Since news at work spread about my interests in our hairier cousins, any stories remotely connected to non-human primates are immediately thrown my way. And today was no exception.
I was sent down to a press conference this morning at the Wellcome Trust where a panel of experts, who took part in an independent review about bio-medical research using primates over the last tens, gave the waiting media their thoughts.
As a reporter I of course had to remain impartial on a piece like this, but I have to say the findings were disappointing and left me with little hope for our nearest kin and made for quite a bleak outlook for scientific advancement.
No one denies there is a need to progress with medical research, but with improved scientific technology, researchers should be looking at other methods particularly in this century. Then there’s the argument that testing on monkeys doesn’t guarantee the trials will work in us (humans) and if you put animals like this under duress, it could affect the tests so the results are not accurate anyway.
Monkeys are not cheap either. Each one is thought to cost £20-25,000 and if you are doing research you need to use a lot of them to back up your research. Testing on great apes has been banned in the UK for the last 25 years. But the USA still continues.
Macaques, marmosets and other prosimians, such as tree shrews, are usually the genuine pigs for research in the UK and today’s report found that one in ten studies had absolutely no medical or scientific benefit. Why on earth were they given this funding in the first place? Is this proof that vetting is not working? Will we really see a dramatic improvement in how primates are used in research in the future?
It’s been hard trying to get Primatologists to talk today, mostly because everyone is on holiday or out of London. But by sheer chance, and I mean the luck of the Gods! Ian Redmond just happened to be cycling down the Euston Road late this afternoon, moments after I had just finished filming a piece-to-camera. What are the chances?? This is a man who is rarely in London and splits his time between Gloucester and Africa and lord knows what other countries in-between. I was on the phone to a dear professor who’s always been a great sounding board to me, and I rudely had to put the phone down on him in order to yell across three lanes of traffic. Thankfully Ian heard me and pulled over and proved to be the best impromptu interview I could have asked for.
My report which was aired this evening contains some disturbing images of laboratory marmosets and is not for the faint hearted.