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EARA findings on how to improve Non-Technical Summaries for the general public published

As part of its strategy to improve openness and transparency on the use of animals in research in Europe, EARA has been working closely with the EU to help improve the information provided to the general public.

Earlier this year the EARA working group on Non-Technical Summaries (NTS) submitted its guidance document to the EU Commission on how NTS could be made more understandable for the ordinary reader.

EARA has now heard that the Commission will produce additional guidance on NTS for Member States based on the EARA guidance document.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “We are very pleased to hear that the Commission has found the EARA working group’s observations useful.

“NTS are a small part of the overall need to improve openness and transparency on animal research, but they could be a valuable resource, in particular, for the media and other influencers who communicate with the public directly, in explaining issues such as animal welfare and the benefits that biomedical research can bring for society.”

Every research project application, that intends to use animals, is required to include a publicly available NTS which includes a simple explanation of the project’s objectives, predicted harms, benefits and number and types of animals used. It must also demonstrate compliance with the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement).

NTS are widely seen as a positive development in improving transparency on animal research to the public. However, it is widely agreed that there are a number of problems in the compilation, accuracy, standardisation and accessibility of NTS.

In November 2017, the EU Commission published its Review of Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. The Commission reported that there had been some progress on transparency, but suggested that further improvements were needed. In particular further work is needed on the publication of statistical information on animal use and on non-technical project summaries (NTS).

EARA identified clear opportunities to improve NTS for the general public and set up its working group in 2018. The working group brought together representatives from the user community, with a range of experts from backgrounds in animal welfare, communications and private and public biomedical research, including membership of institutional ethics committees and welfare organisations.

As an example of its guidance the EARA working group said that a simplified project title should be included in the NTS alongside the formal technical title. For instance:

’Effect of oncolitic adenovirus in embryonic high grade pediatric tumours of the central nervous system in NOD.Cg-Rag1tm1Mom Prf1tm1Sdz/Sz mice (Measuring the effects in mice of different potential treatments for childhood cancers)’

The members were Javier Guillén, AAALAC International (Chair), Michael Addelman University of Manchester, Peter Janssen FENS_CARE, Serban Morosan GIRCOR , Barney Reed RSPCA , Kirsty Reid EFPIA , Bob Tolliday EARA and Hanna-Marja Voipio FELASA.

For further information contact EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, btolliday@eara.eu on +44 (0)20 3675 1245 or +44 (0)7970 132801

Much more progress needed to improve openness on animal research, says EARA website study

A study by the European Animal Research Association (EARA), of more than a 1,000 websites across Europe, assessing how the biomedical sector talks about research using animals, has found that ‘the sector is still some way from an acceptable level of openness and transparency in animal research’.

The findings from the EARA Study of EU-based websites 2018 have now been presented to the EU Commission, which is currently examining the findings.

A total of 1,219 institutional websites within the EU were assessed, both public and private bodies, including universities and pharmaceutical companies, during 2018 and a rating system was developed to analyse the data which found that:

• Just under half (44%) of the institutions conducting animal research carry a recognisable statement on their websites explaining the use of animals in research/animal welfare.

• Just over half the websites assessed (53%) meet the criterion for providing ‘more information’, for instance by including the kind of animals used.

• Well under a third (28%) of the websites can be considered to have prominent mentions of animal research – such as recognisable statements within three clicks of the homepage.

• Only just over a third (36%) of the websites assessed carry any imagery related to animal research.

• Around half the websites (49%) assessed featured some kind of case study on the animal research they support, fund or conduct.

• Fewer than a quarter (23%) of the websites in the sector provide ‘Extensive Information’ online, for instance, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or press releases.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “We believe the sector needs to make greater use of all opportunities to be more accessible and to be more transparent with the public. Whilst progress has been made by many institutions, much more could be done.”

The study has helped EARA identify areas of good practice on communications and openness in the life sciences sector and areas where improvement is needed. It will also help EARA provide guidance on best practice to all its member organisations and the sector as a whole across Europe and build on the advice already given to EARA members in the EARA Communications Handbook.

EARA anticipates that institutional websites will play an increasingly important role in informing members of the public, media, decision-makers and regulators about the use of animals in research and the contribution of animal research to biomedical science. The website study is therefore a tool that can then be used to encourage greater transparency in line with the recommendations made in Section 3 of the Review of Directive 2010/63/EU in November 2017.

Using the documentation and techniques developed in the course of this study, EARA intends in future years to revisit the websites involved and chart the improvement (or otherwise) of the institutional openness of the sector as a whole.

For further information contact EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, btolliday@eara.eu on +44 (0)20 3675 1245 or +44 (0)7970 132801

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Notes to editors

About EARA

The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is an organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals and provides accurate, evidence-based information. It also takes responsibility for the choice and sustainability in the global transport of animals for medical research. It has more than 60 partner organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, across 14 European countries.

EARA’s vision is to enhance the understanding and recognition of research involving animals across Europe, allowing for a more constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and a more efficient climate for research in Europe.

