Hospitals in Sydney, Australia, are conducting secret medical experiments on primates, according to a six-month-long investigation. While legal, the secrecy suggests that some of the research may be ethically questionable. Evidence has also surfaced showing that an operation in which a pig’s kidney was transplanted into a baboon has taken place, despite the public health organization in New South Wales (NSW) denying to Fairfax Media, who conducted the investigation, that this research has been conducted.
In addition, NSW Health has also refused a freedom of information request made by Fairfax Media for more information on the baboon used in the research, as well as two other primates thought to be involved. This has sparked intense criticism into what exactly has been going on behind closed doors, as well as the transparency of medical experiments using animals. The report on the experiments comes ahead of a Senate inquiry into the importation of primates into Australia for use in medical research, which is due to be published in March.
Over the last 15 years, at least 370 primates have been imported into Australia for use in experiments. This includes pigtailed macaques from Indonesia, owl monkeys from the United States, marmosets and long-tailed macaques from France, and marmosets from Switzerland. The experiments have been funded by millions of dollars of government research grants.
The investigation uncovered evidence that scores of experiments had taken place at multiple Sydney hospitals and universities, many of which were conducted in secret. One of those described by Fairfax Media includes marmoset monkeys being given drug overdoses and then having their eyes removed so that the retinas could be dissected. Another reports how during experiments on pregnant baboons, a mother was accidently killed, orphaning her baby.
Although hundreds of primates are imported for use in research, at the same time many baboons are bred for purpose at a colony in Wallacia, Sydney, while marmosets and macaques are reportedly kept in Churchill, Victoria. The Sydney Local Health District that manages the baboon colony told Fairfax Media that: “The colony has helped medical researchers conduct important research which has contributed significantly to paving the way for new treatments of disorders such as pre-eclampsia, complicated diabetes, kidney disorders and vascular diseases.”
The University of Sydney has also said that their overall aim is to “reduce, refine, and replace” the use of all animals in research, but that currently the “best hope” for finding a cure to many medical illnesses is through animal experimentation. They have also stated that all of their research is carried out on fully anesthetized animals, meaning that the primates feel no pain and know nothing of the procedures.
In March, politicians in Australia will receive the results of a Senate inquiry into the importation of primates for medical research. The Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, who has suggested banning the importation, has said that members of the public will be deeply shocked by this investigation, and has called for more transparency in primate research.