Special report: June 2003
Proposed new primate research centre at Cambridge University
Cambridge University wants to build Europe's largest primate research centre on the outskirts of Cambridge. Because the proposed development - the size of two retail superstores - would be on Green Belt land, it was the subject of a two-week public inquiry at the close of 2002. The final decision, expected in the summer of 2003, will be made by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
It will be difficult for the DPM to reject the application, given that his boss - Tony Blair - has publicly supported it. An even more enthusiastic supporter is Science Minister Lord Sainsbury - a man with his own major financial stake in the biotech industry and who, at the time of writing, had already donated ?11.5 million to the Labour Party; ?8.5 million since joining the government. Such inappropriate ministerial generosity seriously compromises the impartiality of the planning process. Equally, Lord Sainsbury's support of the proposed Cambridge centre is a great boon to his old university, which stands to reap large financial benefits from pharmaceutical spin-offs.
The university claims the proposed primate research will advance understanding of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, stroke, depression, schizophrenia, drug addiction and childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
However, this claim was challenged at the public inquiry by a series of medical experts who highlighted the long history of failures of primate experimentation. They revealed that the true origin of progress in neuroscience has always been human-based research and that future human studies hold the key to finding treatments for these devastating diseases.
An editorial in New Scientist (23rd November 2002) also sounded a note of caution on the proposed labs: 'The projected cost of the new centre is ?24 million. The university publicly proclaims that the centre will find treatments for particular brain disorders but admitted in its evidence that "much of the research will be more basic".' The article went on to warn that 'exaggerating the medical relevance of animal experiments is unacceptable whether it is for the purposes of PR or gaining grants... If the experiments are unlikely ever to lead to treatments, they should be beyond the pale.'
The following is a selection of statements submitted to the inquiry:
'The track record of primate research is abysmal. The abandonment of animal models is absolutely vital for medicine to advance.' - Ray Greek MD, Medical Director of Europeans For Medical Advancement - representing Animal Aid, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, Naturewatch, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Uncaged and X-CAPE (Cambridge Against Primate Experiments).
'Continuation of this [primate] research may well retard understanding of, and the finding of cures for, debilitating illnesses such as strokes and Parkinson's disease.' - Dr Gill Langley, representing the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.
'No species can function as a reliable biological model for another species. Even the chimpanzee, our closest relative in evolutionary terms, is no model for research on the human brain.' - Professor Claude Reiss, Director of Alzheim' R&D - representing Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine.
'The new laboratory would merely generate volumes of useless data at vast expense to the taxpayer and of no value to patients.' - Jerry Vlasak MD - representing the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine.
'It is ethically problematic, to say the least, to willingly waste money on primate experimentation such that more clinically relevant human research must go underfunded.' - Lawrence Hansen MD, Professor of Pathology and the Neurosciences, University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Throughout the inquiry, the poverty of the university's case was exposed as was the lack of scientific evidence to support its claims. The university was unable to document examples of findings from monkeys translating into progress in medical care for people - because there are no hard examples to be found.
Centre of excellence
The UK - and indeed, Cambridge University - could be a centre of excellence in neuroscience without resorting to animal use. The Neurosciences Research Institute at Aston University is a prime example of such foresight, with its new 'Academy of Life Sciences' scheduled to open in April 2004. The ?8 million Academy will provide the opportunity for innovative cross-disciplinary work by the integration of clinically related research in neuroscience. It will include research groups working on behavioural and cognitive sciences, neuro-imaging, vision and ophthalmology.
World-class research on human brains, both living and post-mortem, such as that conducted at Aston University, the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre and Cambridge Brain Bank, is the key to the future of neuroscience. It is time the public knew that using nonhuman primates is archaic and dangerous to human health. A facility to study the brains of monkeys rather than humans would be a foolish and expensive monument to the past.
'The true enemy of excellence is conservatism, an unthinking adherence to the shibboleths of the past' - The Observer, 17 Nov 2002, Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, Oxford University.
Current primate research at Cambridge University
Cambridge University already conducts monkey brain experiments related to the study of stroke, Parkinson's, Huntington's and other neurological disorders. Animal Aid exposed serious flaws in these experiments in its 2001 Mad Science Awards.
