I’ve been a staunch defender of the ethical use of animals in research over the years. However, one area of animal research that I’ve always thought should be held to the highest standard is primate research. If there’s one area of animal research that requires the most justification, it’s research using primates as animal models. And, no, I’m not talking about Laura Hewitson’s and Andy Wakefield’s unethical abuse of primates.

Sometimes, however, there is the ethical use of primates. For example, the use of primates was instrumental in justifying a clinical trial of whether a microbicidal gel can prevent the transmission of HIV, as Paul Browne at Speaking of Research describes.


  1. #1 DLC
    July 30, 2010

    I guess that makes me a speciesist, if I don’t mind animal research so long as it’s actually done for research and not to keep some poor lab tech in a job or to make some poor undergrad or grad student “earn their stripes” ?

  2. #2 Paul
    July 30, 2010

    Thanks for the mention Orac, it’s a shame that when it comes to primates in HIV research you never seem to hear the good news (outside of the scientific press).

    I just hope that badly designed and unethical projects such as that done by Hewitson and Wakefield don’t end up tarnishing the whole field. I’m tending towards the view that in addition to the IACUCs (which it must be said usually do a very good job and are willing to discipline scientists who break the rules) the USDA should take a more active role in deciding which projects should go ahead. The UK system of project licences administered by Home office Inspectors (themselves former researchers and/or veterinarians) might serve as a model. The great advantage of this system is that those deciding whether to approve the project are independent of both the institution concerned and of any competitors, avoiding any possible confict of interest.

    Research using non-human primates makes a great contribution to medicine, it needs to be done properly.

  3. #3 BB
    July 30, 2010

    DLC: That’s what IACUCs prevent, you know.

  4. #4 Dog
    August 1, 2010

    Only three comments on this very interesting subject. Yet people swarm in the hundreds to threads lazily mocking those with concerns about animal experimentation. Why is the topic so black and white?

    I support ethical, thoughtful, useful animal research and I applaud Orac’s careful stance on this. I’m happy to learn from Doctor Browne that research on our primate cousins is something usually done with caution and conscience.

    Unless we turn to religious excuses, these experiments will always require a bit of justification and contemplation. Thank the monkey indeed!

  5. #5 c0nc0rdance
    August 2, 2010

    I can’t generalize to others, but as someone who has used animal research to better understand veterinary diseases, my own experience is that researchers are very sensitive to the suffering of animals. I spent a great deal of time with my research subjects. Horses, in my case. They were infected, cared for, gave us blood samples, and eventually were sacrificed after a long life. Everything was done with the utmost respect.

    I’ve heard stories of mouse cervical dislocations that went wrong, and I’ve heard people joke a bit about it, but it’s gallows humor, an acknowledgment of how much people hate to cause other living things harm.

    I’m with you Orac. Animal research is necessary, but it’s also unappealing. If we can avoid it, I’m all for it, but not at the cost of preventable suffering.

    Sorry, just my 1/50th of a dollar’s worth of thinking.

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