MONKEYS IN THE LAB

Science  22 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5807, pp. 1845b
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5807.1845b

Apes have been out-of-bounds for researchers in the United Kingdom since 1997. Will monkeys follow?

In view of increasingly vocal—and violent—protests over using monkeys in biomedical studies, the Medical Research Council asked a group led by Oxford University geneticist David Weatherall to do a thorough assessment of the scientific value of such research.

The report, issued last week, reaffirms the need for these primates, saying there is “a strong scientific case” for using monkeys in studies of communicable diseases such as AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well as disparate subjects such as vision, endometriosis, and memory. The group concluded that although alternative approaches such as cell biology and noninvasive imaging hold promise, monkey experiments remain the best approach in these areas.

CREDIT: KAREN KASMAUSKI/CORBIS

Weatherall hopes the report will give the public some solid facts to consider. “There's a strong feeling in the U.K. that we have got to create a better public debate in this field,” he says. “It has really got to a stage of quite extreme violence.” Whether the report will cool down the U.K.'s animal wars remains to be seen. Animal activists promptly pounced on the report. And Vicky Robinson, head of a group that advises the government on reducing animals in research, said it did not go far enough in exploring alternatives.

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