National Anti-vivisection Society


National Antivisection Society

Ten years of monkey misery, for what?

Posted: 5 February 2007


In 1995, the NAVS filmed a monkey called Elisa at London’s Institute of Neurology (IoN). She had bolts and electrodes permanently implanted in her skull, so that recordings could be made as she moved her fingers[1].

Ten years on little seems to have changed at the IoN. There has been no discernible let up in the number or severity of procedures carried out, which include repeated surgery on monkeys as young as five days old[2]. The first step involved cutting open the scalp and injecting a chemical into the part of the brain responsible for hand movement. This chemical later made its way to the spine as the monkeys regained consciousness and moved about.

They were then subjected to more experiments. This time, the opposite side of their scalp was cut open and electrodes were implanted into the upper part of the nerve fibres linking the brain with the spine. Separate incisions were made to the outer layer of the monkeys’ spinal cord, before applying electric shocks. While the 5-day old newborn monkey was spared this final ordeal, infants aged 1-13 months were not[2].

Many experiments on primates at the Institute have been ostensibly to learn about the roles of direct and indirect nervous control of hand movement in humans[3]. Yet these roles have long been identified, thanks to non-invasive electrophysiological experiments on volunteers as early as 1988[4]. The researchers have subsequently admitted that the objective of these myriad experiments has been to validate a theory on evolutionary development of nervous connections to the hand – of no relevance to human health[2].

Four squirrel monkeys[5] were fully anaesthetised whilst tubes were inserted into their windpipes and the main veins and arteries of their legs. The base of the skull was cut open and the covering membrane of the spinal cord removed. After surgery, the monkeys were given a light anaesthetic and the paralysing agent pancuronium bromide.

Electric shocks were then applied to their spinal cords while recordings were made of nerve cells responsible for hand movement. These recordings were compared with ones taken after the monkeys had had part of their spinal cord damaged with a pair of forceps.

Although deeply anaesthetised during surgery, only alpha-chloralose, a mild anaesthetic, was given while applying the electric shocks – and while they still had gaping holes at the back of their skulls. Yet alpha-chloralose is not a recommended anaesthetic for primates[6,7], has poor pain-relieving properties and should only be used for “painless” procedures[7]. Whilst receiving electric shocks, the monkeys were paralysed – so could not cry out. It is recommended that pancuronium bromide be used only if the animals are fully anaesthetised[7], which they were not.

Researchers at the IoN recently blamed “remarkable species differences” for the failure to apply primate findings to human brains[8].

A researcher at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School appears to concur: “It has been obvious for some time that there is generally no evolutionary basis behind the particular-metabolising ability of a particular species. Indeed, among primates, zoologically closely related species exhibit markedly different patterns of metabolism”[9].


[1]. NAVS, Access Denied report, 1996
[2]. Armand J., Lemon R.N., Olivier E. et al. (1997) Postnatal development of corticospinal projections in the macaque monkey. A combined anatomical and electrophysiological study. J Neuroscience, 17(1):251–266
[3]. Lemon et al. 2000, Lemon 1998, Lemon et al 2004
[4]. Koh T.H., Eyre J.A. (1988) Maturation of corticospinal tracts assessed by electromagnetic stimulation of the motor cortex. Arch Dis Child. 63:1347-1352
[5]. Nakajima K., Maier M.A., Kirkwood P.A., Lemon R.N. (2000) Striking differences in transmission of corticospinal excitation to upper limb motoneurons in two primate species.
Journal Of Neurophysiology 84(2):698-709
[6]. Flecknell P. (1996) Laboratory Animal Anaesthesia, 2nd Edition. Academic Press: 68 & 215
[7]. Kohn D. et al. (1997) Anesthesia & Analgesia in Laboratory Animals, Academic Press: 240-241 & 250-253
[8]. Lemon R.N. and Griffiths J. (2005) Comparing the function of the corticospinal system in different species: Organizational differences for motor specialization? Muscle & Nerve
32 (3): 261-279
[9]. Caldwell, J. (1992). Species differences in metabolism and their toxicological significance, Toxicol. Lett. 64, 106.

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