EUROPE: Animal testing still needed says science panel

An expert scientific committee advising the European Commission has concluded that, based on today's scientific evidence, the use of non-human primates such as chimpanzees and baboons in basic and applied biomedical research should be continued.

The Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks says it sees no valid scientific reasons to support a discontinuation of the use of primates in research or in the development and testing of new drugs. But it adds that this position "should be regularly reviewed in the light of validated alternatives that are constantly being developed".

The committee, which reports to the Public Health and Risk Assessment unit of the commission's health and consumer protection directorate general, says that these intelligent animals are "urgently needed" for the development of strategies against emerging human pathogens using vaccination and treatment with antibiotics.

Looking ahead, the committee makes a number of recommendations including support for better research strategies such as development of non-invasive methods that could be used in human volunteer studies, and the development of new in vitro and in silico technologies.

It says researchers should engage in regular meetings to stimulate scientific discussion and exchange of information between researchers within the various fields of non-human primate use and scientists working actively with, and advocating for, alternative methods.

Also, the networking of facilities for breeding and maintaining these close human relatives for experimental purposes should be supported with a view to the improvement of animal welfare, standardisation of procedures and methods, and the availability of primates, the committee said.

It also argues for the use of other non-primate species such as mini-pigs or genetically modified rodents to replace non-human primates and is opposed to the use of wild primates for experiments, for scientific and animal welfare reasons.

The report concedes that a genetically modified mouse strain with a human-like immunity where complete HIV replication can take place may be available in the future. But it says one of the biggest hurdles is to know how the immune response in a mouse model will actually translate into the protection of humans.