The benefits of animal research
Most of the medicines we have come from animal research. Often science doesn’t need to use animals, but for many key questions they are crucial. They will help millions with conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord damage and parasitic infections like malaria. There are three main reasons why animals are used in research:

• To advance scientific understanding,
• To develop solutions to medical problems,
• To test medicines and vaccines in order to protect the safety of people, animals and the environment.

Animals are used when there is a need to find out what happens in the whole living body, which is far more complex than the sum of its parts. It is very difficult, and in most cases simply not yet possible, to develop non-animal methods to replace the use of living animals.

Marking 50 years of biomedical research with minipigs

EARA member Ellegaard Göttingen Minipigs has marked 50 years of the company at its Scientific Symposium, in London, UK, which also looked at future biomedical research uses for its animal model.

After Lars Friis Mikkelsen (pictured), CEO of Ellegaard, opened the Symposium, a series of lectures explained the growth of the company and its long-term collaboration with the University of Göttingen, which originally bred the minipig, and examined the ways that the animal is used in toxicology testing. 

Peter Vestbjerg of Ellegaard, explained that the Göttingen Minipigs is a good non-rodent model due to the adaptability of the minipig and its well managed genetics.

Examples of how minipigs are being used to test toxicity on compounds under development for Alzheimer’s and for anti-cancer drug development were given by Joanna Harding of AstraZeneca, and Sally-Anne Reynolds of Sequani, respectively.

From the University of Edinburgh, Michael Eddleston focused on translational medicine between animals and humans and how we can modulate human self-poisoning in Göttingen minipig models. “Pigs do save lives”, he said.

Henrik Duelund Pedersen of Ellegaard, concluded the symposium by listing the specific advantages of mini pigs in studies for dermal toxicity and reproduction among others.

Besides the scientific context, the importance of communication about the benefits of animal research to the public was highlighted by Kirk Leech, EARA Executive Director, and Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, described the work of EARA in the promotion of openness and transparency across Europe as well as the opportunities for greater openness on communicating animal research.

Wendy Jarrett presented the main areas of action of UAR in the United Kingdom and explained why and how it is important engaging with the public, sharing ideas and shaping a supportive environment for the use of animals, such as minipigs.  

Further Ellegaard Scientific Symposiums are planned across Europe, including the 13th Minipig Research Forum on 22-24 May in Vienna, Austria. For more information follow the LinkedIn page and read the Newsletter.

Spanish initiative says ‘Animal Research Gives Life’

The Spanish Society for Laboratory Animal Sciences (SECAL) used World Day for Laboratory Animals (24 April), as an opportunity to communicate on animal research.

EARA Member SECAL, created a video (in Spanish) with examples on the benefits of the biomedical animal research.

The message in the video “La experimentación animal da vida” (Animal research gives life) was repeated by board members of SECAL.

Research institutions from Spain and Latin America (including EARA Spanish Twitter) shared the video on social media with the hashtag #LaExperimentaciónAnimaldaVida.

Sergi Vila of SECAL, said the video as “a very positive initiative”, especially on the eve of the general election in Spain, where the Animalist Party (PACMA) has called for the ending of animal research.

Ethics in the spotlight after pig brain revival

A debate has been stirred by news that neuroscientists have stimulated activity in the brain of pigs hours after their heads were removed.

The discovery performed at the Yale University School of Medicine, USA, has also highlighted potential limitations in the current regulations for animals used in research as argued in an article in Nature.

In an article in National GeographicKhara Ramos, of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, asked if “the development and application of new neuro-technologies may require us to examine ethical standards, and for those standards to evolve”.

In The Guardian, ethical questions such as ‘How do we delimit consciousness in a brain removed from the body?’; ‘Is it possible to speak about consciousness in an isolated brain?’ were also raised.

Fruit fly research on prime time TV in Portugal

Portuguese TV news has highlighted the use of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as an animal research model at the labs of the Champalimaud Foundation

The institution, also an EARA members, is based in Lisbon, Portugal. and uses fruit flies in six of the 19 research groups to study cancer and neurosciences.

In the TV item (in Portuguese), Maria Luísa Vasconcelos, the Principal Investigator of Innate Behaviour Research Group, explained why the fruit fly is the ideal model to study innate behaviours: “We can work with very large numbers of animals because they are tiny and easy to keep”.

The Principal Investigator of Sensorimotor Integration Research Group, Eugenia Chiappe, also clarified how fruit fly is helping to understand how the brain controls our movements.

The Fly Platform is the facility that offers conditions for breeding, maintenance and manipulation, supporting scientists in establishing, applying and developing advanced genetic approaches.

The researchers explained that besides the size of the organism there are other advantages in using flies as a model. For example, the lower ethical and legal questions, the short generation time and the sophisticated tools available to manipulate the genome.

A look back at recent biomedical breakthroughs thanks to animal research

On the eve of Biomedical Research Awaerness Day (BRAD 18 April), EARA looks back at some of the important medical advances over the last year that have involved research using animals.

