January 28, 2004
THE planned research centre was intended to provide the most advanced facilities for investigations of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, paralysis and autism.
Medical researchers are always reluctant to use animals, and turn to computer models and cell cultures where possible. Particular sensitivity surrounds the use of monkeys because their brains are so much more complicated than those of other laboratory animals, such as rats and mice.
The complexity of primates’ brains and their similarity to those of human beings, however, sometimes make them indispensable to research.
The connections of the human brain are so poorly understood that there are no viable computer models, and advanced neuroscience requires a limited number of experiments performed on monkeys.
Such experiments have been responsible for many breakthroughs in the treatment of neurological diseases. Among the most spectacular has been deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease, in which electrodes are implanted into the brain to act as a “pacemaker”, reducing the condition’s characteristic tremor.
Primate research is rigorously controlled in Britain and very few experiments are conducted each year. Fewer than 4,000 procedures took place in 2002 and monkeys, mostly macaques and marmosets, account for only 0.15 per cent of all the animals used in British experiments.
All research must conform to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which requires triple-licensing of all experiments.
Licences are granted only if potential results are important enough to justify the use of animals and if it is impossible to do the research without animals. Primate use is allowed only when other species are not suitable, the minimum number of animals must be used, and suffering must be kept to a minimum.
The system is enforced by a team of Home Office inspectors, all of whom are either doctors or vets, who visit each laboratory an average of 11 times every year.
The use of animals in cosmetics safety testing is also forbidden by law.
In France, licences are more easily obtained, there are no unannounced inspections of laboratories and no independent inspection regime, and animals can be re-used in multiple procedures.
In the United States scientists performing animal experiments do not
require specialist training.
© Copyright 2004, The Times