End of Primate Research at the University of Toronto?

Intended or not, comments by a university administrator and veterinarian in some Canadian news articles last week likely gave some readers a distorted view not only of the status of research at the University of Toronto, but of animal research more broadly. A pair of articles reported that primate research at the U of T had ended.  In one titled “University of Toronto stops research on live monkeys” a university official explains:

“They were our very last ‘non-human’ primates and we have no intention of using any more. Technology now lets us get the same information from smaller animals,” said Peter Lewis, the U of T’s associate vice-president of research.”

Except that the press coverage also says that the U of T scientist Prof. Barry Sessle, whose highly regarded research orofacial pain and neuromuscular function and dysfunction straddles both laboratory animal research and clinical research involving human subjects, will “continue to do monkey studies in partnership with a lab in Chicago.”  We are also aware that University of Toronto researchers undertake primate research even closer to home at another research institute in Toronto. Does the U of T administration exclude their own faculty from the “we” in the “we have no intention of using any more [primates]” statement?
In an article headlined “With last monkeys dead, U of T sees a shift in animal research,” the university’s veterinarian adds his view of the need for primates in research.

“Across the country, Dr. Harapa has watched the appetite for research primates waning. Their cost and availability are factors, and universities do feel some ethical pressure, he said. “But the main reason is that people have just adopted other animals for their experimental needs – mostly rats and mice.

Comments by Lewis and Harapa raise a number of questions. Foremost, we wonder whether U of T might want to correct any possible misimpression that their comments apply only to their own research programs, which are apparently now suited by a restricted range of animal models?  For example, Lewis’ statement that: “Technology now lets us get the same information from smaller animals.” obviously applies to a subdomain of study, as do Harapa’s comments:

“We stopped using dogs and cats a few years ago too. We can do so much research now by genetically modifying a mouse,” said Harapa. “Under a sector microscope you would hardly know the difference between a human heart and that of a mouse.

While these thoughts may be relevant to specific work at U of T, they are obviously not meant to be applicable to the broad set of research questions under study elsewhere.  We are well aware that genetically modified mice and rats are an increasingly powerful tool for biomedical research, but they cannot yet replace species such as dogs, pigs and macaques in all necessary studies.


Some institutions may find it tempting to dodge public controversy by allowing a perception that the absence of on-site animal research reflects an institution’s commitment to not participate, support, or benefit from that work. Encouraging that public perception is an easy path to gain favor with animal activists and other opponents. But this is not a good path, if for no other reason than the fact that solving a research problem involves a range of animal models at various points in time. It is disingenuous to deny the value of research with a particular species because your institution has decided to discontinue working with that species. If nothing else, those inclined to dodge should consider that they are deriving benefit from the work of their colleagues at the institutions still willing to assume the risk and responsibility. That argues in favor of acknowledging the value of the work in your public statements.

It is unfortunate that these articles contain no comments by either Harapa or Lewis that might improve public appreciation of the value of a range of animal models, or any statement of support for the valuable research undertaken by Prof. Sessle, whose primate studies drew the attention of animal rights activists.

Allyson Bennett

Addendum 2012/03/12:

In a statement to the science journal Nature  UT associate vice-president of research Peter Lewis clarified some of his earlier statements, stating that:

There are many types of research that require the use of non-human primates. Our researchers are not engaged in any of them at the moment. If a proposed research project at [the University of Toronto] required the use of non-human primates and was scientifically and ethically justified, then we would endeavor to support it.”

While we welcome this statement we are less than totally satisfied by it, as we are aware of several research programs under the direction of UT researchers  that are very likely to require the use of non-human primates in the near future, including the stroke research discussed in the Nature News article and also research on other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. It may be the case that no research protocols involving non-human primates  are currently before the UT Office of Research Ethics, but there is every chance that in the coming months one or more will be submitted, even if the actual work will be done at the labs of an affiliated institute such as the Toronto Western Research Institute rather than UT itself. Will UT then issue another statement further clarifying their position?

2 responses to “End of Primate Research at the University of Toronto?

  1. Some random thoughts from:

    http://vivisectionresearch.ca/1000.pdf

    Dr. Geo Macilwain, M.R.C.S.: “Vivisection is a deceptive method of research in medicine and should be abolished.” (The R.S.P.CA. and the Royal Commission of Enquiry on Vivisection, Smith, Elder & co., page 165)

    “In my opinion, as a result of vivisection, the highest aims to which a scien­tific mind can aspire, are desecrated by the most wretched and worthless experimental methods.” (Vivisection, page 139, Hatchards, London)

    G. Fleming, veterinary surgeon: “The vivisector can very well be compared with an inquisitor, who seeks to unlock the secrets of Nature by means of the most horrifying and prolonged tor­ture of his victims, whereas the executioner and the butcher feel obliged to bring about as quick a death as possible…It is an undeniable fact that thousands of dogs, cats, horses and other animals have had to succumb to inhuman cruelties which only human ingenuity can dream up, without the results having been of any use to suffering mankind or improved or increased our knowledge; on the contrary, they have shattered the moral nature of mankind, and arrested or misled human knowledge…Vivisection is not necessary to the training of a ve­terinary surgeon.” (From Vivisection, is it necessary? page 31 ff.)

