An EU Science Committee is preparing for a public hearing in Brussels to consider the future of primate research.
The hearing will discuss whether experiments on non-human primates can be replaced with non-animal alternative techniques such as brain imaging and cell culture.
The European Commission is under pressure to examine the ethical and scientific case for an EU phase-out of primate research as part of the upcoming revision of Directive 86/609/EEC, Europe's animal-experiments directive.
In September 2007 the European Parliament voted in support of a written declaration demanding an end to research on great apes and wild-caught primates and a gradual replacement of all primate-experiments with ethical alternatives.
The commission asked the Scientific Committee on Health Environmental Risks (SCHER) for an opinion on the need for non-human primates in biomedical research and testing.
It has now called a public hearing in Brussels, at which international experts will present evidence on techniques that could replace primates as part of a time-tabled phase-out.
To coincide with the SCHER investigation, member groups from the UK's coalition of organisations that fund and promote non-animal research (Focus on Alternatives) have published an expert report.
The coalition claims this report, 'Replacing Primates in Medical Research', provides clear case-study evidence that primate-experiments into AIDS, malaria, hepatitis C, cognition and stroke poorly reflect the human illnesses.
In contrast, non-animal research methods such as using in vitro human liver cells to screen anti-malarial drugs; human brain imaging combined with post mortem studies and cell culture for stroke research; and molecular and computer modelling for AIDS vaccine research, are progressing well.
In more than 25 years, at least 37 primate-tested HIV vaccines have failed in human trials and none have succeeded.
Rhesus macaque monkeys are the favoured model but these could be replaced with a combined approach: population studies, human blood and cells in the test tube including the new 'human immune system in a test tube', molecular biology and computer modelling.
Ninety-five stroke drugs have passed animal tests but failed in human clinical trials.
For years primates have been used but this has failed to yield any effective new drugs for people.
Population studies, brain imaging, post-mortem brain analysis and in vitro multi-cell cultures can provide more useful data relevant to human stroke.
Up to two million people die from malaria each year, but vaccines developed and tested in primates have failed in humans.
In vitro human liver cell cultures could soon replace primates in identifying vaccine candidates and screening anti-malarial drugs.
Research into human psychological processes such as memory and depression can involve surgically implanting electrodes in, or removing parts of, the brains of primates.
Advances in non-invasive imaging now provide a range of imaging techniques, including the creation of temporary virtual lesions in the human brain.
Despite decades of animal research into hepatitis C, there is still no definitive cure or vaccine.
Mathematical modelling has already benefited hepatitis C patients by elucidating the virus's dynamics and improving drug treatment.
Human cell cultures for research and drug screening have also progressed.
Focus on Alternatives claims that with these techniques available, 'The use of primates is scientifically outdated as well as being ethically inappropriate'.
Non-animal medical research charity and co-author of the report, the Dr Hadwen Trust, has submitted scientific evidence to the SCHER committee and will take part in the hearing.
The charity believes the time is right for Europe to plan to end primate research.
Emily McIvor, policy director of the Dr Hadwen Trust, said: 'This is the ideal opportunity for Europe to implement a targeted time-tabled phase-out of primate research by using the very latest non-animal research methods science has to offer.
'We already know that primates have an immense capacity to suffer in experiments and that the advanced replacement techniques that already exist are scientifically impressive.
'We now need a Europe-wide strategy to pro-actively accelerate their further development and make experimenting on such highly sentient creatures a thing of the past.'