Primate research backed by UK experts

By Dr Matt Wilkinson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Animal testing, Uk

British scientists have supported the use of primates in medical
research, but only if no alternatives are available.

The report concluded that non-primate research was vital for understanding the basic biology of the brain, neurological diseases, communicable diseases and aspects of fertility and ageing.

The report was commissioned by the Academy of Medical Sciences, Royal Society, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust to review the scientific case for biomedical research using primates.

Animal rights groups have declared the report a "whitewash". Dr Maggy Jennings, Head of the RSPCA's Research Animals Department, said: "Regardless of the scientific validity of primate experiments, the fact that these remarkable animals are confined and used in research is incredibly sad and not something the human race should be proud of. Let us hope that this report will act as a true stimulus to finding a better way."

Sir David Weatherall, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford University and lead author of the report, said: "There is a scientific case for careful, well-monitored and meticulously regulated non-human primate research, at least for the foreseeable future, provided it is the only way of solving important scientific or medical questions."

The report recommended that a limited number of national centres of excellence should be created for primate research, which would deliver huge benefits to scientific knowledge and human welfare.

Continued investment into the discovery and validation alternatives to primate research was also recommended.

The report also said that UK primate research was in peril, Weatherall said: "Intimidation by animal rights activists, high costs and a shortage of animals are forcing scientists to pursue non-human research oversees."

Indeed, both Pfizer and Eli Lilly have recently been accused by the Animal Welfare group, PETA, of avoiding UK and US animal welfare laws by exporting their animal testing to countries with no or poor animal welfare standards such as China.

In July 2004, the UK Government published its strategy for countering animal rights extremists and committed itself to protecting those who work in the biomedical research sector from animal rights extremists who have used violence, intimidation and harassment in an attempt to prevent those working in the sector going about their lawful business.

Malcolm Wicks, the UK Minister for Science and Innovation, speaking at the Genesis VI conference in London yesterday said: "A barrier to investment has been a small number of animal rights extremists."

He continued by saying that the government would "use every lawful means"​ to tackle the issue.

Related topics: Preclinical Research, QA/QC

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