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Battle for data on animal tests; Freedom of Information chief backs university's stance.

Byline: Alastair Craig

ACOURT ruling is expected this week to resolve a row over access to animal testing data at a North East university. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) launched legal action after a failed Freedom of Information request on experiments carried out at Newcastle University. BUAV asked the university's medical research department for details on testing procedures and welfare controls for tests on primates undertaken in 2008.

Almost 21,000 animals were used in medical experiments at the university that year, including Macaque monkeys for examining new treatments for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and spinal conditions.

University bosses rejected the FoI request, claiming sensitive research programmes would be endangered if information was released before the work was completed.

They argued that research details remained the "intellectual property" of individual scientists until work was finished and published in UK medical journals.

The government's Freedom of Information Commissioner agreed with the university's stance but BUAV leaders appealed the decision.

An appeal tribunal hearing in London last month heard details of the case and a ruling is due shortly.

A BUAV spokesman said the London-based group - which is campaigning for a ban on all animal testing - submitted the FoI request to highlight vivisection in "graphic detail".

He said: "We first requested information from Newcastle University about experiments on primates conducted there in June 2008.

"The BUAV knew about the experiments because the researchers had published three articles.

"The experiments involved brain research and were highly invasive. They involved implanting electrodes into the monkeys' brains in order to record the activity of nerve cells in awake monkeys, who are forcibly restrained while being made to watch images on TV screens.

"The experiments are particularly contentious not only because they are highly invasive and long-term, but they can be replaced by human volunteer studies using non-invasive imaging machines such as functional magnetic resonance imaging equipment."

Newcastle University said last night it was confident that the Information Commissioner's original decision would be up held.

A spokesman said: "We can confirm that the BUAV submitted an FoI request to the university, which we rejected, on various grounds. The Information Commission ruled in our favour and the BUAV has now taken this matter to tribunal.

"The university has never hidden the fact that we carry out a small amount of work on primates, where no alternative exists.

"This is fully regulated by the Home Office to minimise suffering. There is a history of this kind of vital research leading to important medical advances."


RESEARCH Macaque monkeys were used in vital studies
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 29, 2010
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