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Belgian researchers respond to misinformation about animal testing in an open letter

In response to recent misinformation about the use of animal experiments on the French-speaking television channel RTBF (9 November) in Belgium, a group of researchers from the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Université catholique de Louvain (UCL), University of Liège, Université de Mons (UMons) and the University of Namur (UNAMUR) have written an open letter.

The letter underlines the need for animal testing in science and addresses the spread of factually incorrect information about animal testing in the media. The letter was also published in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

The researchers state in the letter: “Prohibiting animal experimentation or making it impracticable would deprive society of an indispensable tool for basic research and innovation in the life sciences, from which animals themselves benefit.”

If you are behind this message, and you want your voice to be heard, you can sign the open letter. In order to strengthen the message across national borders, Info Point Experimental Research aims to help the researchers to collect signatures. This letter with all the bundled signatures will be handed over to various Belgian media and serve as a starting point to consult with the government.

EARA backs UK commitment to animal welfare

The European Animal Research Association (EARA) has backed the UK government’s recent statements on its commitment to animal welfare.

The UK Parliament recently voted not to carry over Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty into UK law as part of Brexit legislation – Article 13 states that ‘since animals are sentient beings, [countries must] pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals’. This was seen by opponents as an attempt to undermine current standards of animal welfare in the UK and led to a reaffirming of the UK position by the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

In Parliament she said: “The Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides protection for all animals capable of experiencing pain or suffering which are under the control of man. But I reaffirm to that we will be ensuring that we maintain and enhance our animal welfare standards when we leave the EU.”

Commenting on the controversy EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “The current debate has more to do with political manoeuvring than animal welfare.The UK is among the countries with the highest animal welfare standards in Europe and we welcome the UK Government’s stated intention to continue to enhance this in future. Both the Animal Welfare Act and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 are dedicated to protecting sentient animals.”

Animal rights infiltration at Brussels university

On Tuesday, Belgian animal rights group GAIA published video material taken during an undercover investigation at the animal research facility of the Free University of Brussels (VUB), Belgium. The footage was taken over the course of three months, and suggests that the care for the animals in the facility was inadequate. VUB announced that they will investigate the footage and cooperate with an external inquiry announced by the State Secretary for animal welfare.

vub-infiltration

Coverage of the infiltration on the website of Het Laatste Nieuws, the most popular newspaper in Flanders and Belgium.

The infiltration took place between March and June of this year. Under orders of GAIA, an undercover informant spent three months working as an animal caretaker at VUB’s Animalarium, the animal research facility at the university’s Jette campus. The six minute long video that GAIA released on Tuesday shows footage of animals in the facility, as well as recordings of conversations with employees at the Animalarium. Reactions to the video where mixed: half of comments on the article in Het Laatste Nieuws were opposed to animal research, while around 25% explained the role of animal research in biomedicine, and a further 25% were neutral on the issue.

VUB has announced that it will thoroughly investigate the footage to determine whether any of the events in the video breached national legislation or the university’s internal standards. The university understands that the video has raised concerns, and will examine the need for a strengthening of internal procedures. In addition, VUB has advanced plans for a new research infrastructure designed to provide housing for research animals with the most modern techniques, with particular attention being paid to animal welfare.

Bianca Debaets, Brussels State Secretary for Animal Welfare, has said she was shocked by the footage, and that her administration will carry out an extra inspection of the lab in question. The VUB has promised its full cooperation in the inspection. Debaets added that Brussels subsidises promising 3Rs research at the VUB and that animal research remains necessary in research, and should remain possible within a strict and well-enforced legislative framework.

European scientific community welcomes EU review of the Directive for the protection of animals used for research

PRESS RELEASE

LONDON, UK – 10 November, 2017

The European scientific community supports the view of the EU Commission, that the Directive on the protection of animals used in biomedical research is bringing significant benefits in animal welfare and a sound foundation for future best practice in the sector.

The European Animal Research Association (EARA), which represents more than 60 organisations across Europe in the biomedical research sector, has welcomed the Commission report, published today. The report reviews the requirements of Directive 2010/63/EU – all uses of live animals for research or education and testing must be carried out in compliance with the Directive.

