[monkeywire] Outrage over primate brain experiments
joshg1973 at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 25 11:30:09 EST 2002
Outrage erupts over monkey probe lab
Animal rights activists furious at tests on apes
Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday November 24, 2002
Controversial plans to build a £24 million research centre where scientists will experiment on the brains of primates are set to ignite a ferocious battle between researchers and animal rights activists this week.
Both sides will clash at a public inquiry - which opens on Tuesday - that will decide the fate of Cambridge University's international neuroscience centre. Two previous applications for approval for the institute have been rejected.
Animal activists have warned that if the centre is given the go-ahead it will become a major focus of protest. Police fear this could lead to outbreaks of violence similar to those at the laboratories of the nearby Huntingdon Life Sciences, whose managing director was once beaten with an iron bar.
Animal rights groups also claim that diseases, including those caused by the Ebola and Marburg viruses, could spread from the centre and infect local inhabitants. They also claim there is no scientific rationale for experimenting on primates. Tests on human tissues, or trials using computer models, can provide just as much data, they argue.
But senior scientists say it is vital that the centre - which will search for cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as strokes and schizophrenia - be given approval. Rejection would set research back by years.
Refusal would also lead to an exodus of some of the country's leading doctors and biologists, they add. 'The outcome, whatever it is, will send a message to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, about Britain's willingness to carry out key biological research,' said one of the country's leading scientists, Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial College, London, and former head of GlaxoSmithKline. 'If the centre is turned down, some of our finest scientists will simply go abroad to work, while countries like Japan will refuse to invest in Britain.'
The neuroscience centre, to be built near the village of Girton, north of Cambridge, was refused planning permission in February 2001 because it broke local green-belt regulations. The plans were revised but turned down again after police claimed the facility would become a target for animal liberation activists and a danger to local residents.
Now the Government has set up a public inquiry at which animal activists will mount a major assault on the centre's rationale - and a key part of this opposition will concentrate on the danger that primate viruses pose to the local community.
'Quarantine procedures are only designed to screen animals for known diseases,' said Cyril Rosen of the Inter national Primate Protection League. 'But if there is no evidence of illness, and the virus has never been identified before, there can be no effective screening.'
The university firmly denies that there is any danger, however, and has stressed that its containment is state-of-the-art. It also pointed out that its primates will not suffer pain. 'We will be inserting electrodes into their brains in just the same way that electrodes are inserted into the brain of Parkinson patients as part of their treatment,' said Ann Lonsdale, the university's pro-vice-chancellor. 'They will suffer no more than these humans.'
The aim of the centre is to study the effects of drugs and other treatments on the brain, a method that assumes close parallels between human and other primate brains. But this approach is challenged by the anti-vivisectionists, who are to call Ray Greek, US doctor and author of several books on animal experiments, to give evidence. 'The primate brain is not a scaled-down version of our brain,' he told New Scientist last week. 'They are similar in structure, but that doesn't mean they perform the same function.'
This point is flatly rejected by the Research Defence Society, whose experts back the centre. Depression, schizophrenia, autism, drug addiction and strokes all produce effects in primate brains that mimic those in the human brain, they say.
Both Tony Blair and his deputy, John Prescott, have already spoken in favour of the centre. However, the outcome of the inquiry is still far from clear cut and is being watched nervously by the university.
'This is not just an issue for Cambridge,' said Dr Lonsdale. 'This is a test case for neuroscience throughout the country. And don't forget, if this research is not done here, it will be done in some other country, most probably one in which animal welfare is not so strictly enforced.'
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