The primatologist Dr Jane Goodall will today propose that a Nobel prize be set up for advancing medical knowledge without experimentation on animals. The scientist, who pioneered research on chimpanzees in the wild, says moving away from animal research is a "goal towards which all civilised nations should be moving".
She will speak at an event organised by animal rights groups and MEPs to put pressure on the European commission to review directive 86/609, which governs animal research across the EU.
"As we move into the 21st century we need a new mind-set," she said. "We should admit that the infliction of suffering on beings who are capable of feeling is ethically problematic and that the amazing human brain should set to work to find new ways of testing and experimenting that will not involve the use of live, sentient beings.
"The scientific establishment should actively encourage such research. More funding should be made available for it. And rewards - such as a Nobel prize - should be given for it."
She will also advocate a centre of excellence to develop alternatives to animal research. About 12m animals were used in experiments in 2005. The vast majority were mice and rats.
Goodall's suggestion of a Nobel prize looks unlikely to succeed. Only one has been added - the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1968 - since the scientific accolades were first awarded in 1901. About 15 years ago the former US vice-president Al Gore approached the Nobel Foundation to suggest an award for contributions to environmentalism. Michael Sohlman, president of the foundation, said the organisation politely turned him down. Adding a prize for alternatives to animal testing was "out of the question", Sohlman said.
Scientists argue that research using animals has contributed to advances in many fields including antibiotics, anaesthetics, vaccines, insulin for diabetes, open heart surgery, kidney dialysis and transplants. They say that animal research is highly regulated in the UK, with both the lab where research is carried out and the specific project needing a licence from the Home Office. They also point out that the high cost of animal testing is a strong incentive for researchers to use alternatives where possible.
But Green MEP Caroline Lucas said alternatives were not being developed fast enough. "What we want to see in there very clearly is a strategy that will move us away from animal experiments and include more up to date, effective alternatives," she said, "What we need is far more resources put into developing them and getting them on to the market."
© 2008 The Guardian