In particular, the EU recognised that measures to improve transparency to the general public on the performance of research establishments in the areas of animal use and welfare are starting to have an effect. Requirements to publish non-technical summaries of the objectives and benefits of research projects, as well as annual statistical data, are also seen to have greatly improved openness in Member States. Continue reading

Communications and Media Manager with the European Animal Research Association (EARA)

Responsible to: Executive Director
Salary: Up to £40,000
Benefits: 25 days’ paid holiday per year, employer contribution to pension, plus international travel
Contract: Permanent, full-time (35 hours a week)
Located: Central London
This is a re-advertisement, previous applicants need not reapply

The European Animal Research Association (EARA)

EARA is a European organisation that communicates and advocates biomedical research using animals by providing accurate and evidence-based information. We aim at educating the public on its benefits, cooperating with research stakeholders, and promoting the creation and development of national networks.

Purpose of the Role:

  • Lead the implementation of the external communications strategy of the European Animal Research Association (EARA), agreed by the Board and managed by the Executive Director.
  • Oversee the writing, production and distribution of internal communications information on the work and output of EARA to our membership.
  • Liaise with the EARA Board of experts in the field of animal research, breeding, communications and advocacy.

Principal Duties:

  • Communicate with EARA’s members and other stakeholders effectively about our work
  • Create briefings, press releases, website copy, newsletters, leaflets, brochures and other written content for targeted audiences and broader communication purposes
  • Develop, produce and deliver effective content and campaigns for EARA’s digital channels, including its website, social media platforms and e-communications
  • Manage and expand EARA’s nationally based social media ambassadors
  • Develop and maintain good relationships with journalists
  • Deliver presentations to EARA’s current and potential stakholders
  • Measure the impact of the organisation’s traditional and social media presence and campaigns and provide analytical reports
  • Undertake other reasonable tasks required by EARA when needed

Person Specifications

  • Proven experience of science communications, media relations, social media and website management
  • An understanding of the scientific, ethical and moral justification for animal research
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal

Essential Qualities, skills and experience

  • Ability to adapt communications to reach different audiences
  • Experience of engaging with a variety of internal and external stakeholders
  • Ability to work under pressure, meet agreed deadlines, prioritise workload and maximise the use of time
  • Ability to work both as part of a small team and independently
  • A commitment to the aims and objectives of EARA

Additional Requirements

    • Written and/or oral competency in another European language is desirable
    • To be able to work occasional evenings and weekends
    • Willing to undertake occasional travel in the UK and Europe

Application Process:

Please email your CV and an accompanying cover letter explaining how you meet the person specification to kleech@eara.eu with the subject heading ‘Communications Manager’. Please also give an indication of when you would be available to start work, as we are keen to fill this post as soon as possible.

The application deadline is Friday 29th September, 17.00 BST. Interviews will take place in London on 5th and 9th October.

 

 

 

A trans-Atlantic transparency gap on animal experiments

This article was originally published in Science on 14 July 2017

The launch last month of a website called LabAnimalTour.org, which showcases animal experiments at several prominent institutions in the United Kingdom, is part of a trend toward increasing openness by researchers in a country that 2 decades ago was riven by sometimes-violent animal rights activism.

Since 2014, 116 life sciences organizations in the United Kingdom have signed onto a Concordat on Openness on Animal Research that commits them to communicating frankly and in detail about their animal experiments. Ninety Spanish institutions adopted a similar pledge last year, and universities in Belgium, France, and Germany are talking about moving in the same direction. Continue reading

Recommendations on the report of the European Commission Scientific Conference ‘Non-Animal Approaches – The Way Forward’

The European Commission published in April 2017 the report of the conference ‘Non-Animal Approaches – The way forward’ that they organised in Brussels on 6 and 7 December 2016. The Conference’s presentations and video recordings can be viewed on DG Environment website.

The conference was announced in the Commission’s response to the Europeans Citizens Initiative ‘Stop Vivisection’ as one of four actions that should contribute towards the goal of, ultimately, phasing out animal testing.

The key recommendations outlined in the report are extracted here for simplicity:

Recommendations Session 1 – Animal Testing Today
There is a need for on-going investment in public and private funding in non-animal alternatives. However, consideration is required to ensure the proposed research is appropriate, addresses areas of need, and is of high quality with appropriate statistical design. To achieve these goals, the following are required:
1. A thorough gap analysis of where alternatives are still lacking and how to improve the current alternatives to be fit for purpose
2. The investigation of more “human” testing e.g. using human cell-based systems
3. Consideration of whether there should be a more stringent scientific peer review of methodology before starting any project using animals or developing alternatives
4. A need for systematic use of ARRIVE, and other relevant guidelines to stimulate a culture of scientific excellence.
5. Improvements in study design and data analysis for all animal experimentation as well as for non-animal studies.
6. More standardisation, e.g. in design, analyses, statistics and publication
7. The need to publish negative results systematically – start with all publicly funded studies using animals

