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The Guardian view on vital medical research on primates: don’t give in to the animal rights advocates | Editorial
Some medical research on primates is vital. It must be humanely conducted, but abandoning it would be craven and foolishThe extraordinary triumph of the neuroscientists in California who have wired up a paralysed man’s brain so that his impulses to move can control a robot arm deserves a toast – and not just the drink that Erik Sorto can now raise unaided to his lips for the first time in 13 years. It also shows the importance of research on higher primates. Without detailed preliminary studies on monkeys, whose brains in important respects resemble our own, this kind of transformative treatment could never have been attempted.Yet there is a determined pushback against all research on primates, which earlier this month drove one of Germany’s leading scientists out of the field. The prominent researcher Nikos Logothetis decided to abandon his work on macaques after a campaign against his work in Germany involving threats to him, his co-workers and their families. Logothetis’s experiments have established very clearly that the cloudy if colourful images shown by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans – which are the “brain scans” of popular science – actually correspond to the firing of individual neurons. This looks obvious, but it’s not in fact at all easy to prove; fMRI is necessarily coarse in its resolution of brain activity. There are something like 86bn neurons in the human brain, and in the interesting parts they are very closely packed together, so a precise determination of which does what requires a precision that fMRI just can’t deliver. The electrode patches used on Erik Sorto are only 4mm square. Ads from Inoreader:Remove ads • Advertise with Inoreader