Activists condemn universities for “gruesome” surgical experiments on macaque monkeys

Experiments conducted at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Newcastle, which involved surgically implanting restraining devices into the heads of macau monkeys and forcing them to perform tasks for water, have been condemned by animal rights activists as “inhumane.”

A report from Cruelty Free International, seen by The Student, reported that at the university of Oxford, a study into how the brain makes reward-based decisions, used four rhesus macaques. The monkeys had head-holding devices were surgically implanted in their skulls so that their heads could be rigidly held in place in a restraint device. The monkeys were then restrained and “forced” to perform repetitive behavioural tasks inside an MRI brain scanner.

Cruelty Free International stated that the monkeys were deprived of water in order to motivate them to work for small juice rewards. The monkeys had to choose between two images on a computer screen and were rewarded when they chose the correct one.

A study at the university of Cambridge into risky decision making in gambling used similar methods. Two rhesus monkeys were subjected to surgery to have head-holding devices implanted into their skulls. Restrained in primate chairs, with their heads rigidly held in place, the monkeys were forced to cooperate in a gambling task. Cruelty Free International claimed the animals were “forced to take part in thousands of these trials over a period of several weeks.”

At The University of Newcastle, head restraints were surgically implanted in an experiment to determine if monkeys are able to learn and understand language.

Dr Nick Palmer, Policy Director at Cruelty Free International, spoke to The Student about the experiments. He said: “Experiments at Oxford, Cambridge and Newcastle in which head restraint devices are surgically attached to monkeys, demonstrate that it is still far too easy for highly intelligent and social animals to be used in extremely cruel and distressing tests. Far from finding cures for debilitating human diseases, experiments such as these appear to have minimal benefit for humans. Instead of advancing human science, their purpose seems more to do with defending the continued use of primates or satisfying the curiosity of researchers.”

A spokesperson for The University of Oxford defended the research, claiming that studies into monkeys helped find cure for human diseases. They told The Student: “Work with non-human primates has given us vital information about how the brain works, allowing us to understand better the effects of sudden damage like stroke and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.’

But Dr Palmer refuted the statement. He told The Student: “Whilst universities often present their research as important to understanding what might benefit medical science in the future, many experiments appear to be driven by curiosity rather than a focused attempt to address a particular illness.

Dr Julia Baines, Science Advisor to PETA, also condemned the treatment of macau monkeys. She told The Student: “Monkeys feel as much pain and fear just as we do, and their overwhelming natural instincts – like ours – are to be free and to protect their own lives, not to be locked in a small metal cage and experimented upon.”

“Almost 90% of primates in laboratories exhibit abnormal behaviour and even their pulse rate and adrenalin levels are artificially elevated due to stress. This not only impacts on the primates’ welfare but abnormal behaviour and physiology that leads to pathological artefacts also invalidates experiments,” she continued.

A spokesperson for The University of Oxford disputed Baine’s claims that animal testing was no longer necessary, telling The Student: “We are not yet at a stage where animal research can be replaced altogether.”

Professor Petlov, Professor of Comparative Neuropsychology at The University of Newcastle, led research which utlised head restraints in his research.

Petlov told The Student that the university was working on developing alternatives to the practice: “The Newcastle laboratory is also developing innovative non-invasive head immobilisation options, for procedures that do not require surgical implants, funded by the NC3Rs and the Wellcome Trust.”

Image credit: Tambako the Jaguar 

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