Recommendations Session 2 – Biomedical Research: Strengths and Limitations of Non-Animal Alternatives
1. There is a need for a continued and organised research agenda within Europe to co-ordinate the short-term and longer-term uptake of alternatives based around in silico and in vitro approaches in the short term and human-on-chip and microphysiological approaches in the longer term. Some more strategic top-down or central steering of this research agenda might be beneficial.
2. Fundamental biological research, from sequencing of human genomes to tissue and organ level biology, should not be discontinued as this will support the better development of the next generation of alternatives to animal testing.
3. Effort is required to speed up and possibly simplify the process of validation (also covered in a later session) leading to acceptance of alternatives and therefore greater uptake.
4. Greater resources should be made available for data sharing, including consideration of greater access to confidential data – or knowledge being made available from it. Resources such as patient DNA databases should be created for research purposes.
5. Education and training of all researchers using animals is mandatory in the EU, enforcement of compliance is necessary to ensure respect for animals and their correct, ethical use.

Recommendations Session 3 – Regulatory Testing: Strengths and Limitations of Non-Animal Alternatives
1. New approaches for the validation of complex alternatives need to be developed now, i.e. moving away from the one-to-one replacement paradigm, to ensure acceptance and uptake.
2. Regulators should lead the way whilst working closely with industry and other stakeholders.
3. The process should start with a common problem definition.
4. Work is required on defining, understanding and agreement on acceptable risk to human safety on using non-animal data – as a result regulation may need to be adapted.
5. Progress in the area of acceptance of alternatives must be collaborative at a number of levels and will require resources to achieve this:
a. International collaboration e.g. EU, US, Japan etc.
b. Stakeholders e.g. regulators, industry, developers etc.
6. Dates and targets for the phasing out of animal tests, where possible, should be considered. Although not all panellists considered that helpful.
7. Additional barriers to the acceptance of alternatives, beyond those already known, should be identified and strategies to remove them be defined.
8. There should be support for internationally led case studies to evaluate and demonstrate the acceptance of new alternative approaches. In this context, it could be helpful to carefully map out uncertainties of current animals tests.
9. An in vitro Mode of Action-based classification system like today’s GHS will be required.

Recommendations Session 4 – Reporting on European Commission Actions 1 – 3
1. The European Commission should continue its role to monitor compliance with Directive 2010/63/EU and to increase the vision of using alternatives to animals wherever possible.
2. Consideration could be given as to how the Three Rs could further be promoted through Directive 2010/63/EU e.g. through the use of dedicated information officers.
3. Access to knowledge sources should be reviewed and improved, for instance by their quality assurance and the provision of an (internet) one-stop-shop to access all resources using an improved search engine.
4. Support should be provided for dissemination events, such as conferences and workshops, to increase outreach especially for non-scientists.
5. Consideration should be given to require publication of Three Rs methods where possible.
6. Assistance should be provided to compile and publish negative data where possible, interoperable databases of information are one approach that should be investigated.
7. A funding strategy to promote knowledge sources for the Three Rs and access to them should be developed, including commitments from the European Commission and private industry.

Recommendations Session 5 – Responsible Research
1. The European Commission should continue (and increase) funding of research in alternatives in specific areas that will stimulate their uptake and implementation.
2. All EU agencies such as ECHA, EMA and EFSA and initiatives such as EPAA and IMI should further encourage the uptake of alternatives and the implementation of the Three Rs principles.
3. Science must make efforts to understand and remove all elements of bias from the experimental design and reporting of results.
4. The use of tools such as the NC3Rs Experimental Design Assistant should be mandatory in the design of experiments and be required by grants funding agencies.
5. The implementation of the NC3Rs ARRIVE guidelines should be mandatory in grant proposals as well as publication of results, starting with all publicly funded research using animals.
6. Greater efforts should be made to ensure results are openly available e.g. using data repositories such as European Open Science Could, allowing access to all results including negative results, and enabling free and easy data reuse; especially results derived from publicly funded research using animals.
7. Journal editorial policies should more fully embrace the Three Rs principles ensuring the ARRIVE guidelines have been respected.
8. The peer-review process should be assessed as to whether it is fit for purpose with regard to transparency and implementation / review of the Three Rs.
9. The assessment of research impact should be revised to remove the emphasis from highly significant “headline” results to ensuring quality and relevance.
10. 2020 should be designated the “Year of Systematic Review”.
11. Each Member State should be encouraged to have a Science Media Centre, such as that in the UK, which helps the general press with the correct reporting of research outcomes.

