induce symptoms that mimic Parkinson’s disease. They were left in this state for several months, so that their symptoms could develop and stabilise. Next, they were given such high doses of a Parkinson’s drug that they developed debilitating side effects, including uncontrolled movements and psychotic behaviour, such as hallucinations. On certain days, some of the monkeys were also given ecstasy, or a derivative, and confined alone in a cage for six hours while their disabling symptoms were recorded.

Over many years of monitoring vivisection, this is the first time Animal Aid has encountered monkeys being re-used in such harmful research. The Home Office has confirmed that experiments in which monkeys are brain-damaged with MPTP fall into the highest category of severity. It has previously stated that brain-damaging monkeys with MPTP has ‘devastating welfare costs’ for the animals involved, and serious questions arise as to whether the re-use of primates in such harmful experiments would be permitted in the UK, or in the other EU countries governed by the same European directive.

Animal welfare issues aside, there is little hope of this contentious research bringing benefit to humans, since monkeys don’t get Parkinson’s, and there are substantial scientific problems with using them as models of the disease. Brain-poisoned marmosets, for instance, gradually recover, whereas Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease. They also fail to exhibit key hallmarks and symptoms of the disease, such as abnormal protein clumps in the brain, or tremor when muscles are at rest. It is, in any case, recognised by the researchers engaged in the Cure Parkinson’s Trust-funded experiment that ecstasy could never be used as a treatment for Parkinson’s. The drug is psychoactive, with side effects including anxiety, paranoia, depression, exhaustion, dizziness and insomnia.

Details of the monkey experiments have been released by Animal Aid as part of a drive to stop UK medical research charities funding vivisection. The exposé appears on a recently launched website enabling members of the public to contact charities that bankroll vivisection and urge them to change their research policy. Eighty-two per cent of people polled by NOP have said that they would not donate to medical research charities that fund vivisection, and the national campaign group believes its new online initiative will help fill a major gap in public awareness.

Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler: 

‘It is clear that the vast majority of the British public do not want their money being used to fund profoundly disturbing experiments on animals of the sort co-funded by the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. We are calling on charities like the Cure Parkinson’s Trust to focus solely on productive non-animal research, which – unlike animal experiments – can be directly applied to humans. It is only by using progressive non-animal techniques that we can hope to find a cure for diseases like Parkinson’s.’

Editors’ notes

  • The two scientific papers are:
    • Huot P, Johnston TH, Lewis KD et al (2011). Characterization of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) Enantiomers In Vitro and in the MPTP-Lesioned Primate: R-MDMA Reduces Severity of Dyskinesia, Whereas S-MDMA Extends Duration of ON-Time. Journal of Neuroscience. 31(19):7190 -7198.
    • Huot P, Johnston TH, Gandy MN, Reyes MG, Fox SH, et al. (2012) The Monoamine Re-Uptake Inhibitor UWA-101 Improves Motor Fluctuations in the MPTP-Lesioned Common Marmoset. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45587. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045587
  • Non-animal methods for research into Parkinson’s include computer modelling, use of donated human brain tissues, high-resolution scanning, microarrays and volunteer studies.
  • In a judicial review against the Home Secretary by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection the then chief Home Office inspector referred to the ‘devastating welfare costs’ for monkeys poisoned by MPTP.
  • For more information and for an in-depth analysis of the experiments, please visit our Victims of Charity microsite
  • To arrange an interview with Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler, please call 01732 364546.

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