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Primate research 'should have dedicated centers'

December 13, 2006 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

UK panel says specialist facilities would safeguard animal welfare.

Monkeys used for research should be transferred to specially created "centres of excellence" to minimize suffering, a British panel announced this week. They envisage building four institutions around the country to house the roughly 400 non-human primates used in basic biomedical research in Britain each year.

The announcement came at the publication of an 18-month study into the usefulness of primates in vaccine development and neurological research. The panel concluded that such research is still necessary and beneficial in these fields.

"We looked at the science and said that if we were to take [primate research] away at the moment, science would suffer greatly," said panel chair David Weatherall, of the University of Oxford, UK

Creating centres of excellence to house non-human primates would involve gradually shifting the animals from the 13 British universities that currently use them, said panel member Louise Johnson, a molecular biophysicist, also at the University of Oxford. This would help with training of animals and staff, and allow animals to live in larger groups, she said.

The panel also recommended that the government should commission a wider study of the use of primates and other animals across all research fields. Primates are thought to be most beneficial in the regions the panel addressed, where they serve as animal models of complex human diseases and brain functions. Overall, primates represent 2% of animals used in British research.

Members of the panel visited four UK institutions that house primates, and found conditions satisfactory. But Johnson says that they had received communications from the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals that conditions were not of the same standard at some other facilities.

The creation of specialist centres would raise fears of attacks by animal-rights extremists. The current project to build a biomedical lab at the University of Oxford, which would house mostly rodents, has been a flashpoint between animal-rights campaigners and research advocates.

"We should not step back from what's right we should not be put off by the dangers of violent behaviour," said Weatherall.

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