Dramatic fall in research using monkeys

Macaques (UAR/Wellcome Trust) The number of monkeys used in animal research has nearly halved

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There has been a dramatic fall in the use of monkeys in animal research according to the Home Office.

Annual statistics show that the number of "procedures" on non-human primates fell by 47% in 2011.

But overall the number of animal experiments increased by 2% to just over 3.79 million - up by 68,100. Seven out of ten involved mice.

"Procedures" can include scans, taking blood samples, modifying diet, testing vaccines and cancer drugs.

Breeding to produce genetically modified (GM) animals and harmful mutants (animals with genetic defects) accounted for 1.6 million procedures.

There were increases in the numbers of procedures for several animals, including fish, which rose 15%, up from 490,944 procedures in 2010 to 563,903 procedures in 2011.

Animal research 2011

3,792,857 procedures, up 2%

71% on mice

14.8% on fish

7% on rats

4% on birds

0.4% on rabbits

0.12% on dogs

0.11% on pigs

0.065% on primates

0.0061% on cats

  • source: Home Office

One of the highest percentage increases for any species was in cats, with a 26% rise (235 procedures, up from 187). The majority of these involved veterinary studies to try to improve the health of cats.

There were falls for other species including rats (down 11% from 305,139 procedures in 2010, to 271,535 in 2011), guinea pigs (down 16% from 13,660 to 11,537) and dogs (down 21% from 5,782 to 4,552).

But the most significant reduction was in the number of procedures performed on non-human primates. The use of new world monkeys (marmosets and tamarins) fell from 1,103 procedures in 2010 to 351 in 2011 and old world monkeys (macaques) by 41%, from 3,585 to 2,124.

Last year an independent review of the use of monkeys in UK medical research said the practice should continue and found the work to be generally of good quality. But it said a small minority had no clear scientific, medical or social benefits.

It is unclear why there was a fall in the number of procedures involving primates. All animal research attracts controversy but none more so than that involving primates, because of their close evolutionary link to humans. Research on great Apes including gorillas and chimpanzees is banned in the UK.

Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone said: "The report shows the important work being done in the country to regulate animal procedures and to ensure the UK's high standards of animal protection are upheld."

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "The increase in the total number of animals… is mainly due to the breeding of mice and fish, and is not a good indicator of the great efforts going into reducing, refining and replacing animals in research."

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) said it was appalled by the figures.

Chief Executive, Michelle Thew said: "As a nation of animal lovers, the UK should be leading the way in reducing animal testing. Unfortunately, these latest statistics show that the trend is actually going in the opposite direction."

Prof Fran Balkwill, Chair of Understanding Animal Research, said: "Animal research is conducted for the benefit of humans and animals alike, and we have made great strides in the past few years towards preventing or treating diseases that would have seemed incurable even a decade ago. We hope to see, in the coming years, further decreases in the number of dogs, cats and primates used, in line with efforts towards reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research advocated by scientists and overseen by NC3Rs (the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research)."

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    @ Anonymous Please
    Don't really need lecturing on the complexity of Biology thanks. It's actually that very complexity that our science is still so ignorant about. A rigid adherence to the old animal testing paradigm in many ways holds back our understanding and development of new techniques by stifling new thinking.Tissue cultures, simulations etc are still in their infancy due to under-funding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @chewho: What alternatives? Tissue cultures are very abnormal,, for cells change their expression of genes once they are taken out of the body. Computer simulations can help, but data are needed to construct the simulation. This is not an issue of money or will, but of scientific validity and technical feasibility. Biology is more complicated than you might think....

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The Coalition Government agreement included to: "end the testing of household products on animals and work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research” Neither has been met. No surprise there. Funding for research into alternatives is negligible compared to the comparably vast amounts spent on animal testing. If the political will, & funding, was there alternatives could be developed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Oh dear Fergus, is this the only topic open for debate. There are more pressing issues, you ignore. Perhaps the shortages of NHS prescription life saving medications being sold to Europe due to the exchange rate?

    The UK is struggling with counterfeit medications alone. Now the real thing is increasingly unavailable to patients. Investigate that Fergus. Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The standard of animal use in scientific procedures is exceptional in the UK. It was the 1st to introduce a legal act for the use of animals in scientific research and, as @Si Hope pointed out, makes great efforts to eliminate the use of animals in research if another, less harmful alternative is available (which is not very often).For reference, google 'ASPA 1986' for the relevant legislature.


Comments 5 of 11


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