A NORTH-EAST scientist who is researching how stroke affects the human brain has defended his use of 'wild-caught' baboons for experiments in Africa.

Professor Stuart Baker, who has discovered that a particular part of the human brain play a vital role in recovering from stroke, was responding to allegations from the animal rights organisation the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

The BUAV said an investigation had discovered that researchers from Newcastle University - led by Prof Baker - have been carrying out experiments in Kenya on involving baboons caught in the wild.

In a statement a BUAV spokesman said: "Wild baboons are captured and held at the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) under conditions which seriously compromise their welfare and breach international guidelines, before being subjected to disturbing experiments."

The BUAV spokesman pointed out that using wild-caught primates in research was "effectively banned in 1995" yet researchers from Newcastle University are bypassing UK law "to use wild-caught baboons in disturbing and highly invasive experiments."

The BUAV said there was also "a blatant breach" of recent guidance by UK funding bodies which requires UK researchers to maintain UK welfare standards when carrying out experiments abroad.

The BUAV said the experiments carried out at the Nairobi institute by researchers from Newcastle University include "invasive brain surgery" on anaesthetised live baboons.

BUAV director of special projects, Sarah Kit, called on the UK Government "to close this unacceptable loophole."

But Prof Baker, professor of movement neuroscience at Newcastle University said his team had gone to Kenya because it allowed them to continue with their experiments without subjecting baboons to the stress of being transported to the UK.

He pointed out that baboons were regarded as a pest in Kenya and the animals were regularly culled by the authorities.

As far as the experiments were concerned, Prof Baker said they were very similar to those carried out in Newcastle - which had already led to a better understanding of how brains recover from a stroke.

The professor pointed out that he holds a UK licence to carry out the experiments, which are in accordance with UK law.

Prof Baker pointed out that small cages used at the Kenyan research centre - and shown by BUAV photographs - were being replaced with much bigger pens.

Under the circumstances Prof Baker said it was "perfectly reasonable" to continue his work.