Proposed Parkinson's research: UBC responds to Jan. 17 Province story

On January 17 The Province newspaper published a story about proposed research on Parkinson’s disease entitled “Bid to save UBC monkeys from grim death.” UBC has responded to the story with a letter to the editor.

Editor, The Province

Re: “Bid to save UBC monkeys from grim death,” Jan. 17, 2011

The inflammatory and sensational nature of this article detracts from the tragedy faced by sufferers of Parkinson’s disease and their families. Further, it demeans the dedication of those clinicians and researchers at UBC ( <>) and around the world who are seeking new treatments and hopefully one day, a cure.

The Parkinson’s research proposal in your story is just that, a proposal. However, if this project were funded, like all such investigations, its potential benefits to human health would have to be proven to an external panel of experts and an internal ethics review panel.

Your choice of lurid phrases like “grim death” and “death row” is typical of hysterical and manipulative language used by many activists.

There is no “death row” at UBC. The truth is that scientists regard the use of animals in research to be a privilege, to be used only when no alternative exists. Researchers are ethically and professionally obligated to first explore such methods as cell cultures or computer simulations.

However, these methods cannot yet mirror many of the complicated biological processes – immune and circulatory systems, organ physiology, and so on — that occur in primates, processes that we must fully understand in order to discover treatments and cures for humans.  It is an unfortunate fact that, in order to retrieve critical scientific information that painless and non-invasive imaging techniques alone cannot provide, it is sometimes necessary to examine tissue samples of vital organs.

There are no “grim deaths” for animals at UBC, which complies fully with federal animal care standards.  The same standards that require humane treatment during the life of research animals also stipulate they must be euthanized using humane, painless procedures.

Why not add value to this important story by sharing with your readers the hopes of Parkinson’s sufferers and their families for a decent quality of life? Their voices deserve to be heard.

Dr. John Hepburn

Vice President, Research and International

The University of British Columbia

The Province story can be found here: