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Alfred and his two wives

By Helen Marston - posted Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Humane Research Australia has focused on raising awareness of animal experimentation for decades, yet the three baboon escapees who gained international media - Alfred and his two wives - have achieved more in a day than we ever could.

Animal experimentation is an issue that few people like to discuss. Many people are not even aware that it still occurs in Australia, yet we use millions of animals every year. This includes cats and dogs, rabbits and rodents, farm animals, native animals and even our closest relatives – primates. And the procedures these animals are subjected to vary from observational studies to major physiological challenges, and even “death as an end point.”

No one likes the notion of using animals in such a way, but there is a misconception that it is a “necessary evil” for medical progress. The point is however, that it isn’t! Animals differ from humans in their anatomy, genetics and metabolism which means that whatever information is derived from testing on them cannot be transferred to human medicine with sufficient accuracy.


In fact, official figures derived from the US Food & Drug Administration show that over 95% of drugs deemed “successful” in animal tests fail in human clinical trials. That’s a staggering failure rate that leads to a logical conclusion: the 5% of drugs that worked, did so in spite of using animals in testing.  On the flip side, it’s also worth considering how many of those drugs that failed animal tests may have actually worked in humans?  Could we have inadvertently discarded a potential cure for cancer?

It was French physiologist Claude Bernard who once said “The physiologist is no ordinary man. He is a learned man, a man possessed and absorbed by a scientific idea. He does not hear the animals' cries of pain. He is blind to the blood that flows. He sees nothing but his idea, and organisms which conceal from him the secrets he is resolved to discover.”

Why Primates?

Using sentient, highly cognitive animals as “tools for research” could certainly be considered cruel, but just as importantly, it does not represent good science. Primates have been found to be poorly predictive of human outcomes and their use has proven to be ineffective at providing substantial contributions to biomedical research.  In his 2014 paper, “Monkey-based research on human disease: the implications of genetic differences”, J. Bailey concludes that despite a reported 90 to 93% genetic similarity, “monkey data do not translate well to progress in clinical practice for humans.”

Similarly, a peer reviewed article published in 2010 states, “Humans respond differently than other primates to a large number of infections. Differences in susceptibility to infectious agents between humans and other primates are probably due to inter-species differences in immune response to infection.”

Even when genetically modified, there is no single animal model that can accurately mimic the complex human situation.  There are far too many unknown variables that cannot all be accounted for.

Logic tells us that because we have not had a 100% correlation between primate and human genetics in research, then should we continue to use primates, we are prone to continue mistakes, delays and even threaten human life on occasion when such ‘successful’ research conducted on primates is translated to humans.    


Interestingly, there are many ways today to obtain a significantly closer correlation to the 100% mark if not 100% itself by using modern alternatives to primates.  

It has been said that arguments against primate experiments have been confronting and just recycled from cruel practices decades ago. It might therefore be worth taking a closer look at some recent and local research: 

The animal’s head was shaved and swabbed with a topical antibiotic solution. Adults were administered a broad-spectrum antibiotic to prevent cerebral edema, then secured in a stereotaxic frame… Following a skin incision along the midline of the cranium, a triangular craniotomy was created over the occipital pole using a burr drill… with the aid of a diamond knife, to facilitate microsyringe penetration.

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About the Author

Helen Marston is CEO of Humane Research Australia - a not for profit that challenges the use of animal experiments and promotes more humane and scientifically valid non-animal methods of research.

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