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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November 2003, 17:32 GMT
Monkey brain research: The case against
Dr Ray Greek, medical director of Europeans For Medical Advancement, puts the case against using monkeys in neuroscience research

John Prescott's decision to grant planning permission for Cambridge University's controversial primate laboratory is based entirely on economic - not scientific or public health - considerations.

Primate, RDS/Wellcome Trust photo

The planning inspector who conducted the public inquiry concluded that no national need for brain research on primates had been demonstrated at the inquiry.

In fact, he described the university's evidence in support of such research as "peripheral skirmishing".

He even went so far as to say that "the fears of some objectors that the outcome is a foregone conclusion is granted credibility".

There is abundant evidence of harm to humans as a result of experiments on primates. See some of the evidence to the inquiry at www.curedisease.com/Cambridge/contents.html

Such evidence includes:

  • Primates' track record at predicting drugs' dangerous side effects is abysmal.
  • Many drugs that were safe for primates have gone on to injure and kill people. For example, amrinone (for heart failure) was tested on numerous non-human primates and released with confidence. However, one in five human patients haemorrhaged as the drug prevented normal blood clotting.
  • An Alzheimer's vaccine was withdrawn in 2001 when it caused serious brain inflammation in patients, after proving safe and effective in tests on monkeys.
  • Countless drugs for stroke have been developed and tested in primates and other animals, yet all of them have failed and even harmed patients in clinical trials.
  • Monkeys do not suffer from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or Huntington's diseases and when these diseases are artificially induced they manifest very differently from the real human versions.
  • Human brains can now be studied non-invasively using remarkable high-tech scanners. These enable the conscious brain to be observed while engaged in a variety of cognitive tasks (talking, singing, reading, writing, etc) of which monkeys are not even capable - and thus clearly could not provide any relevant insight.
Experimenting on monkeys in the hope of unlocking the secrets of the human brain is an exercise in futility.

The most dramatic differences between humans and other primates are in the brain.

Our brain is four times larger than that of a chimpanzee, which is four times larger than that of a macaque.

Biochemical pathways in the human brain are unique. Gene expression in our brain is dramatically different from that of the chimpanzee.

Future advances in our understanding and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases will come from where they always have - human-based observation and ethical clinical research.

'Science, not politics'

Everything we know about these diseases has been learned from autopsies of patients, population research and studies using human tissues cultured from biopsies or autopsies.

It is in human tissue that we will find the answers to these diseases.

2.73 million experiments in the 12 months of 2002
Total number of procedures rose by 4.2% on 2001
About 80% are for research and drug development
Safety testing accounts for most of the rest
When medical science was in its infancy, researchers learned things from monkeys and other animals that extrapolated to humans: the heart pumps blood; white blood cells are involved in immunity and so forth.

But as medical science advanced it became obvious that, with regard to the questions being asked, the differences between species outweighed the similarities.

Today, medicine is focused on variation between individual people at the level of "snips" (single nucleotide polymorphisms). This is where the clues to diseases and their treatments will be found - not in artificially induced versions of the disease in an entirely separate species.

The funding for the primate centre would be better spent on more scientifically modern and reliable research methods involving DNA microarrays; bioinformatics; microdosing with subsequent Pet analysis; human stem cells; large clinical studies and so on.

Science, not politics, should determine what research gets funded in the UK.

Chart, BBC


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