Outcry at monkey experiments
Three monkeys have died during brain operations carried out by University of Hong Kong surgeons on the mainland in experiments branded inhumane by animal rights campaigners.
The surgeons plan to operate on 30 more six-month-old monkeys in a project the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) fears will 'open a gate' for local scientists to get around stricter animal testing regulations in the SAR.
Three of eight monkeys that underwent operations to have their pineal glands removed at Qingdao University, southeast of Beijing, died on the operating table.
When the surgeons return they will use non-invasive methods on some monkeys, while others will have their skulls cut open for micro-surgery.
The $1 million project is regarded as an 'excellent' research project by the Research Grant Council.
SPCA executive director Chris Hanselman said it would investigate the case and contact the University of Hong Kong to get more information.
'We are against animal testing in any form. It is wrong to experiment in general on all animals, and more importantly on primates,' he said.
'Clarification needs to be sought as to why they are conducting the experiment with the Qingdao University.
'In the mainland, there are no regulations or any guidelines on animal experiments. It is very much an open house and anyone can go in there and experiment without any guidelines.' The research leader and head of the university's department of orthopaedic surgery, Professor Leong Che-yan, said the aim was to find the cause of scoliosis, the lateral curvature of the spine that affects many children in Hong Kong.
He said Qingdao University had a breeding ground of monkeys for medical experiments. Each monkey cost the team 5,000 yuan (HK$4,700).
'We have to go there because monkeys are not available in Hong Kong. We have been given approval from the mainland ethics committee,' he said.
'The monkeys are anaesthetised. They do not feel any pain.' He said something had to be sacrificed for medical advances.
A picture shown at the university's press conference showed the monkeys locked in small cages for observation after their operations.
A French endocrinologist found 40 years ago that removal of the pineal gland in chickens would cause the deformity.
The University of Hong Kong project is the first attempt to find out if the theory could apply to 'higher animals', such as monkeys.
Professor Leong said if the project was successful, researchers could investigate if melatonin, a hormone secreted by the gland, could treat the deformity.