Author Archives: admin

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.

New steps towards transparency at Belgian EARA member

EARA member Union Chimique Belge (UCB) has included the total number of animals used in research for the first time in its latest annual report.

The 2018 report of the biompharmaceutical company, based in Belgium, contains a governance section that outlines the use of animals in its biomedical research.

UCB states that a total of 17,020 animals (both internally and externally at CROs) were used: 97.6 % of all animals used were rodents, with non-human primates, dogs, llamas, mini-pigs and rabbits accounting for the remaining 2.4%.

‘With its continued commitment to the progressive implementation of in silico and in vitro technologies, UCB continues to take every opportunity to decrease the number of animals used in research studies’, says the report.

See also the UCB video.

Personhood for animals?

Animals are not capable of taking responsibility for their own actions, never mind having a say in how society is run, says EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech.

The new documentary, Unlocking the Cage, follows Steve Wise, a lawyer from the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) who argues that animals should have the legal status of persons, and his attempt to make chimpanzee “rights” acknowledged and protected by law. The endeavour failed in
December 2015 when the New York appeals court rejected the premise that chimpanzee, Tommy, a retired circus performer living in a cage in upstate New York, should be entitled to legal personhood. However, the NhRP subsequently filed a second case on behalf of another chimpanzee, Kiko.

The NhRP is an organization based in the United States, working to achieve legal rights for members of species other than humans. The essence of the NhRP’s argument is that animals with “human qualities”, such as chimpanzees, should have basic rights—including freedom from imprisonment.

One such human quality that it highlights is apes’ supposed capacity to
empathize. To name one example from the many studies on this topic, research by scientists at Kyoto University claims that “both chimpanzees’ and humans’ eyes mimic the pupil dilation of the images they were shown” (PLoS One 9, e104886; 2014). But is this really an indication of empathy? There is a world of difference between an instinctual connection between organisms and the ability to understand another being’s condition from their perspective – which is what empathy means. What can at first glance be seen as evidence of deliberation or empathy in animals is little more than learned behaviour, a characteristic all animals share.

Through poetry, literature, music and other works of art humans seek to make sense of the lived experiences we share with one another. If one reduces every physical action to its simplest form – such as the involuntary matching of another individual’s pupil size—then one can, of course, find parallels between humans and other animals. But this kind of reductionism
does not deepen our understanding of human beings or, indeed, animals. We are alone in being able to continually reflect on the internal life of our fellow species.

As Helene Guldberg argues in her book, Just Another Ape? (Imprint Academic, Exeter, 2010), science has provided strong evidence that the differences in language, tool-use, self-awareness and insight
between apes and humans are enormous.

Intellectually, a human child, even one as young as two years of age, is head and shoulders above any ape. The claim that apes are cognitively more advanced than other animals is also dubious. Much has been made of chimps’ tool-using abilities, but recent discoveries show that the tool making and tool use in woodpeckers equals anything observed in chimpanzees. So should we, therefore, be granting the right of personhood
to birds as well? Of course not. Birds, like apes, would be incapable of exercising those rights. Rights have been fought for by humans throughout history. They are premised on the idea that autonomous individuals should have a say in how they live their lives, how society is organized and who
should be treated as equals before the law. Animals are not capable of taking responsibility for their own actions, never mind having a say in how society is run.

Granted, the NhRP were not asking the New York courts to grant chimps
full human rights. Rather, they argued for Tommy to be given the right not to be imprisoned against his will (quite how we come to know Tommy’s “will” is left unsaid). On its website, the NhRP outlines its mission “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things,’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons,’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty.”

So, were they proposing that Tommy should be given “bodily liberty” and be set free? Well, not quite. The NhRP proposed to move Tommy from the cage he currently inhabits to a chimpanzee sanctuary in Florida – where, of course, he would not be at liberty to come and go as he pleases. As one of the panel of judges quite rightly asked Wise: “Aren’t you asking that Tommy
go from one form of confinement to another?”

The reality is that Tommy would still be held in captivity, albeit in “a condition that is as close to the wild as is possible in North America.” A move from a cage to an outdoor sanctuary cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as providing a “fundamental right” of “bodily integrity and bodily liberty.”

Really, what this case boiled down to is the quality of Tommy’s living conditions. Patrick Lavery, Tommy’s owner, has insisted that the chimp is comfortable in his environment, “a spacious $150,000 facility with a door to
an outside area.” Wise, however, repeatedly refers to Tommy as living in “solitary confinement.” Whether it would be better to move Tommy to the sanctuary is open to question. But arguing that Tommy should be entitled to legal personhood and bodily liberty was fantasy. Rights are something that
only humans can understand and exercise.

