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Researchers launch primate review

An independent study has been launched to review the use of non-human primates in medical research.

An independent study has been launched to review the use of non-human primates in medical research.

The study, which has been organised by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, will examine the recent, current, and future scientific basis for biological and medical research involving non-human primates.

A working group, chaired by Sir David Weatherall, will conduct the study. Weatherall said: ìWe hope to establish areas where alternatives such as genetically-modified mice or computer modelling might be an appropriate option.

ìEqually, the study will examine areas of research where there is  likely to be continuing need. The working group also hope to outline what, if any, new ethical, welfare or regulatory questions emerge from the conclusions of the scientific review.î

Approximately 3,000 primates - mainly marmosets, tamarins and macaques - are used in medical research each year. Although animal rights groups have campaigned for their use in research to be stopped, researchers argue that primates' similarities to humans make them essential research tools.

Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said: ìCertain organ systems in monkeys are really similar to humans and that makes them especially appropriate for medical research - particularly the reproductive system, the hormone system, the immune system the lungs and the brain.î

In 2003 a report by the Animal Procedures Committee argued that alternatives to using primates in scientific procedures must be explored because demand for their use is set to increase over the next decade.

The report, The Use of Primates under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (1986), suggested that neuroactive drug development and the human genome project could increase the demand for primates over the next ten years, so it is 'extremely important' and 'absolutely essential' that alternatives are investigated.

30th September 2008

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