- NEW - Primate experiments
Our closest relatives
Primates may have some similarities with humans, but biologically they're still a different species
At a first glance, primates are reasonable test subjects for human medicine. They have similar limbs, can walk on two legs, and posess s skull with some similarities, as well as reflecting some human behaviour.
The reality is that monkey experiments are relevant only to the breed of monkey they are practised on - not to other species or humans. This is particularly true of experiments on the brain, including for illnesses like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even schizophrenia, and for developing new drugs. Monkeys offer nothing more that superficial similarities, complex differences and none of these avenues for progress. They also present a number of risks.
A track record of failure:
Monkey reaction to drugs and chemicals are - like all animal experiments - relevant only to that species. There's big differences between conclusions drawn for primate labs and human experience. PCP (angel dust), sedates chimpanzees but causes humans experiences including paranoia. Nitrobenzene is toxic to humans but not monkeys. Human deaths were caused by Isoproterenol, so attempts were made to reproduce the effects in monkeys - and they all failed. Carbenoxalone caused water retention so severe it caused heart failure - much of which was fatal. That could not be reproduced in lab monkeys either. Flosint, an arthritis medication, was tolerated well by the monkeys it was tested on, but it killed humans. Amrinone, a medication used for heart failure, was tested on numerous nonhuman primates and released with confidence. Humans haemorrhaged, as the drug caused failure in their blood cells responsible for clotting, in 20% of patients taking the medication on a long-term basis.
Of the main human carcinogens, NONE affect monkeys. Actinomycin-D, the first of the chemotherapy drugs, kills monkeys. (Read more about cancer tests here.) Humans die from Hepatitus-B, monkeys just carry the virus. A statistical assessment of how predictive monkeys are was reached when drugs which cause birth defects were tried on pregnant monkeys. Seventy percent were passed safe. (read more on this here) Using a method with such a proven track record of failure is entirely irresponsible.
Chemical warfare vivisector Wouter Basson, tried a gas on baboons. Soon it became clear the baboons were not suffering any effects. 'I was very angry. I thought there was something wrong with the grenade. In a fit of temper, I pulled off my gas mask and threw it onto the ground. I fell down with the gas mask. Luckily Mijburgh was outside and could drag me out. I spent three days in hospital. The baboons did not react at all'.
Many people do not have a good working knowledge of how the brain functions, so the idea of using monkeys for brain research seems a plausible one. The reality is that like all organs, the brain is specific to each species. No monkey has a brain with main areas in the same proportion as humans, or even with all the main areas humans have.
In macaques the pre motor cortex and the motor cortex are similar areas, but in humans the pre-motor is six times as large. This massive difference throws a spanner into the works regarding using macaques for brain research, but their continued use shows only that animal experimenters will settle for this poor method.
In humans 29% of the brain surface is the frontal area, but in baboons this area is 9.5%, and even less in Capuchin monkeys and marmosets. Studies on rhesus monkeys in the 1980s showed our sensory cortex to be very different, and the thalamus (which relays messages to the brain) is different in structure in humans from every known animal.
Damage to the brain causes different problems too. Damage to a specific part of the supplementary motor system in humans causes loss of speech and muscular response. Monkeys lose only minor function. Damage the parietal lobes in humans and they cannot make skilled movements. Monkeys suffer temporary, slight loss of muscular function. But it is not only the parts of the brain which are different - even the blood circulates in a different way: 'the completeness of the circle of Willis and the singleness of the anterior cerebral arterial system in the monkey point up significant differences within the cerebral circulation itself as between the human being and the subhuman primate'.
The idea that a monkey brain is a scaled down version of the human brain is just not reasonable. Add in the facts that some area of the human brain (e.g. abstract thought, speech) are not in the monkey, and that lab primates cannot explain how they are feeling or reacting, and this is obviously a blind alley in terms of research. It has failed to build the detailed maps of the human brain it intended to, and will always do so. It also means inducing human illnesses in monkeys will fail. Attempts to induce Alzheimer's using tissue from human patients gave the monkeys no Alzheimer's, but a form of BSE instead. Attempts to induce a condition similar to Parkinson's failed, and the monkeys recovered. (Read more anbout Parkinson's here)
Schizophrenia has proved impossible to mimic in the lab because monkeys behave differently and do not interact with the human environment in the same way. As the field of genetics emerges, the differences it reveals add more problems to the vivisectors. A vivisectors handbook admits that although many human diseases are known to be caused by a defect in a single gene, no illnesses caused by single genes have ever been shown in any monkey species. Research into HIV and AIDS in primates has proved a fruitless failure (read more here),which has consumed massive resources.