Among the breakthroughs reported, that benefit both humans and animals, are:

  • Research using mice led to many new breakthroughs, such as multiple sclerosis research, at the University of Cambridge and to fight chronic pain using synthetic Botox at University College London, UK.
  • In surgical research on sheep at Lund University, Sweden, freeze-dried valves – later rehydrated for transplantation – were used in animal heart surgery for first time.
  • A team from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), Madrid, Spain, succeeded in curing pulmonary fibrosis disease in mice using a gene therapy.
  • In Belgium, researchers at EARA members VIB, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven used mice to develop new antibacterial drugs.
  • Building on a technique developed in rats, Swiss researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, have announced that stimulating a person’s spinal cord can restore voluntary movement in some paralysed patients (see picture).

Scientists are also developing new biomedical treatments and techniques that replace, refine or reduce (3Rs) the use of animals in research.

  • A team from the University of Oxford, UK, and EARA member Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgiumwon the International 3Rs Prize using a computer model that predicts accurately the risk of drug-induced heart arrhythmias in humans.

Animal research is integral to ongoing research in areas such as spinal cord repair, stem cell treatments (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), gene therapy (muscular dystrophy, diabetes) and molecularly targeted cancer medicines.
Historically, animal research has also led to new diagnostic tests for early treatment (cancer, heart disease); and effective treatments for serious illnesses (diabetes, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease).

The same research often helps humans and animals (treatments for arthritis, neurological disorders, organ transplants, cancer therapies) and contributes to farm animal welfare and techniques to save endangered species.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “Without the use of animals the pace of advances in biomedical research would be dramatically slower.

“Finding alternative methods to animal research, such as computer models and cell cultures are extremely important, but animal testing remains the safest and most effective way to produce drugs and treatments for us all.”

Cancer studies see rise in use of animals in Netherlands research

Increased biomedical research into cancer has seen a rise in the number of procedures using animals in the Netherlands, the latest statistics show.

The annual figures for 2017, show an overall increase in the number of animals used (in Dutch), with 530,568 procedures being conducted: 80,694 (17.9%) more than in 2016.

In 2017, more animal tests were conducted with zebrafish (research into anti-cancer drugs and an EU-funded project into hormone-disruptors that affect the human body) and mice (various investigations, particularly cancer research).

In addition, under a new EU reporting requirement, the number of animals that were bred, but were killed or died without being part of an animal test, was 448,252 animals, (see Additional Animals note).

The annual figures, have been released by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit, NVWA) in line with the requirements of EU law and demonstrates the continuing commitment of the Netherlands’ biomedical sector to research, as well as observing the principles of the ‘3Rs’ (Replacement, Refinement, Reduction) in the use of animals.

Wilbert Frieling, of the Dutch animal reseach advocacy group SID, said: ‘The use of animals is essential for biomedical research into diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s and for vaccines – including the ones taken to protect us during overseas trips.

“Many of the cures and treatments we use today for conditions such as diabetes and pneumonia were made possible through the use of animals. The development of treatments and vaccines for animals also requires the experimental use of dogs and cats.’

Commenting on the figures, EARA Executive Director Kirk Leech said: ‘The publication of these figures shows that biomedical researchers in the Netherlands have nothing to hide. Behind each statistic is the story of basic research, of work towards combating disease and of improvements in human or veterinary medicine.’

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Notes to editors

Additional animals
Additional animals are those animals which were killed in the research setting without ever having undergone a regulated procedure. Examples of why this may happen include:
• Animals bred for tissue samples
• Animals that were bred for research, but could not be used. Reasons include:
– They were the wrong sex for the research.
– They were involved in creating or maintaining genetically altered lines, but did not
express the required genetic alteration (i.e. were born as wild types).
– The number was over and above the numbers needed for the research study (litter sizes can be unpredictable).
• Animals used to sustain inbred colonies (this includes breeding stock and neonatal losses)
• ‘Sentinel animals’ used for health screening of other animals in the laboratory

About EARA
The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is an organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals and provides accurate, evidence-based information. It has more than 70 partner organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, across 15 European countries.
EARA’s vision is to enhance the understanding and recognition of research involving animals across Europe, allowing for a more constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and a more efficient climate for research in Europe.

EARA Communications Handbook launched

A guide on how to develop and implement a communications strategy on the use of animals in research has been published by the European Animal Research Association (EARA).

A free hard copy of the EARA Communications Handbook (in English only, cover price €375), along with an encrypted electronic version has been distributed exclusively to EARA member organisations.

The Handbook is intended to be shared with in-house research and communications professionals and includes a step-by-step guide to developing a long-term communications strategy and other advice on actions you can take to encourage a more balanced public debate on the issue of animal research.

There is also practical communications advice on how to handle those crisis situations that may occur.

EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, said: “We encourage all EARA institutions across Europe to implement the recommendations outlined in this manual and to engage with EARA for further support or advice.”

Organisations that are not EARA members can purchase the Handbook or arrange to discuss communications further by contacting Kirk Leech.