Whitewash! Vivisectionists support primate research

Posted on the 13th December 2006

The just-released Weatherall report on the use of non-human primates in experiments - which claims that there is a 'strong scientific and moral case' for such research - is nothing short of a sham.

It was commissioned 18 months ago by a coalition of four vested-interest groups, all of which, for many years, have publicly advocated non-human primate research – with two actually funding monkey experiments.

Sir David Weatherall, who chaired the report, is not an impartial figure. He has personally conducted animal experiments at Oxford University. While the research community would have the public believe that experiments on monkeys contribute to life-saving therapies, the truth of the matter is that 77 per cent of non-human primates are deliberately poisoned with overdoses of drugs in so-called ‘safety tests’ by the pharmaceutical industry. Instead, sophisticated non-animal methods could be used.

Despite the important similarities between humans and non-human primates, the differences are stark and significant. These differences mean that primates do not serve as a reliable model for human conditions. Chimpanzees, for example, share 98 per cent of our DNA and yet they are essentially immune to AIDS, hepatitis B and common malaria – diseases that kill millions of people every year.

The human brain is four times larger than that of a chimpanzee, which is four times larger than that of a macaque. There is no equivalent language centre in primates that we are able to recognise, which is especially relevant when studying Alzheimer’s and stroke. A paper published in March 2006 in the Annals of Neurology said that, of 114 experimental stroke drugs tested in animals and consequently considered to be useful, none had worked in humans. Another spectacular failure involving monkey research occurred in March 2006 when six healthy volunteers took part in a drug trial involving TGN1412. While the monkey data showed the drug to be quite safe, the human volunteers – who were given one five-hundredth of the dose used in the animal tests – suffered a life-threatening immune response.

The use of such highly sentient creatures is also morally indefensible. The main reason cited for using primates – their similarity to humans – is also a compelling reason for not using them. Apart from the physical pain of the experiments themselves, non-human primates suffer fear, loneliness, frustration and stress, simply from being kept in captivity. These intelligent, social animals are typically kept in tiny, barren metal cages. Often they are housed alone, sometimes for many years. Some will be killed after a single experiment; others are made to endure procedure after painful procedure in ongoing studies lasting for years.

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