However, in an email sent to the international journal Nature two weeks ago, Lewis said that U of T would continue to accept research proposals involving experiments on monkeys.
When asked to explain the apparent shift in U of T policy, Lewis suggested that his earlier statement had been misinterpreted. “There has been no change in the university’s position on the use of any species of animal, including non-human primates, provided that it is ethically and scientifically justified and appropriately reviewed and approved at the University,” he told the newspaper.
Conducting animal research, he said, “is the best hope of advancing knowledge and developing cures for animal and human diseases.” He explained that the University supports animal research because “some scientific questions can only be answered through the use of non- human primates.”
Lewis responded to the U of T Animal Rights Club’s claim that euthanization was “routine” at the university. “Animals are not killed as a matter of routine, but rather as an experimental necessity,” Lewis explained. “In most cases animals are euthanized for the collection of tissues and blood as a requirement of the experimentation. Without this analysis of tissues/blood, there would be no way of validating the outcome of the experimental procedures.”
Paul York, a graduate student and president of the U of T Animal Rights Club, argued that the University’s earlier announcement about discontinuing non-human primate research was not sincere in the first place. He said that they are highly disappointed with the Office of Research Ethics and the Faculty of Medicine for “defending animal experimentation but not fully disclosing criteria of what is ethical and humane.”
Lewis defended the school’s protocol for animal testing. “All projects involving the use of animals for research, teaching and testing undergoes [sic] rigorous review by an animal care committee according to current standards,” said Lewis. “Researchers are required to justify the number of animals proposed, and they must describe the efforts they have taken to minimize the numbers of animals used to the extent possible. They must also demonstrate that there are no suitable alternatives.”
York was skeptical of the University’s effort to pursue suitable alternatives. “The pharmaceutical industry is looking at bypassing animal clinical trials in favor of microdosing, for scientific and economic reasons,” he said. Johns Hopkins University is one institution that has adopted the microdosing technique, a procedure which uses an electron microscope to assess the impact of very small doses of a drug on a human subject. He argued that these tests are considered more accurate and resolve ethical issues. But, for York, U of T is “not thinking outside the box.”