Wednesday, March 23, 2005

UK Study will debate the future of monkey experimentation

There are strict regulations controlling the use of monkeys as blunt instruments

A major study will examine what limits should be put on the continued use of non-human primates in UK experiments.
The review is being undertaken by four of Britain's leading medical and scientific organisations.

It follows the fractious arguments between the research community and the animal welfare lobby over the need for new testing centres in the country.

Some 3,000 primates - mostly marmoset and macaque monkeys - are used in British labs each year.

Three-quarters of them are employed in toxicology tests - checking to see if new drug compounds are likely to be harmful if carried forward into human trials.

Mainstream science has taken the view that monkeys' physiological similarities to humans - we are also primates - make them powerful tools to investigate the diseases and fundamental biology of people.

But that closeness also raises an acute ethical dilemma - and there is growing pressure for the relatively small numbers of non-human primates used in tests to be reduced still further.

Now, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust are setting up a working group to examine the recent, current and future scientific basis for biological and medical research involving non-human primates.

Members of the working group, which will be chaired by Sir David Weatherall, will be drawn from outside the non-human primate research community. The group will include a broad range of scientific expertise, in addition to ethical and lay representation.

Sir David said: "We hope to establish areas where alternatives, such as genetically modified mice or computer modelling, might be an appropriate option.

"Equally, the study will examine areas of research where there is likely to be continuing need. The working group also hope to outline what, if any, new ethical, welfare or regulatory questions emerge from the conclusions of the scientific review."

Story here.

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