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UBC primate experiments draw criticism from activists

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STOP UBC Animal Research, an animal advocacy group, held a protest outside the Vancouver Art Gallery to urge UBC to end research on non-human primates. It was aimed at a proposed experiment that plans to study the development of Parkinson's disease in monkeys.

The experiment, L91, would involve injecting four rhesus monkeys with the compound Lactacystin, which eventually leads to the onset of symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

"We feel that this type of research and end product is horrendous to us," said STOP spokesperson Anne Birthistle.

At the rally, four people were dressed as monkeys in prison uniforms behind bars "to show...concern about the imminent doom awaiting the monkeys in the Parkison's research," according to Birthistle. She was, however, pleased with how the event turned out. "We had a great response."

VP Research John Hepburn referred to the protest as a "publicity stunt" and said that he supports the research. "Frankly, I'm not interested in stopping a line of research for Parkinson's disease."

STOP hopes to obtain the monkeys to stop them from being killed. Birthistle said they are willing to buy the primates. "We have public support in raising funds to purchase them." However, she said STOP would rather not pay for the monkeys. "We feel that they really belong to the taxpayers, who fund much of the research at UBC [and] would prefer that UBC donate them."

Birthistle says STOP has asked Fauna, a non-profit animal rescue organization founded in 1997, for help in finding the monkeys a permanent home. "We'd like to give them sanctuary away from the pain and suffering their lives have entailed up to now.

"We definitely would help to provide financially for their care for the rest of their lives." However, she was unaware of how much this support would cost, only saying it would be "substantial."

Hepburn said that UBC will neither donate nor sell the monkeys because they are needed for research even after they die. "Part of the [proposed] experiment involves post-mortem examination of brain tissue, which is not done without euthanizing the animals." In addition, he said that monkeys are expensive, so even if they don't die, UBC will still care for them. "The monkey colony is maintained and we want to make sure they are kept in good shape."

The spokesperson for the experiment, Doris J. Doudet, who is also a professor of medicine and neurology at UBC, was unavailable for comment.

Hepburn said he was unaware of the requests and that no direct contact has been made between the university and STOP.

He explained that experiment L91 has yet to be approved for funding, as the most recent attempt was denied by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He also stated that there was no chance the experiment would happen before April 1, 2011.

This article was originally published in the Ubyssey, the University of British Columbia students' newspaper.


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