Instead of monkey experiments
A common claim is that although imperfect for studying human illnesses, monkey brains are the best we have and there are no real options. The options available for the expert wanting to study the human brain are actually enormous. Patients, accident victims and healthy humans offer masses of opportunities, but the advancing technology means clinical study is possible in an area impossible before. Electroencephalograms (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI (fMRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), Positron emission topography (PET), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), event-related optical signals (EROS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) have revolutionised brain research. You can read more about this here.
Devoting more time and resources into these would yield infinitely more results than investment in monkey experiments. As these methods emerge, their capabilities become increasing apparent, but it would be incorrect to think that they may one day make primate brain research obsolete. That point has been passed.
"But today the neurological theatre or the clinical investigation unit is in fact a superbly equipped laboratory, with the important advantage that its experiments are carried out on man rather than the guinea pig". This statement was made in recognition of that point having been passed already - and it was made in 1971. The improvement in technology since that date has made the continuation of these vivisections indefensible.
Apart from being entirely useless for medical science, monkey experiments present a threat of consequences far worse than wasted money and delayed progress. The threat of cross species contamination from experiments using monkey blood and body parts is enormous. It has already happened. The SV-40 virus, a monkey virus, has contaminated polio vaccines. This was caused by growing the vaccine on a culture of monkey kidney cells. The virus has been found to be influential in developing cancer, and has been found in many tumours, especially brain and bone cancers.
Virologist Dr J. Allen commented on this risk when discussing primate to human transplants: 'We assume, as given, that these primates carry pathogens that are infectious to humans. You assume that it's something that can kill you. But then in the next breath we turn around and ship a baboon up to Pittsburgh, they open it up, probably every human in the OR [operating room] is exposed to whatever is in there, and they stick it into a human. Does that seem rational?'
Dr M. Michaels from the University of Pittsbugh, a forerunner in cross species organ transplants has explained that 'most often these infections are latent organisms and are often clinically silent in the donor', which means it is not obvious that the monkey has it, but it may be a killer. Dr Allen has also reminded us that it is 'well established that most new emerging human infectious diseases have their origin in other species'.
Worst still, says Dr Allen, some will prove impossible to detect. He claims that none of the screening methods, registries, surveillance etc, 'would pick up on an AIDS like virus...[Organ transplant experiments] constitute a threat to the general public health and not merely a complication of the risk/benefit calculation for the individual xenogenic tissue recipient...Do not use non-human primates as organ donors if you don't want to infect the human population'.
The problem is that it would not even need an organ transplant to make this a reality. Staff working with the monkeys could make the contamination a reality. A variant of HIV (HIV-2) is so similar to the primate virus SIV, that a primate source is a highly likely candidate for its origin. Lab workers exposed to monkey blood infected with SIV have tested positive for SIV, which is known to cross species barriers. If it has not already happened, the threat it poses is a massive and terrifying risk.
HTLV-2 causes leukaemia in humans, and is thought to have originated in monkeys as STLV. The Marburg virus, transmitted by monkeys, killed seven people in the 1960s. Patients lost mental function, bled from all orifices, fell into coma and died after heart failure. Ebola also causes bleeding from all orifices, and is believed to have come from monkeys. As Jaap Goudsmit, who discovered Type-D simian endogenous retrovirus in baboons explained, his find was 'scary...it's one of those viruses that might be activated in a new host'. The evidence of a threat is obviously there, and is a potential carnage. Is it really worth the risk for such a maze of dead ends and pointless experiments?
The knowledge gulf
As with so many aspects of vivisection, there's a massive gulf between what the public and authorities can be conned into believing, and the reality. But the truth is also easy to demonstrate and simple to back up. The answer to this problem, as always, is education.
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