Xenotransplantation
Experimental organ transplants on baboons
could be putting human lives at risk

by Lucy Johnston and Johnathan Calvert

Daily Express 22 September 2000

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Animal tests probe after we expose suffering

THE Home Office will investigate one of Britain's most high-profile animal experimentation projects following revelations in yesterday's
Daily Express.

It has agreed to look at a cache of secret papers which show the stark truth behind experiments aimed at adapting pig organs for human transplant.

Thousands of animals have been used by the Cambridge-based company Imutran which has been attempting to transplant genetically-modified pig hearts and kidneys into monkeys.

The
Daily Express revealed yesterday the secret papers show horrific animal suffering despite claims to the contrary. They also suggest that researchers have exaggerated the success of their work.

The Home Office is to circulate copies of the
Daily Express article to all members of the Animal Procedures Committee, which advises the Government on the licencing of animal experimentation.

A spokesman said: "We are looking into this at the moment and liaising with our animal inspectorate."

The experiments are being carried out on Imutran's behalf by Huntingdon Life Sciences which runs Europe's biggest animal research laboratory in Cambridgeshire.

Today the Daily Express can reveal that surgeons in the laboratory were warned they could be putting human lives at risk by operating on monkeys which (who) could harbour killer diseases.

The surgeons also worked at nearby hospitals and it was feared that they may pass on the Simian Herpes B virus which is hard to detect in monkeys but deadly in humans.

In February last year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) wrote to Imutran warning of potential hazards to the human population from the work on monkeys. The letter, addressed to Imutran's director of research David White, stated that Herpes B is both contagious and potentially fatal. It insisted the company should follow strict safety procedures and noted: "It is necessary to bear in mind the transplant surgeons may well be working on immunosuppressed human patients."

Before writing the letter, MAFF had taken advice from an expert at Porton Down, the Government's chemical and biological warfare research establishment. The expert viewed Herpes B as a "major risk" and recommended a review of safety measures at the laboratory.

The concern was heightened by the recent death of an American lab worker who contracted the virus after a monkey threw faeces in her face. The expert also warned that monkeys may still be carriers even if they test negative. The letter was circulated around senior managers at Imutran. A note was written on the first page by one of the employees which said: "It now seems that MAFF also wish to be painful."

A month later, another internal document expressed dismay that transplants may have been given to seven monkeys with the Herpes B virus sometime before the MAFF letter was sent.

Last night Dan Lyons, director of Uncaged Campaigns and author of the Diaries of Despair report based on the secret documents, warned: "Herpes B is both very dangerous and transmitted relatively easily. The surgeons who operated on the infected baboons would probably have also been performing transplant surgery on patients with weakened immune systems, further increasing the risk."

Over the last five years Imutran - the world leader in xenotransplantation research - has claimed to have been close to solving the crucial issue of "organ rejection" which has so far prevented trials on humans.

However, the Daily Express found that its scientific papers did not always give the full picture of the difficulties faced by the company.

Last night Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat spokesman on animal welfare said the documents illustrated the need for more openness in vivisection work. "The Home Office must improve access to information on such matters," he said. "We need to know where these experiments are taking place, what is happening and why."For further information contact Uncaged Campaigns on 0114 272 2220.
© Express Newspapers, 2000  via OneLine News Wire

Text for 28 September article              Text for 21 September article

Campaign for Responsible Transplantation Press Release Sept. 21

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