Additionally, the BUAV published a report in May 2002 arising out of a ten-month undercover investigation of Cambridge University's primate brain research programme (www.buav.org/zerooption). The report reveals shocking evidence of animal suffering and a number of breaches of Home Office licence regulations.
The cutting edge
Marmosets were subjected to major surgery in which their skulls were sawn open and parts of their brain sucked out. They were then left unattended overnight, while suffering tremors and bleeding head wounds. Incredibly, these experiments were formally categorised by the Home Office - which is charged with regulating such activities - as leading merely to 'moderate' rather than 'substantial' suffering.
The BUAV investigation additionally revealed that several aspects of housing and husbandry at Cambridge contravened the Universities For Animal Welfare guidelines. Before and after surgery the monkeys were deprived of water for 22 hours per day to force them to perform the tasks for which they were being trained. Food restriction was also employed as a motivational tool. Stress is inevitable if animals are unable to drink when thirsty or can see cage-mates being fed while they are not. Yet the university stated in its Cambridge inquiry evidence that 'it is vital for the experiments that the animals are stress-free'.
Most of the University's primate experiments have been performed on marmosets. But future research will focus on macaques, because marmosets' brains, Cambridge has admitted, are 'too small'. Nevertheless, a marmoset breeding unit is planned for the new centre. Clearly, their small brains will not preclude their continued use.
Viral threat to humans
There is a real and potentially serious risk of an outbreak of human infection resulting from primate use and consequent disposal of their waste products and body parts into the drainage and disposal systems. Primates carry a range of diseases that can be harmful, even fatal, to humans. The herpes simian B virus, which infects 80-90% of macaques, is a classic example of a virus that can be dangerous to humans once out of its host species in whom it causes no illness. Twenty-nine people have died from B virus infection, all of them laboratory researchers or animal handlers.
Marburg Disease is named after the German town where the first outbreak occurred in 1967. Twenty-nine laboratory workers became infected, suffering high fever, slow heart rate, headaches, inflammation of the eyes, stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhoea, and prostration. Seven died. They had been exposed to tissues or cell cultures from recently-imported African green monkeys.
In 1989, the US authorities in New York State banned all imports of long-tailed, rhesus and African green monkeys when it was suspected that long-tailed macaques supplied from the Phillippines were infected with the lethal Ebola virus. They were actually infected with Reston Strain Filovirus, as were two other macaques in 1996. The Philippines government temporarily banned the export of monkeys while levels of filovirus infection were investigated; one facility holding animals infected with the 'Reston' virus was subsequently closed and hundreds of monkeys were destroyed.
Between 1955 and 1963, millions of people were exposed to monkey virus SV40 through contaminated oral polio vaccines made from monkey kidneys. At the time, the virus was thought to be harmless. SV40 is now known to be associated with several human cancers. Nevertheless, monkey tissues are still used in vaccine production.
Monkeys undoubtedly harbour innumerable viruses that science has not yet identified. Clearly, it is impossible to screen for agents that we don't yet know exist. Who can predict what perils we may unwittingly unleash upon ourselves, without even realising our mistake for years or decades? This is especially the case where disease symptoms take time to become evident - as with AIDS or CJD.
Twenty-four monkeys escaped from primate research facilities in the US in March 2003 alone, illustrating that total containment, even of the live animals, cannot be assured in practice. Mistakes can and will occur.
'The public health risks associated with primate research laboratories are a matter of serious concern...Guess wrong, and people may die.' - Dr S Corning, MRCVS, International consultant on primate infectious diseases, in evidence to Cambridge University public inquiry on behalf of the International Primate Protection League.
What you can do
Whether or not Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, gives permission for Cambridge University's new centre, experiments on primates have no future. Primate supply is unsustainable and has been interrupted in the past by conservation or disease threats in source countries. Public abhorrence of monkey research is likely to force a curtailment of the practice in the foreseeable future. Science is moving away from outdated studies of human disease in the wrong species, towards more productive and clinically relevant methodologies.
Anyone who witnessed the public inquiry will know that the only decision that could be justified as being in the public interest will be a rejection of planning permission.
This is the only sustainable choice and would show an enlightened recognition of the future direction of scientific discovery.
Please sign the petition
against primate experimentation at www.buav.org/zerooption or contact BUAV for hard copies: BUAV, 16a Crane Grove, London N7 8NN. Tel: 020 7700 4888.
