The Royal Society, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Academy of Medical Sciences conclude, predictably, that experimenting on monkey brains is vital . Well, of course they would! All four organisations have long been outspoken in their support for both primate research and animal experimentation in general. Sir David Weatherall is a professor at Oxford University – currently the centre of fierce controversy over the building of its new animal laboratory – he could hardly have concluded otherwise! The report is a shallow PR exercise designed to maintain the illusion that primate research is indispensable.

But the claim that experimenting on primates is vital for researching basic brain function or indeed Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, AIDS and other diseases, is contradicted by a scientific review published by patient safety organisation Europeans for Medical Progress: “Non-human primates in medical research and drug development: a critical review” (Biogenic Amines, Vol. 19, No. 4-6, pp. 235-255) – available at In summary:

  • Primates have contributed little, if any information of clinical value to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s treatment:virtually everything we know about these diseases has been learned by studying patients, their tissues and their families. “It is in human tissue that we will find the answers to these diseases,” according to Dr John Xuereb, the Director of the Cambridge Brain Bank Laboratory. Deep brain stimulation was pioneered in patients, not monkeys.
  • Knowledge of visual development and other basic brain functions has come from acute clinical observation, not experiments on monkeys.  “The applicability of this knowledge to humans is essentially nil” – according to an opthalmologist at Harvard University Medical School.
  • The Northwick Park Hospital clinical trial fiasco showed that monkey tests created a false sense of security and could never have predicted the catastrophe, while tests in human tissue could have done. Vioxx, the world’s biggest ever drug disaster, caused 320,000 heart attacks and strokes, despite being ‘proved safe’ in monkeys.
  • Research on primates, including great apes, has failed to produce treatments for any of our leading killers, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and malaria. The US Government concluded that chimpanzees are deficient for use in AIDS research and redirected $10 million of funding. Other primates are similarly deficient – 80 AIDS vaccines (50 preventive, 30 therapeutic) have now failed in human trials following success in primates.

Says neurosurgeon Dr Marius Maxwell: “As a practicing neurosurgeon and neuroscientist with more than two decades of research behind me, I know only too well that non-human primate research has contributed little, if anything, to the treatment of patients with neurological disorders. The great strides in our understanding and ability to treat such disorders have resulted from human studies. If we want medical progress, we must focus on humans, not monkeys, using today’s sophisticated scanners and other state-of-the-art techniques.”

This press release was directly quoted (unattributed) in coverage by the Today programme, the Guardian and the Daily Mail.

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