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Unresponsive university

GOUTAM GHOSH takes a look at the movement against vivisection in the light of a demonstration at Cambridge University.


THE honorary degree awards in Senate Hall, University of Cambridge would have been just another peaceful event during an overcast, rain-washed morning late last June had it not been for the young woman who held a megaphone aimed at the Senate Hall where a handpicked lot attended the solemn ceremony.

She spoke of the needless outlays on vivisection. "I am a disabled person, disabled by animal-tested drugs, which is why I am here today. I have my heart damaged by animal-tested drugs. Animal tested because it is easier ... The University plans to mimic strokes, which I am prone to. They mimic them because monkeys do not get them. Therefore all the research money is wasted. Please help boycott this planned underground laboratory, which the University of Cambridge intends to build. Write to your MP; write to the newspapers; take part in demos and protests. Remember anyone of us could be disabled; any of us could get Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. We want cures, not fat research grants and suffering of animals, which benefit no one. It is a scientific fraud... "

Not far away from where she stood screaming through the megaphone was a group of protesters who either held placards stating, "Say no to primate research", "Cambridge University exposed", "University of Cambridge brings shame", "We need cures not catastrophes. Over 98 per cent of human illnesses are never seen in animals" and more, or mimicked the torture meted out to primates by grey-haired scientists.

The disabled young woman screamed, "They will deliberately brain-damage these monkeys to mimic strokes and other conditions in people ... but we all know it is a waste of money and time. We want scientific development, we want cures for humans ... We say stop the planned primate centre not only for the sake of animals but for the sake of people ... This is a disgusting planned commission. It is not only going to cause horrific suffering to animals who are going to be deliberately brain-damaged, but also the results will be unreliable ... Why haven't we found cures for cancer and Alzheimer's? Why haven't we found cures for Parkinson's? Because we are testing on animals. Monkeys and chimpanzees might have a lot of our DNA in common but they react very differently to drugs. For instance, they cannot tolerate painkillers. There are many other differences as well."

While the woman screamed through her megaphone, benedictions and hymns echoed in Senate Hall, and the loud applauses sliced through the humid air of a grey morning to drown the protest of a single woman. The personal security men of the Duke of Edinburgh lazed against their sedans, and whispered occasionally into their wireless sets. There were a dozen police personnel but none bothered the group of protesters or those who photographed the group or waited for the gathering in the Senate Hall to troop out and march to St. Catherine's College for a special prayer.

When the awardees, the faculty members, senior officials of Cambridge University, and the Chancellor, the Duke of Edinburgh, walked out of the filigreed, cast iron gate, the electronic media persons swung to action just as the protesters did. The disabled young woman walked barely four metres in front of the Chancellor who was cordoned by his personal bodyguards.

But why the protest? What is wrong in experimenting on animals? The protesters offered part of the explanation. There may be a lot in common between the DNA of human beings and chimpanzees but that does not imply they are identical. The differences are many.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) in its report of August 2002 ("An Investigation by the BUAV into Primate Research at Cambridge University: Revised Version"), with inputs from an undercover researcher who had worked in the Cambridge University primate research unit for 10 months, stated, "Cambridge University claimed, and the Home Secretary accepted (on the advice of his inspectorate), that the research would involve no more than `moderate' suffering, for any of the marmosets, at any stage" (pg.3).


But according to the investigator, who worked undercover, in one of the cases a marmoset's skull was cut open like the lid of a tin can, exposing the tiny brain that was about two centimetres in diameter. "Lobes of the brain were moved aside, to reveal the artery. Using a microscope for viewing, the artery was occluded (pinched temporarily with a clip) causing a stroke," wrote the investigator (pg.8). The marmoset was given only a single analgesic (pain-killing) injection after the operation. Many marmosets were wheeled in for multiple procedures not long after the first. "It defies common sense to claim that this research does not involve substantial or severe suffering," wrote the investigator (pg.10) after he noticed that one of the marmosets was coming round with its limbs warming up even while the procedure to mimic a stroke was going on.

The 271-section report seems to be as critical of vivisection as it is convincing in its suggestion for non-animal research. In section 169, the report says, "We are aware that non-animal research, including clinical research, is funded by bodies such as the Wellcome Trust and MRC. It is against both the letter and spirit of the legislation to allow animal experiments to take place alongside non-animal research which would give the equivalent information."

Section 171 states, "Functional imaging techniques such as fMRI and PET can be used in human volunteers to study how different centres in the brain are connected and what kinds of brain cells are involved in cognitive and motor tasks." "Magnetoencephalography (MEG) reveals the chronology of brain activity in real time, showing how different brain regions interact. Combined MEG and fMRI can provide high-resolution localisation of functional responses over time in the human brain (sec.172)". In other words, the report seems to show convincingly that animal vivisection is neither necessary for scientific understanding of the processes in human beings nor sufficient to act as a proxy to the human body just because of DNA similarities between certain primates and human beings.

Dr. Ray Greek in a November 1992 report ("Planning Appeal by University of Cambridge: Proposed Primate Research Facility, 307 Huntingdon Road, Girton, Cambridge, Planning Inspectorate Reference APP/WO530/A/02/1090108") states in sec.25, "A theory, or in this case a model, when used in biomedical research in an attempt to predict drug response or find cures for human disease, is reliable or scientific if it has predictive value. The validity of using animals as models to study human disease depends on their viability as causal analogical models (CAMs)... Early AIDS research provides a good illustration of the misapplication of causal analogical reasoning... ."

In India too animals are used in research, and the condition of animals in research centres is far from ideal. You may wonder why people rush to help a person injured in a road accident but do not hesitate to run again and again over the carcass of a animal. Probably because we as a species kill even though we do not intend to eat our prey.

The indifference, therefore, of the long train of distinguished people, who walked out of Senate Hall that grey afternoon in June, and ambled across to St. Catherine College for special prayers, and who refused to even look at the protesters is understandable. The university, like any other anywhere in the world, needs money, but one wonders if it can defend its need for an underground primate research centre at Girton, just three miles from King's Parade, Cambridge.

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