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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
UK 'needs GM research animals'
Mouse, BBC
Use of lab mice is increasing rapidly

British scientists say the UK could be penalised if they are prevented from using genetically modified (GM) animals for research.

The warning comes from the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences.

It says those who oppose the use of GM animals in research are trying to impose their views on society.

Scientists who want the number of laboratory animals reduced say strict safeguards are needed.

Caged rabbit   BBC
Medical research "needs more GM animals"
Professor Patrick Bateson chairs the Royal Society's working group on GM animals.

In a statement before a public meeting the Society is holding on GM animal use on 12 June, he said campaigners were trying to persuade the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) to urge the government to prohibit such research.

Yet the UK could be left struggling in the race to develop new treatments for diseases if pressure groups "drowned out" the scientific community.

Professor Bateson said: "We now know that animals such as the mouse share many of the 30,000 to 40,000 human genes.

GM technology 'nothing new'

"Animals that can be genetically modified to develop human diseases, such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis are increasingly important in assessing new therapies.

"Those who are morally opposed to this research attempt to impose on the rest of society their views that GM technology is a sinister new twist in humanity's quest to conquer nature.

"Most people recognise that we have been genetically engineering animals for thousands of years through selective breeding, and that this has been essential to our own progress.

It's seen as a sexy way to do science

Dr Krys Bottrill
"The new techniques of genetic modification are much more precise and should help scientists to avoid many adverse effects on animal welfare.

"Scientists share the concerns of the rest of society that GM animals should be subject to the same stringent regulations that govern the welfare of any animals used in research, and that their uncontrolled release into the environment should be prevented to protect our existing wildlife."

Professor Bateson said scientists must explain the safeguards they employed.

Easy option

They should also tell people about the "substantial potential benefits" from using GM animals, "to prevent those who are manning the barriers to progress from closing off open debate about what sort of world we want to live in".

Dr Krys Bottrill is deputy scientific director of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (Frame).

She told BBC News Online: "Our main concern is that sometimes these transgenic animals are used simply because they're there, and because it's seen as a sexy way to do science.

"Their increasing use has halted the recent decline in the number of laboratory animals.

"We're obviously concerned about their welfare, especially if they're bred to show signs of disease - they're bound to suffer.

"But there are areas where transgenic animals are proving useful to science.

"Mice are replacing monkeys in testing polio vaccine, for instance, and we wouldn't oppose that.

"If you have to use any animal, we'd prefer mice to monkeys, because we think they have a lower level of consciousness.

"Using transgenic animals must be done under proper safeguards, and only when it's fully justified."

See also:

16 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
18 Jan 01 | UK
21 Jun 00 | Science/Nature
13 Jun 00 | Science/Nature
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