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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2006, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Scanner 'could end animal tests'
Volunteer being scanned
Human volunteers will be scanned by the new machine
The image of a monkey staring from a cage is among the most enduring images of the anti-vivisection campaign.

But a powerful scanner being used in Birmingham could be the beginning of the end for these type of animal experiments, say animal rights campaigners.

It is being part-funded by an anti-vivisection campaign group, which will spend nearly 500,000 over six years helping to pay to operate the machine.

Human volunteers take part in tests involving the brain scanner at Aston University's MRI Research Centre, which is twice as powerful as those used in hospitals.

MRI scanners combine a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and a sophisticated computer to produce detailed pictures of the inside of the body.

Anti-vivisection campaign group, the Lord Dowding Fund, is keen to support the research as traditionally many centres have used monkeys in the study of neuroscience.

An alternative might be electrodes in a monkey's head
Allison Tuffrey Jones, the Lord Dowding Fund

"We think animal research is stuck in the 19th Century. We are trying to invest to show there are other ways of doing it," said Allison Tuffrey Jones, communications director for the fund.

"This is a really good example of 21st Century technology - a very powerful scanner that can be used for brain research.

"An alternative might be electrodes in a monkey's head."

She said it was the biggest single commitment by the fund which is paying for the running costs of the machine until the end of the decade.

"It really encapsulates all the thinking and philosophy behind the Lord Dowding Fund to try to put forward funds for scientists to find an alternative to animal research," she said.

Scanned images
The scanners are linked to powerful computers

The Aston MRI centre, which has also been funded by the Wellcome Trust and other contributors, does not carry out experiments on humans.

Director Prof Paul Furlong said the World Health Organisation had predicted a surge in mental and neurological disorders during the next 15 years.

He said these predictions could lead to many researchers arguing for an increase in experiments on primates, as the closest to the human model.

However, he said research facilities such as those in Aston could provide the best information.

"Validation of these techniques will inevitably lead to a reduction and refinement of animal experiments and ultimately the replacement of animals for the study of human cognitive health."

When you put electrodes in the brain it is a totally different technique
Dr Simon Festing

However, Dr Simon Festing, the director of the RDS, a group that supports animal research, said the prospect of eliminating animal tests was a long way off.

But he also said scans could never replace certain procedures used during animal testing.

"When you put electrodes in the brain it is a totally different technique that answers completely different scientific questions.

"There is certainly the potential to reduce the number of animals in some areas of research but there are still problems that would have to be resolved.

"We are totally behind finding alternatives [to animal testing] and the overwhelming push for this has come from the scientific community."


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