    Dr. med. E. G. Hammer: “We can point out the manner in which the ignorance and gullibility of the lay public is exploited. The surgeon chloroforms his patient The operation is short; when the pa­tient regains consciousness the surgical operation is over…The physiologist also anaesthetises his animal, but only in order to make it defenceless. Once it has been tied up and fixed in the apparatus, so that it is held immobile, the chloro­form bottle is put to one side, firstly because the anaesthesia is now no longer necessary, secondly because in most cases the nature of the exercise determines full consciousness to be necessary, and thirdly because there can be absolutely no question of keeping the animal anaesthetised for hours or days on end. But if the apparatus is not sufficient to ensure the total immobility of the animal (and unfortunately this is often the case), the animal is immobilised with curare (arrow poison), although the lungs, which are also immobolised, are kept active by means of artificial respiration, i.e. by pumping in air. These two complemen­tary operations (administration of curare and artificial breathing) naturally make the use of chloroform totally dispensable.” (Extract from his paper Die Verteidiger des Vivisektion und das Laienpub­likum)
    “… But the public is fed with bait so that it will bow tamely and passively before the High Priests of Science…It is self-evident that one can paralyse, poison and wound an animal, but this does not provide one with any typical patterns of illness…”

    Dr. med. Jatros: “…Physiological experimentation is unreliable and fallacious, like all physiology. It lacks the necessary conclusiveness possessed by experimentation in physics…When one considers that vivisection is becoming commoner every day, that hundreds of the cruelest experiments are carried out, both secretly and pub­licly, by students and by professors day by day; that these experiments often last for hours and even days; that the animals which survive the experiment do not receive a merciful death but are kept for new experiments, and that the intrin­sic uncertainty of the results spurs the researchers with their belief in the al­mightiness of Science, to think up ever newer and ever more abominable ex­perimental procedures…one feels that one is dealing here with a moral mon­strosity the existence of which can only fail to be noticed by those who no longer, or not yet, distinguish between what is monstrous and what is normal…” (From his tract Die Vivisektion, ihr wissenschaftlicher Wert und ihre ethi­sche Berechtigung)

    Dr. med. Nagel: “The parasites are harmless to anyone who builds up his body with pure nutrients and protects it from impure foreign substances, for it is only when a foul soil has previously been prepared in the human body that parasites afterwards take up lodging as the avenging enforcers of Nature’s laws. Small children, when they bump into the edge of a table, push the blame from themselves onto the table, – and grown-up children are no cleverer when it comes to the teach­ing about epidemics. It is certain that the cheese must first be stale before the maggots find it tasty, and it is certain that the human body must have already got into a foul condition before the parasites move into it while it is still alive…The only ones to gain from such theories are those doctors who remain slyly si­lent about their patients’ bad living habits, or even gloss over them, and like to persuade their patients that the illnesses have descended on them from above like secret monsters which only the doctors know how to get rid of.” (In his tract: Die Vivisektion, heillose Irrwege der Wissenschaft)

    Dr. med. Heusinger: “I gladly confirm the judgement of Prof. Dr. Clams: vivisection, painful operations and mutilations carried out on living animals, for the most part give just as dubious results in scientific research as does torture in the legal field.” (Encyclopaedia of Medicine, page 228)

    Dr. Malev-Kessels of the G. Brugman Sanatorium, Alsemberg (Belgium): “The useless and immoral practice of vivisection must be abolished. I wouldn’t tolerate it under the control of a commission.”

    Dr. J. Pawels, Strombeek (Belgium): “The vivisections performed before students are useless and harmful. I have noticed that vivisection gave pleasure to certain students in whom the sadistic instinct had been slumbering.”