Recommendations Session 6 – The Future: The Way Forward
1. Harmonisation of all new methodologies is required; there is good progress for metabolomics as one example which should be supported.
2. There is a need for a large-scale evaluation of metabolomics to demonstrate its utility to identify mechanisms of action relating to chemical safety for a number of species.
3. Support is required to complete the development of technologies such “human-on-a-chip”, in readiness for industry adoption and validation.
4. There is a need to widen the Adverse Outcomes Pathway type approach to areas outside regulatory toxicity e.g. in disease modelling.
5. Human tissue should be made more readily available and this should be addressed at EU level.
6. All new technologies require some form of validation to demonstrate their fitness of purpose. Further efforts in developing validation schemes and strategies may be required.
7. iPS and related technologies should be developed to address specific organ level effects and disease treatments.
8. Further understanding of the limitations of the new technologies is necessary, especially how to scale up cellular based techniques to in vivo.
9. Patient groups should be informed about the new technologies, their advantages and risks.
10. Efforts to show how to combine all new technologies e.g. for drug safety are required which may need a new way of thinking both about the technology itself and the means of combining information.
11. There is a continued need for education and training in all aspects of animal-free science and the Three Rs; this is required at all levels from school and university students to established researchers in academic, industrial and contract laboratories. Proper and full dissemination of knowledge will be key to this. This will require the promotion of the new techniques and approaches and raising awareness of resources through well-designed internet resources and, preferably, a single search engine from which all information can be accessed. There is also a need to inform and educate the public more effectively including through Scientific Conferences and to maintain an open and constructive dialogue between stakeholders.

The European Animal Research Association (EARA)
June 2017

Research with dogs develops an artificial pancreas to treat diabetes

This post was originally published in Speaking or Research website

White Coat Waste is a conservative animal rights organization devoted to the elimination of animal research. Its first target is biomedical research conducted using dogs at the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Unfortunately, this campaign is gaining traction. While White Coat Waste is supported mainly by Republicans, some Democrat representatives like Dina Titus (Nevada) and Ted Lieu (California) have expressed their support. In view of that, it is important to highlight the remarkable achievements of dog research at the VA and the tremendous loss that its cancellation would be for Veterans and the general public.

Continue reading

Max Planck Society publishes White Paper on animal research

The Max Planck Society (MPS) in Germany has published a White Paper in which it outlines key ethical issues surrounding the use of animals in basic research. The Senate of the MPS has adopted the white paper as a declaration of principle.

White Paper: Animal Research in the Max Planck Society

The White Paper states why animal research is still a vital part of life sciences research, and explains the legal and ethical framework that regulates animal research at the Max Planck Society. Together with the 3Rs, these issues shape the approach to animal research throughout the Society.

Practically, the Max Planck Society has translated the ethical stance on animal research outlined in the White Paper into a number of commitments, including measures to increase animal welfare, encouraging and financing alternatives to the use of animals, and proactive engagement in professionalizing the public discourse on animal ethics.

In an important step the MPS has committed itself to open and proactive communications on the use of animals in research by explaining the research goals, the rationale for the application of certain methods and the outcome of the research projects to the public at large. In this way, the MPS intends to foster an informed dialogue between science and society on the use of animals in biomedical research. Continue reading

We aren’t sadists, but we do animal research

A group of young, ambitious Belgian scientists have had enough of standing by doing nothing while animal research is criticised in the media. This article by Liesbeth Aerts and Jeroen Aerts was translated from the original Dutch version published in De Standaard on 26 December 2016.

‘Sadists’, ‘bastards, ‘a gang of psychopaths’, ‘worse than Dutroux [serial killer and child molester]’ … a selection of the insults directed at animal researchers that appear each time the debate about animal research surfaces in the media. One day we are awarded with prizes for our research, the other day we are cursed, insulted or threatened.

As young ambitious researchers, we care deeply about our work and also about this controversial subject. The mixed feelings of the general public indicate there is still a lot of mystery about what really goes on behind the doors of a scientific laboratory.

Spokespersons and policy makers don’t seem to understand it very well either, and the people heading our research institutes are silent as usual. Since we are doing the actual animal experiments, we are the ones at the receiving end of all of these insults. We are told to keep our head down, for fear of reprisal; but we don’t want to stand by and do nothing while we are put on trial in the press and on social media. Continue reading