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12 Dec 06
UK report supports use of primates in research
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists have supported the use of primates in medical research to improve human health and reduce deaths from disease but only if no alternatives were available.
Sir David Weatherall, lead author of a report on the use of non-human primates in research, said in some cases primates are essential to answer scientific questions because other animals such as mice and rats are too different from humans.
"There is a scientific case for careful, meticulously regulated non-human primate research, at least in the foreseeable future, provided it is the only way of solving important scientific or medical questions and high standards of welfare are maintained," he told a news conference on Tuesday to launch the report by the Academy of Medical Sciences.
He stressed the use of primates should be judged on a case-by-case basis and that other methods including cellular and molecular research, computer modeling and using animals such as transgenic mice should be considered.
Animals rights extremists have protested against the use of animals in experiments and have singled out research organizations, universities and drug companies, threatening violence against anyone involved.
About 3,500 primates, mainly monkeys such as macaques, are used for scientific research in Britain each year. The number is similar in France, Canada and Germany. No great apes have been used for research in Britain since 1986.
Of the 3,500, about 400 monkeys are used in research and the rest are used by the pharmaceutical industry to test new drugs.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said primate research comprises less than one percent of all animal tests.
"When animals do have to be used, good welfare and housing are at the top of our agenda," Dr Philip Wright, of the ABPI, said in a statement.
Weatherall and a team of scientists who took 18 months to complete the report said primates provide valuable information about drugs and vaccines for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which combined kill about 7 million people each year.
Animal research is also essential to improve knowledge of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, according to the report.
"In the neuroscience, there is still a case despite all the new developments in (brain) imaging and so on for the use of a small number of animals," said Weatherall.
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