Please write to your MP
and express your disgust at this government for promising to reduce animal experimentation, while actually increasing primate use - the most contentious aspect of all! Ask him or her to support the Zero Option campaign for the ending of primate experimentation, as initiated by the BUAV following its 2002 Cutting Edge undercover expos? of Cambridge University's primate research. Please check with Animal Aid and the BUAV on the progress of parliamentary initiatives, such as an Early Day Motion which you can encourage your MP to sign.
You can find the name and email address of your MP at www.locata.co.uk/commons or phone the House of Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272. The address for all MPs is: House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. You can contact MPs directly on 020 7219 3000.
Please also write to:
The Medical Research Council,
and ask it to cease funding primate experiments with your money: Sir George Radda, MRC, 20 Park Crescent, London W1B 1AL.
The Home Office,
and tell it you believe the use of all primates should be banned as a matter of urgency: Bob Ainsworth MP, Home Office Minister, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT.
(currently hoping to qualify for 'world-class status') and ask it to reconsider its use of monkeys before its reputation is tarnished irreparably: please write a polite, welcoming letter to the new Vice-Chancellor, who is due to take up her position in October 2003: Professor Alison Richard, c/o Vice-Chancellor's Private Office, The Old Schools, Trinity Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1TN. Professor Richard has studied primates throughout the world, but is best known for her work on the lemurs of Madagascar. For 20 years she has played an active role in efforts to conserve the remaining forests and wildlife of Madagascar, through integrating community involvement. She may be a valuable ally.
Local and national newspapers,
to say that Britain is the monkey-killing capital of Europe; that experiments on primates have never helped people but have frequently harmed us; that if John Prescott allows Cambridge University to build its new lab, the public interest and the planning process will have been perverted. For further information, invite readers to contact X-CAPE (Cambridge Against Primate Experiments) at www.x-cape.org.uk, or Animal Aid: The Old Chapel, Bradford Street, Tonbridge, Kent, TN9 1AW Tel: 01732 364546; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.animalaid.org.uk
All of these letters need only be brief and MUST be polite please.
Your help is vital. Without public pressure, more and more primate labs will be built - with consequent monkey suffering and to the detriment of human health.
Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals GB 2001, HMSO 2002This concludes our special report into primate experimentation. For the latest developments see our Cambridge campaign pages.
Marie Woolf, Independent, 9th December 2002
H D Nelson et al, Journal of the American Medical Association (2002) 288: 872-881, Cancer (2003) 97: 1442
S Carson et al, Pharmacologist (1971) 18: 272
CT Eason et al, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (1990) 11:288-307
RD Mann, Modern Drug Use, an Enquiry on Historical Principles, MTP Press 1984
Human Toxicology (1987) 6: 436
CT Eason et al, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (1990) 11:288-307
Lancet (1962) 599-600
D Smith et al, Laboratory Animals (2001) 35: 117-130
BM Bolton and T DeGregorio, Nature Reviews Drug Discovery (2002) 1 (5): 335-336
B Ekwall, Toxicology in vitro (1999) 13: 665-673
New Scientist, 'Pioneers cut out animal experiments', 31st August 1996
Leo Lewis, The Independent, 8th September 2002; 'Will the genes map lead to a dead end?'
See report at www.gao.gov/new.items/d01286r.pdf
Statement before the Subcommittee on Hospitals and Health Care, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, House of Representatives, USA April 26th 1984 serial no. 98-48
Atlanta Journal Constitution 21st September 1997
The Scientist (1999) 13 (16): 7
New Scientist (2003) 177 (2385): 7 - see also http://briandeer.com/vaxgen-aidsvax.htm
F Crick and E Jones, Nature (1993) 361: 109-110
Science (2002) 296: 233-235 and 340-343
A Varki, Genome Research (2000) 10: 1065
PD Nixon and RE Passingham, Neuropsychologia (2000) 38: 1054-1072
Medical Research Modernisation Committee, Perspectives on Medical Res. (1991) 3: 35-46
PH St. George-Hyslop and DA Westaway, Nature (1999) 400: 116-117
AL Kendall et al, Brain (2000) 123 (7): 1442-1458
Stroke (1990) 21: 1-3
BBC Radio Cambridge, 7th February 2002
Trends in Ecology and Evolution (2003) 18: 77-80