Macaque in cage. Credit: Jan Creamer / National Anti-Vivisection Society
 
"This mass of evidence demonstrates that such experiments are both appallingly cruel and without any scientific merit"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Macaque mother and baby. Credit: Iain Green
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
"Animal experiments have become a habit that is difficult for some scientists to kick"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
"The Cambridge proposal has become a vitally important battleground where the wider arguments over animal experiments will be fought out"

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANIMAL AID
Campaign Background

Animal Aid director, Andrew Tyler, explains how plans for a new laboratory have become a battleground for the anti-vivisection cause.

Cambridge University wants to build a massive new laboratory complex in which, every year, the skulls of hundreds of monkeys would be cut open and their brains deliberately damaged with chemicals or through surgery. The animals would suffer post-operative symptoms including seizures, vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors and bleeding from head wounds.

The University's stated objective is to advance understanding of human neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's, schizophrenia, depression and stroke. Yet there are crucial physiological differences between monkeys and people; and the artificial way in which the disease symptoms are induced in such experiments also means that the information obtained will be of no use to human medicine.

Twice the local planning authority - South Cambridgeshire District Council - has heard the arguments for and against and rejected the proposal. But the University has formally appealed, with the matter to be decided at a public inquiry which commenced on November 26.

Cambridge University has spared no effort in enlisting its well-placed friends to canvass for its cause. A key advocate is science minister Lord Sainsbury. The supermarket billionaire, who has donated £9 million to the Labour Party (nearly half since it assumed office), now effectively controls the government's science policy. Nor is his Lordship a disinterested science buff. He has an estimated £40 million stake in biotech companies (Mail on Sunday May 26, 2002) with this holding having almost doubled in value while he's been in his government post.

Sainsbury has already thrown his weight behind the primate lab proposal and, unsurprisingly, Tony Blair - beneficiary of the billionaire's generosity - has also gone public with his support. In Blair's May 23 speech to the Royal Society - and in press interviews before and after - the PM characterised opponents of such projects as driven by ignorance and emotion.

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Battleground

The Cambridge proposal has thus become a vitally important battleground where the wider arguments over animal experiments will be fought out. For the animal research lobby and their allies in the pharmaceutical/biotech industries, the project has become iconic: if they can't get this one built, they are in trouble.

For opponents of vivisection the issue is equally crucial, given the savagery of the proposed experiments, the fact that primates are involved (the public favours them above all other vivisected species) and given the strength of the scientific argument against the 'procedures'.

For this reason, the leading national anti-vivisection groups and representatives of local activists got together in June to plan a co-ordinated response in the run-up to the November public inquiry. Initiated and chaired by Animal Aid's Andrew Tyler, the meeting was attended by the key figures from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), PETA, Uncaged, Naturewatch, Cambridge-based X-CAPE and Animal Aid's own planning expert, Tony Keen. The meeting resolved to issue a joint statement opposing the project, collaborate in respect to the written and oral evidence for the inquiry itself and work together where appropriate in other ways.

With immaculate timing (one day after Blair's Royal Society speech) the BUAV published a devastating undercover exposé of precisely the kind of neurological experiments on monkeys in which the proposed new centre would specialise.

Called Cutting Edge, the BUAV report was based on 10 months undercover work, during which time the agent secretly filmed and recorded the plight of hundreds of marmosets who had been deliberately brain damaged with surgery or corrosive chemicals.

The same category of experiment was the subject of Animal Aid's Mad Science Awards last August.

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Mass of evidence against the tests

This mass of evidence demonstrates that such experiments are both appallingly cruel and without any scientific merit. For example, one of our Mad Science Awards went to Cambridge University itself for an experiment aimed at understanding Huntington's Disease. This involved 12 marmosets each being injected 10 or more times in the brain with seizure causing chemicals. They were then set nine months of tests that included having them reach for food while their hands were immobilised with sticky tape and their feet with sticky postal labels. The monkeys were also injected with a drug (apomorphine) that caused them to spin uncontrollably up to 300 times in a single 60 minute session. At the end of it all the researchers were forced to admit that they 'did not replicate the pathology or the symptoms of Huntington's Disease'.
(The influence of exitotoxic basal ganglia lesions on motor performance in the common marmoset; A. L. Kendall et al; Brain 2000 Vol 123, Part 7, p1442-58)

Given the above and similar grotesque failures, why is Cambridge University intent on building the centre - on Green Belt land - despite it having already been turned down twice by the local planning authority?

One reason is that animal experiments have become a habit that is difficult for some scientists to kick. Another is intellectual arrogance together with the prestige that comes from doing supposedly 'important' research that gets published in specialist journals. A third reason is money - in the form of lucrative research grants (often paid from your taxes) plus collaborations with drug and biotech companies whose main objective is profits.

Rather than erecting another monument to pointless suffering, all the groups present at the June meeting resolved to urge Cambridge University to dedicate its intellectual and financial resources to building a world-class Centre of Excellence - though not on Green Belt land! Here, human neurological diseases could be studied without recourse to animal experiments, using state-of-the-art technologies. Furthermore, the government should come forward with generous financial assistance for such a project.

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Cambridge University exposed by BUAV >>

For more of the campaign history, plus details of the Mad Science Awards, visit www.animalaid.org.uk/campaign/vivi