The BUAV is raising concerns with politicians about the Pre-Clinical Research Bill that is due to be presented to the Mauritius Parliament in the coming weeks. The Bill, if adopted, will promote the establishment of experimentation facilities in the country which will inflict further suffering and misery on the country’s native population of long-tailed macaques. At a time when the use of primates in research is increasingly being challenged in Europe and elsewhere, the establishment of primate testing facilities in Mauritius will simply encourage further use of these animals.

A letter has been sent to all members of the Mauritius Parliament. In the letter, the BUAV argues that in addition to the ethical objections regarding the use of primates in research, there are also strong scientific arguments against their use. Because of biological differences between humans and other species, the results of such research cannot be safely and reliably extrapolated to humans. Examples include:

  1. With diseases from AIDS to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, primate research has simply failed to deliver the benefits researchers anticipated, and in safety testing primates have proved equally unreliable. Just one well-known example of the difficulty of extrapolating from non-human primates to humans: a few years ago, a monoclonal antibody tested on human volunteers at Northwick Park Hospital in London caused serious side-effects. The antibody had been tested on primates in Germany at 500 times the dose used in the volunteers, with no safety problems. It was later discovered that the side-effects could have been predicted from test-tube studies.
  2. There is no effective treatment for Parkinson’s despite decades of research in monkeys. To attempt to ‘model’ Parkinson’s disease in non-human primates, who do not normally get this disease, researchers inject toxins into their brains to destroy dopamine producing cells, inducing symptoms that bear a superficial resemblance to human Parkinson’s disease. This crude way in which its symptoms are modelled bear little relation to the gradual onset of the condition in humans.
  3. Primates are also not normally infected by HIV and do not develop AIDS. Even though they have been used for the last 30 years in an attempt to develop and test potential vaccines for HIV, there is still no effective vaccine for humans. A recent analysis shows that out of 85 potential AIDS vaccines that have been tested in 197 human trials, only seven (3.5%) have reached phase III trials, which involve a large group of human volunteers, and, importantly, none of these were successful. 

BUAV’s Head of Science, Dr Katy Taylor stated: ‘Research on primates is an old-fashioned and ultimately unsuccessful aspect to medical research. The scientific community is trying to move away from using primates. Mauritius should be leading the way in the use of modern alternative technologies that will deliver real health care benefits rather than encouraging this archaic and cruel practice to continue.’