    Dr. med. J. Hellmann: “The vivisectors are professional torturers, whose hands are smeared with the blood of countless innocent creatures, slowly murdered in unspeakable tor­ment…May the animal protection societies be on guard, and not let elements join their ranks who only come in order to divide, and not to unify, wolves in sheep’s clothing…Listen, whoever has ears to hear!” (From the tract Ein Memento jar den Berner und alle in seinen Fusstapfen wandelnden Tierschutzvereine. Dedicated by the authoress to the Society against Medical Animal Torture, Berne)

    Dr. Hiard, physician, Chenee (Belgium): “The cruel demonstration experiments on animals that are carried out in front of students are useless. They learn nothing from them, and stand guilty and bewildered before the bound and groaning animals. The greatest discoveries in medicine and surgery owe nothing to vivisection, which for many teachers and students has become a cruel sport rather than a necessity…”

    Dr. GilIion, physician, Brussels: “I am a total opponent of vivisection. It must be abandoned, because it is of no use for advancing medicine…The animal experiments carried out before stu­dents are totally unnecessary. We don’t need to make the journey to America in order to be sure that such a country exists”

    Dr. Ots, Brussels, surgeon and gynaecologist: “I expressly declare the torments inflicted on the horses at veterinary colleges to be unworthy of civilised mankind. That is no longer science, but sadism.”

    Dr. E. VllIers, Brussels: “I am not a supporter of vivisection. The study of medicines and their ef­fects on the organism produces results which are at variance with each other ac­cording to whether one studies on humans or on animals. The experiments car­ried out before students are pointless and barbaric demonstrations which only lead to wretched results.”

    Dr. Albert Salivas, physician, Avon, France: “My opinion of vivisection? Here it is, in a nutshell: it is already repulsive in itself, but has it – viewed from the medical standpoint – ever performed the, service of producing even one single piece of genuine and useful information? – No, a hundred times no! And precisely for that reason I am and remain relent­lessly opposed to it.”

    Dr. Roche, member of the Paris Academy: “Don’t you see every day that vivisection’s ‘sure results’ of the previous year are proved wrong by the next year’s ‘undisputable results’? These ex­periments lead to false conclusions, fill heads with doubts, litter the field of Science with contradictions and wreckage, and these alone are not in the posi­tion to produce anything whatever.”

    Dr. de Burignae de Formel, physician, Limoges: “I have great pleasure in placing my name. alongside those who protest against the inhuman and unnecessary atrocity and cruelty of vivisection…”

    Dr. Henry Boucher, physician, Paris: “The reduction of vivisection is worthless and is nothing but a trap. Only its total abolition can satisfy the demands of morality, science and humanity. Vivisection is useless for Science, and dangerous for Mankind. ”
    Dr. Mauriee Laurent, physician, Paris: “I support the total abolition of vivisection with my entire heart and mind.”
    Dr. Daniel Makree, physician, Leuz, France, former senior physician at the Women’s Hospital: “I am…an advocate of the unconditional abolition of vi­visection. I find it loathsome, unworthy of our modern civilisation and useless for the advancement of science.”

    Dr. Lecomte, physician, Ham s. Seure: “I disapprove of vivisection, because it is an unnecessary cruelty and achieves nothing for science.”

    SWISS DOCTORS AGAINST VIVISECTION
    Prof. Ignatz Hoppe, Professor Extraordinary of pharmacology, dietetics and general therapy at the University of Basle: “These dreadful facts are an expression of brutality and arrogance…and triumph disdain for the enquiring as well as knowledgeable sections of the pub­lic…The shameful facts point to: ignorance on the part of the supervisory auth­orities, rashness on the part of the teaching profession, inadequate maturity in the teachers and lack of planning in science…” (From a letter to Ernst von Weber)

    Dr. med. E. Constantin, Senior Consultant at the Rothschild Hospital in Geneva: “Vivisection seems to us an expression of parasitism, i.e. the tendency to live at the expense of other creatures and even to cruelly torment them. It is the opposite of the ideal aspired to by the human spirit; vivisection is therefore in­ human and deserves to be condemned.” (From the leaflet Appeal to the people’s conscience)

    Dr. med. D. Simonin, Lausanne: “I am for the abolition of vivisection because it is unnecessary for progress in medicine. Why do we have these animal experiments performed before stu­dents, when the conclusions drawn from them have long since been known and proven?

    Dr. E. Grysanowski, Doctor of Medicine and of Philosophy: “…If the physiologists really imagine, and the doctors repeat it after them, that all the ‘successes’ of medicine are due to physiological experimentation, then they do not know what time of the day it is. For as far as the successes of medicine are concerned, it is virtually an open secret that the public is begin­ning to grow tired of these’ successes’ and is, in its scepticism and desperation, threatening to cast itself into the arms of the natural and public practitioners.” (From his book Gesammelte antivivisektionistische Schriften, Miinster)

    Prof. Dr. Strausse-Dirkbeim, famous anatomist (quoted in Uitsprakenover de Vivisectie by Koloman Kaiser): “Students gain absolutely no benefit from the dreadful vivisection method. All the functions of the organs of the animals held in this terrible condition are functioning so abnormally that one can learn nothing from them. But fanaticism is a contagious disease that is spreading; vivisectors are turning up everywhere. The torture is done purely out of curiosity, out of force of habit, out of addiction.”

  2. Random indeed!