Hundreds of scientists sign letter supporting primates in neuroscience

Over 400 primate and neuroscience researchers signed a letter supporting the use of non-human primates in neuroscience, which was published in the Guardian today. Coordinated by Understanding Animal Research (UAR), the letter emphasises the key role that primate research has played and continues to play in vital neuroscience research. EARA signed the letter alongside 20 other institutions, as well as reaching out to our networks in Europe to gain further support. The letter can still be signed via this link.

The letter is a timely response to mounting pressure by animal rights groups against the use of non-human primates in biomedical research. Last week, the Independent published a letter coordinated by Cruelty Free International denouncing primate research, and earlier this year, the Australian Senate rejected a proposed ban on importing non-human primates for scientific research. The UAR letter is the latest in a series of efforts from the scientific community to underline the importance of this type of research, including the Foundation of Biomedical Research’s White Paper on primate research and the National Institutes of Health workshop held last week.

Kirk Leech, EARA’s Executive Director, said:

“NHP research continues to underpin our understanding of brain processes and debilitating brain conditions and allows assessing the efficiency and safety of a candidate drug. Animal research, in particular with regard to primates, is highly regulated on legal and ethical grounds as enshrined in European Directive 2010/63.

“Out of the 4.14 million procedures completed in the UK in 2015, only 0.16% were performed on primates, which accounts for 3,600 procedures. This number does not even represent the real number of primates used in procedures, since some animals undergo several procedures to reduce the use of animals. Out of this small proportion, only 0.8% were classified as severe. 

“Accurate and contrasted information is necessary to ensure a balanced dialogue that considers all risks and opportunities involved, especially in such a contentious issue as using primates in neuroscience research. We encourage and support the scientific community in the quest to provide timely and truthful information to promote scientific research.”

Full text of the letter:

Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of 50 medical advances from the last 50 years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.

The biological similarities between humans and other primates mean that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than 10 million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over 200,000 Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to deep brain stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980s and 1990s.

Given that primates are intelligent and sensitive animals, such research requires a higher level of ethical justification. The scientific community continues to work together to minimise the suffering of primates wherever possible. We welcome the worldwide effort to replace, refine and reduce the use of primates in research.

We, the undersigned, believe that if we are to effectively combat the scourge of neurodegenerative and other crippling diseases, we will require the careful and considered use of nonhuman primates. Stringent regulations across the developed world exist to ensure that primates are only used where there is no other available model – be that the use of a mouse or a non-animal alternative – and to protect the wellbeing of those animals still required. The use of primates is not undertaken lightly. However, while not all primate research results in a new treatment, it nonetheless plays a role in developing both the basic and applied knowledge that is crucial for medical advances.

For an up-to-date list of the signatories to the letter, see the website of Understanding Animal Research.

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