First animal rights activists had to swallow hard when Arkansas-based investment firm Stephens Group stepped in and bailed out the much beleaguered Huntingdon Life Sciences. Now The Babraham Institute in Cambridge and the Mouse Genome Center in Oxfordshire announced plans to build no less than three laboratories dedicated to animal research in Great Britain.
Two of the facilities will be geared toward creating mutated mice and rats while a third will be home to primates intended for brain and behavioral research.
According The Sunday Times (UK), the three new research facilities will at least double, and perhaps triple, the 2.7 million animal experiments already conducted annually in Great Britain.
Noting the recent advances in genetics, including the effort now underway to decode the mouse genome, a spokesman for the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council told the Sunday Times that animal research is going to increase dramatically in coming years. “This is a very exciting time in the life sciences,” the spokesman said. “There is going to be an increase in this kind of work across the board.”
Such research is far from popular in Great Britain, and harassment from animal rights activists already had Huntingdon Life Sciences on the ropes before the U.S.-based Stephens Group stepped in with a long-term loan for the company.
Ironically, the opposition to animal experiments has held up research into the disease that has created hysteria across Europe — the variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease believed to have originated from Mad Cow disease. The Sunday Times described the case of Professor Charles Weissman who moved to England from Switzerland specifically to study how variant CJD might be transmitted by medical instruments (the prions that cause CJD are almost impossible to kill by standard sterilization methods). Unfortunately Weissman has been unable to begin his research because of a shortage of laboratory facilities in the UK.
The newly announced laboratories promise to create a firestorm of protest. It will be interesting to see if researchers and the government are up to the task, or if they will wilt and cave in to the activists at the first sign of trouble.