Animal Aid

Leading neuroscientist speaks out against animal testing: Statement by VERO (Voice for Ethical Research at Oxford)

Posted 4 January 2007

An eminent neuroscientist and practising neurosurgeon has stepped into the raging debate over animal experimentation to launch a blistering attack on Oxford University and other animal-using research institutions.

In a strongly worded opinion piece, Marius Maxwell MBBChir, DPhil, who studied at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard and now practises in the USA, refutes the findings of the recent Weatherall Report on primate vivisection as "profoundly flawed", and contrasts them with the far more rigorous and comprehensive Perel study published in the British Medical Journal (1). This analysis, which scrutinised a total of 228 animal based drug studies in six representative fields of research, found their ability to predict the results of subsequent human trials to be no better than the toss of a coin. Maxwell also quotes a "timely but troubling" review of animal research in a recent issue of Nature (2), and claims that drug trial disasters such as Vioxx (3) and TGN1412 (4) are only the tip of the iceberg. "The general public...deserves to be educated about the dangers of and protected from adverse drug reactions stemming from weak and outdated animal research protocols. If scientists as a group fail to serve society by adequately and transparently policing the dangers and inconsistencies of their own research, parliament will have to step in to insist upon a rigorously objective assessment of all aspects of the drug safety testing process".

Maxwell is particularly critical of "the minority of Oxford animal researchers tirelessly promoting their claimed achievements before the media....Many of my Oxford colleagues in world-class scientific laboratories, and in the humanities, are privately aghast at the ability of a small group of media-savvy vivisectionists to hold the debate hostage and thereby besmirch the international reputation of their University". Their emphatic and premature declaration that no alternatives to non-human primate research can conceivably exist in the foreseeable future may, he argues, be partly due to the fact that "the techniques and language of frontier-breaking modelcular genetic technology, for example, are largely unintelligble to those unschooled in their use and therefore pose hurdles to inter-discplinary scientific understanding".

With this bold refutation, Maxwell has thrown his weight squarely behind groups such as Europeans For Medical Progress campaigning for safer, humane alternatives to animal testing. He has also joined the call by Voice for Ethical Research at Oxford (VERO) - a growing group of dons and graduates including Ann Widdecombe and Tony Benn - for the University's new animal lab site to be turned into a "world-class medical imaging and research centre". Vivisectionists, he concludes, are "swimming against the tide of international medical and ethical opinion. I fear that history will judge their animal rights opponents as less extreme than the very scientists who persist in non-human primate research in the face of an increasing body of consistent and compelling evidence that the resulting data has and will continue to endanger countless human lives".

  1. December 15, 2006 issue, www.bmj.com
  2. December 13, 2006 issue, www.nature.com
  3. Arthritis drug withdrawn in 2004 after killing up to 60,000 people.
  4. Northwick Park clinical trial, March 2006

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