A leading neuroscientist at Oxford University has called for the "silent majority" supporting experiments on animals to sign an online petition backing the research.

Tipu Aziz, 50, a professor of neurosurgery, has been one of the most vocal supporters of the need to conduct animal experiments for medical reasons.

Prof Aziz spoke to the Oxford Mail after the Coalition for Medical Progress, which includes drugs companies, yesterday launched an Internet petition which, it claimed, would give a voice to those who accepted the need for animal studies.

The petition is anonymous, which means signatories cannot be traced.

In Oxford, work on the university's £18m research facility in South Parks Road continues behind a blanket of white tarpaulin with workers wearing balaclavas.

More than 1,000 people are expected to take part in a protest march through the city centre about the lab on Saturday.

Prof Aziz said: "The anti-animal research lobby has been very vocal in the past and this has led to a belief they are well supported I do not think this is the case.

"I have always found people most supportive of medical research using animals. Those who have reservations are usually misinformed.

"The violence meted out to researchers in the past, and threats made more recently, have suppressed the willingness of those involved in research, and indeed those that have benefited, from speaking out.

"The recent events in Oxford have shown people are anxious for change and to hear about medical research and advances made. More scientists are beginning to speak up, too.

"No present medical therapy or those of the future would exist without animal research. At Oxford, work will continue into Parkinson's Disease, Aids, malaria vaccine and pancreatic transplantation.

"The lab will have the latest facilities to make the most of the research that is done I have signed the people's petition and all who believe in the future of medical progress should do so."

Robert Cogswell, spokesman for Speak, the legal campaign against the Oxford laboratory, said: "This petition is a sham, to be honest."

He added: "What we want is for independent scientists to look at the facts, statistics and data and say whether vivisection is valid or not the fact they are not speaks volumes."

Jo Tanner, chief executive of the Coalition for Medical Progress, said: "It's important the Oxford facility is completed, partly because we need medical research to continue in Oxford and partly because it is designed to house the animals in the best surroundings possible.

"We know that the British public cares about the welfare of animals used in research."