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German Scientist Wins Reprieve for Primate Research

Thanks to a temporary extension granted last week to his animal experiments license, Andreas Kreiter, a neuroscientist at the University of Bremen, can continue his primate research for now—at least when he’s not tied up explaining his work to journalists. Kreiter, who uses macaques to study the brain’s visual perception system, is caught up in a high-profile legal saga surrounding primate research in the German city of Bremen.  Last year, the city-state's legislature passed a nonbinding resolution declaring a phase-out of all primate research, and apparently city authorities mean to follow through. Kreiter was informed in October that his application for an extension of his animal research license, due to expire on 30 November, had been rejected. However, the university has vowed to fight that decision in court, based on the German constitution's clause protecting "freedom of research." They have filed an initial complaint and have said they will appeal all the way to the country's top constitutional court if necessary.

In the meantime, Kreiter received a temporary order last week that extends his license until a Bremen court can decide whether to take the case. Without such an order, Kreiter worried that his macaques would be left in legal limbo. He can't care for them without a license, and most have had brain surgery that means they require special care and can't simply be given to a zoo or sanctuary. In the worst case, Kreiter says, he could be forced to euthanize them, even though German law prohibits euthanizing animals without an "important reason." It isn't clear, he says, if loss of a research license would qualify. For now, he says, he is relieved that he can continue work. An initial decision from the court is expected sometime early in 2009.