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Bad Science

Using primates kills people

Research on primates has failed to predict dangerous side effects of medications. Despite these failures, marmosets, in particular, are increasingly popular with researchers because they are small and easy to breed in captivity. Their size makes them cheaper than dogs to dose with expensive test compounds and easy to house in small cages and inhalation chambers.

An editorial in New Scientist (23rd November 2002) also sounded a note of caution on the proposed labs at Cambridge ‘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…

The following is a selection of statements submitted to the public inquiry at Cambridge

  • * ‘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.
  • * ‘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.
  • * ‘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.

Indeed 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.

Looking to the Future not the Past

The UK – and indeed, Oxford University – could be a centre of excellence in science 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 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 outdated and dangerous to human health.

More Effective Research

There are more reliable methods to predict the safety and effectiveness of drugs for people. These include in vitro (test tube) tests using human cells and tissues and sophisticated computer simulations designed to mimic human metabolism. See Dr Hadwen Trust.

Screening new drugs in silico (on computer) is now replacing many animal tests. Investigating diseases that infect humans in any species other than human is useless since pathogens and immune responses to them are species specific.

Oxford University would have you believe that research on primates is beneficial to human health. When you look at the facts however a different story emerges:

  • PCP (angel dust), sedates chimpanzees but causes humans experiences including paranoia.
  • Nitrobenzene is toxic to humans but not monkeys.
  • Isoproterenol killed people, but it was found to be impossible to reproduce the effects in monkeys.
  • Carbenoxalone caused people to retain water to the point of heart failure – some died. This was impossible to reproduce in monkeys.
  • Flosint, an arthritis medication, was tested on monkeys that tolerated the medication well, but it killed humans.
  • Amrinone, a medication used for heart failure, was tested on numerous nonhuman primates and released without trepidation. Humans haemorrhaged, as the drug caused failure in their blood cells responsible for clotting, in 20% of patients taking the medication on a long-term basis.
  • Actinomycin-D, the first of the chemotherapy drugs, kills monkeys. None of the main human carcinogens affects monkeys.
  • Drugs known to cause birth defects were tested on pregnant monkeys. Seventy percent of the drugs were safe in the monkey tests!

Unscientific – Unsafe

One of the biggest preconceptions concerning animal research is that human illnesses can be studied in another species. In reality, diseases vary from species to species.

Sometimes experimenters try to recreate some of the symptoms, and they may be able to get cases where it looks similar, but that’s hardly science. Out of all illnesses known to humanity, less than 2% of them are ever seen in any non-human animal. It’s a problem they still haven’t overcome.

The scientific director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, one of the biggest drug and product testing labs in the world has estimated that the accuracy of using animals to predict the human effect is “between 5%-25%”.

So to be generous to him, in three times out of four we get a false result which is then used to decide whether the product is used in humans.

And the results of this reliance on vivisection?

The human cost is massive.

Birth defects: They occurred in about 3 in 100,000 live births in the late 1940s, by the end of the century there were over 800 per 100,000. The most in-depth study to date, by German doctors concluded 61% of birth defects and 88% of stillbirths were definitely, directly caused by animal experiments. Animal testing is incapable of predicting this catastrophe.

Deaths and serious injuries: In 1998 an American medical journal concluded that 106,000 deaths PER YEAR in the US alone were caused by medical drugs passed safe on animals. A UK medical journal estimated 70,000 people in England each year are killed or seriously disabled by medical drugs, yet all of these pass animal tests. The scale is undeniably massive.

Vivisection continues for two main reasons.

One is the drug industry. It allows drugs to be approved quickly, and because animals give a variety of results, it virtually guarantees entry onto the marked where it is earning money. It also provides an obstacle to legal action when drugs go wrong, because with animal tests performed, negligence becomes hard to prove.

The other is that it’s so easy to publish. “A rat is an animal which when injected produces a paper” as the saying goes, which means easy work in this ‘publish or perish’ scientific world. Clinical research is infinitely more valuable, but requires ingenuity, planning, people skills, and time. Anyone can do animal experiments – they may not give useful results but at least they’re results.

Opposition to vivisection on medical grounds is growing, and is in direct proportion to awareness of the facts. The more people know about vivisection, the less they like it. It’s a massive subject, but you don’t need to be a professor to understand it.

Britain is the largest user of primates for research in Europe. In 2001, 3,342 monkeys were used in 3,986 ‘procedures’ – an increase of 13% from the previous year.

The public is strongly opposed to the use of primates in laboratories and 133 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for a total ban on the research on primates.

Even the UK government’s own Animal Procedures Committee has stated that experimental drugs need not be tested on animals before being tested on human beings.