This article originally appeared in Lab Animal magazine in August 2016.

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.

Chancellor Merkel backs new German research centre

The Max Delbrück Center (MDC), an EARA member, welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she opened its new research building in Berlin.

The building hosts the Berlin Institute for Molecular Systems Biology (BIMSB), as a second MDC campus, committed to research excellence and openness.

It is anticipated that it will host 250 researchers and 16 labs in the near future (see video of the opening).

Setting the scene for different scientific disciplines – biotechnology, computational science, molecular biology, clinical research – BIMSB leader Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky (pictured second left) promised a ‘radical approach to collaboration’.  

Chancellor Merkel viewed a ‘mini-brain’ (brain organoid) through a microscope and started a single-cell sequencing process with a computer.

EARA publishes communications guide on animal research

The EARA Communications Handbook, a step-by-step guide to developing a long-term communications strategy to raise awareness on animal research has just been published.

The Handbook (in English only, €375) is free to all EARA member organisations and is designed as a handy guide for research and communications professionals on how to develop and implement a communications strategy on animal research.

The access an encrypted electronic copy of the Handbook please contact your institution’s EARA representative and request the password.

In addition, the Handbook offers practical communications advice on how to handle those crisis situations that may occur and web links to examples of good practice within the biomedical sector. There is also advice on other internal and external communication actions institutions can take to encourage a more balanced public debate on the issue of animal research.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “EARA encourages its member organisations across Europe to implement the recommendations outlined in this manual and to engage with us for further support or advice.

I am confident that these guidelines will be a very useful template for institutions across Europe.”

We would be happy to work closely with your institution to help you implement any steps needed to create a robust and sustainable communications strategy. Please let us know if you would like to set up a meeting, with EARA and your key decision makers, where we can discuss a plan of action.

Why Belgium still needs animal testing in the fight against cancer

In a piece first published in the Belgian news magazine Knack (in Dutch), Prof. Damya Laoui, from the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB, an EARA member), in Belgium, together with Dr. Liesbeth Aerts and Dr. Jeroen Aerts from Infopunt Proefdieronderzoek (IPPO, also an EARA member), explain that researchers don’t take the use of animals in biomedical research lightly. 

Many people are critical of animal testing, and from an emotional point of view this is very understandable. Animals are living beings. They have basic emotions and they also experience physical pain. As researchers, we are not blind or insensitive to animal suffering, but neither can we ignore the pain of almost 10 million people who die of cancer worldwide every year.

In 2018, some 70,000 Belgians received a new cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, their prognosis is in many cases a lot better than for people who received the same diagnosis 10 or 20 years ago. Thanks to advances in biomedical research – including through animal testing – the treatment options for cancer are rapidly expanding. Nevertheless, the number of cancer cases continues to increase as well, and the disease continues to take many lives.

To the people who claim that we can face this challenge without animal research, we would say: please walk the talk. From our hands-on experience as biomedical researchers, we would like to argue for greater nuance in the debate against animal testing. Let’s bust some often heard myths:

Myth One: Animal testing is no longer necessary because we can get the same results through computer simulations

Unfortunately, we cannot simulate what we do not understand; that’s kind of the definition of a simulation. Despite our increasing knowledge, there are still a lot of body processes that we do not understand well enough to be able to fully predict them. If we could, we would already have a solution to all diseases.

Just like animal experiments, computer simulations are one type of tool in our experimental toolbox and they can certainly help us in the search for answers. For example, computer simulations are useful to screen different versions of a candidate drug molecule, or to predict possible negative effects of a drug on a cell. Depending on the substance and the application, additional (animal) tests will nevertheless be required.

Myth Two: Researchers use laboratory animals because it is easier and cheaper

Researchers who work with laboratory animals don’t do this for fun. The breeding and housing of experimental animals is – depending on the species – time-consuming and very expensive. There are strict rules and conditions (and rightly so!) which mean that for each test an ethical file has to be drawn up and submitted to an ethical committee.

If an experiment can be done in a cell culture dish, then the animal experiment simply cannot take place. Can human samples be used instead? Also then, animal tests are prohibited.

Myth Three: Animal experiments are useless, because mice are not the same as humans

Mice are indeed not people, but they do show a lot of similarities. The functioning of many organs is similar and by changing certain genes in mice, we are able to answer very fundamental questions, for example about the interaction between the immune system and cancer cells in a complex organism. That’s exactly why mice are used to study new immunotherapies.

Exactly because there are also important differences in mice and humans, researchers sometimes need to use other animal species such as dogs or monkeys. As these are more evolved animal species, they are only used in very exceptional situations.

