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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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