AR-News: We should give a monkey's...OpEd by Dr. Ray Greek
published in The Guardian
dhaney at navs.org
Fri Dec 5 09:04:51 EST 2003
**Dr. Greek is the Science Advisor for the National Anti-Vivisection Society
(www.navs.org) as well as President of Americans for Medical Progress (AFMA)
and Europeans for Medical Progress (www.curedisease.com)
We should give a monkey's
The government is backing research on non-human primates for economic
reasons, to the detriment of public health
Friday December 5, 2003
Experimenting on monkeys in the hope of unlocking the secrets of the human
brain is an exercise in futility. The most dramatic differences between
humans and other primates are in the brain. Our brain is four times larger
than that of a chimpanzee, which is four times larger than that of a
macaque. Biochemical pathways in the human brain are unique. Gene expression
in our brain is dramatically different from that of the chimpanzee.
Yet at British universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and
London, macaques and marmosets are still used as models of human brain
function. This is despite the fact that human brains can now be studied
non-invasively using high-tech scanners. These enable the conscious brain
(of patients and volunteers) to be observed while engaged in a variety of
cognitive tasks, such as talking, singing, reading and writing, of which
monkeys are not even capable.
Scientists trying to discover details of human neural networks by studying a
different species are very likely to be led astray, wasting time and money.
Worse still, treatments that have worked well in monkeys have frequently
failed when tried on people, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Countless drugs for strokes have been developed and tested in primates and
other animals, yet all of them have failed and harmed patients in clinical
trials. An Alzheimer's vaccine was withdrawn in 2001 when it caused serious
brain inflammation in patients after proving safe and effective in tests on
monkeys. The track record of primates in predicting drugs' dangerous
side-effects is abysmal.
Experimentation on chimpanzees and other primates continues to frustrate the
development of an Aids vaccine, just as it delayed the polio vaccine by 30
years. Instead of learning from these mistakes, we are gearing up for an
increase in British primate use (the UK is already the largest user in
Europe) in order to study the growing problems of neurodegenerative disease.
Monkeys do not suffer from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis or
Huntington's diseases, and when these are artificially induced they manifest
themselves very differently from the real human versions. Creating "models"
of disease by destroying or removing parts of the brain will not reveal why
these brain regions die, and will therefore not contribute to stopping the
Future advances in our understanding and treatment of neurodegenerative
diseases will come from where they always have: human-based observation and
ethical clinical research, aided by advances in technology. Everything we
know about these diseases has been learned from studying patients while they
are alive and after they have died, as well as from population research and
studies using human tissues cultured from biopsies or autopsies.
Decades of research have focused on animal (including primate) "models" of
MS without finding causes or cures. Patients have waited in vain for
effective treatments. Now, a safe new method called MR spectroscopy has
revolutionised understanding of the condition through studies of patients
A new brain-imaging probe has allowed the visualisation of Alzheimer's
plaques in the brains of living patients for the first time. This will
enable earlier diagnosis and accurate monitoring of the effects of treatment
on patients. New drugs can be given in very small, safe doses and tracked
through the body using scanners.
Furthermore, population studies have revealed links between dementia and
high-cholesterol diets, as well as smoking and the inadequate intake of
vitamin B12 and folate. Clearly, it is through human studies that we will
find the answers to these diseases. Yet John Prescott has just given
permission for Cambridge University to build a new primate brain research
centre, even though the inspector who conducted the public inquiry concluded
that no national need for brain research on primates had been demonstrated.
An appeal to the high court will soon be lodged.
Mr Prescott admits that he did not feel it necessary for the value of
research on primates to be demonstrated. He defers to Lord Sainsbury -
science minister and Labour donor - who has made it clear that it is
government policy to promote an internationally competitive knowledge
economy in Britain. In effect, the government is influencing the direction
of British science for economic motives, even though they conflict with
public health interests. A knowledge economy based on erroneous knowledge is
doomed to fail.
Prior to Darwin and DNA, scientists could and did learn things from animals
that were applicable to humans. But the cutting edge of science today is
focused on variation between individual people at the level of "snips"
(single nucleotide polymorphisms). The age of personalised medicine could be
realised very soon if we started funding the necessary research instead of
wasting precious resources studying monkeys.
· Dr Ray Greek is medical director of Europeans For Medical Advancement
Dawn C. Haney
National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS)
E-mail: dhaney at navs.org
Web site: www.navs.org
More information about the AR-News