Why Experiments On Monkeys (And Other Non Human Primates) Are Of No Value To Doctors Or Patients

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc

Vivisectors make many pseudoscientific claims. (Whether they do this through ignorance or through a malignant desire to mislead I do not know.) One of the commonest is to claim that experiments on non-human primates are essential for discovering new ways to conquer disease.

I have for many years stated firmly that no experiments performed on animals have ever been of value to doctors or patients. (No vivisector has ever disproved this statement). Experiments on monkeys are no exception to this. Experiments on non-human primates are as dangerously misleading and utterly pointless as experiments performed on rats, mice and cats.

And yet the merciless abuse of monkeys and other primates continues unabated.

For example, rhesus (or macaque) monkeys are commonly used in neurological experiments.

* At Columbia University in the USA, electrical wires were inserted into the eyes of monkeys so that their eye movements could be recorded.

* At the University of California, Davis, USA, the brains of monkeys were surgically exposed and then directly injected with acid in order to destroy certain areas. The monkeys' ability to learn was then studied.

* At the University of Connecticut, electrodes were screwed into monkeys' brains. The monkeys were then trained to perform visual tasks (often involving electrical stimulation).

Other experiments on monkeys are described in my books (such as Animal Experiments: Simple Truths).

It seems appalling that scientists in any so-called civilised society should be allowed to perform such experiments. Even if experiments on monkeys were essential (which they are not) it would surely be difficult for any sentient human being to defend them.

(Experimenters often claim that monkeys are very similar to human beings. They say that monkeys are like people but need not be treated like people. If this is true then how long will it be before vivisectors are to be heard justifying experiments performed on humans with low IQs? Anyone with a friend or relative who is intellectually disadvantaged should be very concerned about the use of monkeys in experiments. Dr Mengele's successors are ready and waiting.)

But experiments on monkeys are not essential. And they are downright misleading.

As Dr Aysha Akhtar and Dr Jarrod Bailey have recently pointed out the human brain is far more complex (both anatomically and physiologically) than the brain of the monkey. It takes much longer for a human brain to develop. The human cortex has ten times the surface area of that of a monkey. Similar areas of the brain perform very different functions in humans and monkeys. And the number of synapses (connections) made by human neurons is far greater than the number made by the neurons of rhesus monkeys. Some parts of the human brain simply do not exist in monkeys. Eighty per cent of proteins are different to some degree in chimpanzees as compared with humans. Fundamental differences in the symptoms and pathology of Parkinson's disease exist between humans and non-human primates.

In short, the differences between species are far greater, and far more important, than the similarities. To obtain useful information about the human brain scientists must work on humans - not on monkeys.

And it is perfectly possible to perform all the necessary experiments on humans quite ethically.

Centres such as Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania and Minnesota State University in the USA all use scans and MRIs to map and monitor the human brain and to collect relevant data on how the human brain works.

It is with these tools - not through cruel and pointless experiments on animals - that doctors can help patients suffering from neurological disorders.

Major breakthroughs in neurology have come through epidemiology, clinical studies, genetic research, human tissue studies and autopsies.

If you want to know more than I suggest that you visit the excellent website produced by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org). In particular I recommend two excellent papers by Dr Jarrod Bailey and Dr Aysha Akhtar (`Non-Human Primates in Medical Research: Sensible or Dispensable?' and `Neurological Experiments: Monkey See...But Not Like Humans' respectively) which are available and which are supported by many scientific references.

Vernon Coleman's books on animal experimentation (including his latest Animal Experiments: Simple Truths) are available from the shop on this website. Several of these books are available free for downloading. Bulk copies of Animal Experiments:Simple Truths are available at much reduced prices.

Copyright Vernon Coleman December 3rd 2006