There’s news coming from the BBC that is reporting that the Weatherall committee, in the United Kingdom, will be supporting use of non-human and non-great ape primates for studies that can reduce human suffering and loss of life. This is another example of a poignant piece on ethics and morals in primatology, that I have a hard time tackling. The article also reports that,
“Fewer than 1% of animal tests are conducted on primates and the committee has spent 18 months examining if these are sound and relevant to humans… BBC Science Correspondent Pallab Ghosh said research on primates caused particular controversy because they were more sentient than other laboratory animals and so suffered more.
The committee, led by Oxford geneticist Professor Sir David Weatherall, heard evidence from 35 people, including representatives from academic organisations, animal welfare groups, the government and patients. It also received 62 written submissions. The inquiry was set up the Royal Society, Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and the Academy of Medical Sciences.
Just over 4,500 experiments were carried out on primates last year, mostly to test new drugs.
The scientific community has long argued that there is no other safe way to test many new drugs or carry out certain types of brain research.
However, opponents insist primates are poor models for human disease, and say such research has failed to produce treatments for leading killers including heart disease and malaria.”
I’m on the fence with this one, because I am currently experiencing a first hand account of a person who is currently benefiting from research that was once conducted on animals, like primates. And there’s nothing more I want now than to help this person get better. So if it means many monkeys have to die, would that be morally justified? It’s hard for me to answer that one way or the other, right now.
I also wonder about the progress being made with other model organisms, such as transgenic mice who have human immune systems as well as promising project like the virtual cell project. I wonder how much we need to rely on primates a model organism in research, if these other options become more viable?