We have achieved many medical breakthroughs thanks to animal experiments; think of organ transplants, blood transfusions, treatments for diabetes and AIDS, or the development of vaccines against polio, hepatitis and, most recently, the Ebola virus. More than 80% of the Nobel Prizes in Medicine also went to breakthroughs that were based on animal research.

VIDEO: In a lecture for the University of Flanders, Prof. dr. Damya Laoui, of VIB, in Belgium, underscores the need for animal research for her pioneering work into immunotherapy for metastatic breast cancer.

Animal experiments are not a perfect fix; of course they also have limitations. They shouldn’t be the default option, rather, it’s about using the right model for the right questions. Just as for other non-animal research methods, such as computer simulations or experiments in cell lines, there are advantages and disadvantages that have to be weighted.

The legislation on animal testing is therefore built around the principle of the 3Rs: Reduce, Refine, Replace.

  • Reduction means that only the absolutely required number of animals is used for each experiment. It is up to the researchers to make a statistically solid estimate for each experiment, and up to the ethics committee to finally decide.
  • Refinement means that an animal test must be done under the best possible conditions, e.g. with painkillers if necessary, and that animal welfare should be considered at all times. This includes legally specified conditions relating to the number of animals per cage, the control of temperature and humidity in the room, and the provision of toys.
  • Replacement emphasises the legal need to replace animal testing where alternatives exist.

As researchers, we also apply the fourth ‘R’ of responsibility. It goes without saying that there should be zero tolerance policy of researchers who would flout these rules.

Scientists would love to have the tools available to map the complex mechanisms of cancer metastases, for example, or to explore new avenues for immunotherapy, without animal testing. For the time being, however, we don’t. That does not stop us from trying to do better every day. We keep pushing, not only for new treatments for patients, but also for better, more refined research methods.

End

Speakers announced for free EARA event in Plön, Germany

Speakers have been announced for this year’s first EARA German event on openness in animal research.

Supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience, the event (register here) is entitled, Improving Openness in Animal Research in Germany

Max Planck Institute, in Plön, Germany

The event, in Plön, will focus on why scientists, researchers, press officers and other stakeholders should talk about animal research, but it will not be a debate about the ethics of animal experimentation.

The list of speakers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, in Plön, on 21 March, 12pm-3pm CET will be:

• Kirk Leech, EARA Executive Director
• Dr. Andreas Lengeling, of EARA member the Max Planck Society
• Dr. Miriam Liedvogel, Behavioural Geneticist/group leader at MPI Plön
• Christine Pfeifle, Mouse Management, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology.

It will then be followed by a panel discussion and then a drinks reception 3pm-4pm.

Improving openness in animal research in Germany – watch the videos

The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) together with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), last year kindly agreed to support an initiative by the European Animal Research Association (EARA) to raise awareness on the need for greater openness and transparency in communication about the use of animals in research among the neuroscience community in Germany.

The first of three events entitled Improving Openness in Animal Research in Germany, was held at the Max Delbrück Center, Berlin, (MDC) on Thursday, 12 July, 2018, and each of the four speaker’s presentations, plus the panel discussion afterwards was filmed and is featured below.

EARA devised the events with the aim of helping researchers and institutions that wished to be more open about the animal research they carry out. The intention was not to debate the ethics of animal research, but rather to invite a variety of speakers (researchers, policy, media) to make the argument for the need for greater openness in communication about animal research.

About the speakers
The four main speakers in Berlin were:

  • Kirk Leech, EARA Executive Director
  • Dr. Andreas Lengeling, Animal Research & Welfare Officer, at the Max Planck Society (MPS)
  • Volker Stollorz, CEO of the Science Media Center, Germany
  • Dr.Thomas Kammertöns, Institute of Immunology, Charité University Medical Centre, Berlin

EARA pinpoints potential problems for transport of animals in a no-deal Brexit

EARA has highlighted the issues that could affect the efficient transportation of animals and animal related products used for research if there is a no-deal Brexit.

The submission to the UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee inquiry on Brexit, Science and Innovation: preparations for a no-deal by the EARA Brexit Taskforce, examined the import and export to and from the UK, of purpose-bred research animals, biological samples from research animals (blood, tissues, organs, embryos), medical and pharmaceutical supplies, plus supplies of specialised animal feed and research diets.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech said: “Our main concern is that any logistical problems with transport and processing times, arising from lack of preparation for a no-deal Brexit, will have a negative effect on scientific investigation and animal welfare.”

Among the issues raised were: Continue reading