A high-level investigation report by some of Britain's leading scientists have supported the use of primates in medical research to improve human health and reduce deaths from disease. But only if no alternatives were available - they added.
While speaking on the use of primates, Lead author of the report, Sir David Weatherall, said that 'In some cases primates are essential to answer scientific questions because other animals such as mice and rats are too different from humans.' Weatherall and a team of scientists took 18 months to complete the report.
Sir David explained: "There is a scientific case for careful, meticulously regulated non-human primate research, at least for the foreseeable future, provided it is the only way of solving scientific or medical questions and high standards of welfare are maintained."
Using monkeys will be critical for further breakthroughs in a range of medical fields, from the development of vaccines against mass killers such as HIV and malaria to the basic understanding of brain disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, the report says. He also stressed that the use of primates should be judged on case-by-case basis apart from considering other methods including cellular and molecular research, computer modelling and using animals such as transgenic mice etc.
Animals rights extremists have protested against the use of animals in experiments and have targeted research organisations, universities and drug companies, threatening violence against anyone involved.
Despite the report's emphasis on the more-humane treatment of monkeys and on the development of alternatives, it failed to satisfy anti-vivisectionist groups, which want to ban or phase out the use of monkeys.
About 3,500 primates, mainly monkeys such as macaques, are used for scientific research in Britain each year. The number is similar in France, Canada and Germany. No great apes have been used for research in Britain since 1986.
Of the 3,500, about 400 monkeys are used in basic research and the rest are used by the pharmaceutical industry to test new drugs.
But the Dr Hadwen Trust, a non-animal medical research charity in Britain, described the report as short-sighted, uninspired and misguided. "The report seriously underplays the importance of non-animal research methods," said Dr Gill Langley, the charity's science director.