Category Archives: News

Max Delbrück Center stands in support of important research study

A world-renowned German biomedical research institution has responded strongly to criticism from an activist group that has targeted one of its researchers.

Activist group Ärzte gegen Tierversuche (Doctors Against Animal Experiments) protested about the research of Prof. Gary Lewin and his team, at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), Berlin, describing it as ‘absurd’.

MDC has now hit back with Martin Lohse, CEO of MDC, explaining that while criticism is part of science, personally defaming researchers is ‘unacceptable’.

“We carry out our research in the interest of the sick, the elderly and children – groups that do not have a sufficient lobby. Discovering and exploring new therapeutic options for them corresponds to both our state and social mission, ” Mr Lohse added.

Prof Lewin’s study of naked mole rats (and also Süddeutsche Zeitung) seeks to help protect the heart and brain of patients after infarction and stroke by studying how these animals survive in oxygen starved conditions.

The team put mole rats in pure nitrogen, with no oxygen at all. This kills mice in about a minute. People pass out after a breath or two of pure nitrogen, and would probably die in under 10 minutes. The naked mole rats, however, survived for at least 18 minutes. They stopped breathing after a few minutes, but their hearts kept beating and as soon as they were put back in normal air they revived.

Asked in an interview by Pro-Test Deutschland about how he reacted to criticism about animal research Prof Lewiin (pictured) said: “I try not to take attacks personally. However, if criticism is factually and technically advanced, we should take it seriously and offer a dialogue.

“The public has a right to information and we try to answer questions. However, the German animal protection laws are already very good and we have to overcome significant hurdles and comply with very high standards in order to obtain approval for our planned experiments.”

Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association, spoke further about its work: “As the largest science organization in Germany, the Helmholtz Association makes important contributions to the solution of urgent questions from society, science and industry.”

“In our health research area, we develop innovative diagnostic and treatment procedures for complex diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s for the benefit of many. Animal experiments are a necessary and indispensable part of many questions.

Our researchers always encounter animals with the highest ethical responsibility. For example, we carefully evaluate the scientific question before each experiment and clarify whether experiments on animals are really essential.

At a joint conference of the British animal welfare organization RSPCA and the MDC in the autumn of 2017, experts from all over Europe discussed how to reduce particularly stressful animal experiments in Europe. At the MDC in Berlin, only a fraction of the animal tests in 2016 fell under the category “heavy burden” (0.8 %)

“We believe the results of animal testing will enable us all to live longer and healthier lives. At the present time, we can only answer many questions with the help of animal experiments, “says Martin Lohse. “Not everyone shares our opinion. We have to accept that. But respectful interaction with each other is essential in this discussion. “

Scientists in Europe must take more responsibility for openness, says EARA executive director

Openness and transparency surrounding the use of animals in research is ‘still an Achilles Heel’ for the biomedical sector, a roundtable hosted by the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) last week has heard.

Speaking at the meeting, EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “The zeitgeist is openness and transparency for the biomedical sector, but this is still an Achilles Heel for many European institutions.”

The meeting in Brussels, brought together high-level representatives from bodies such as the European Brain Council, European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, European Society for Laboratory Animal Veterinarians, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, Federation for Laboratory Animal Science Associations, and Understanding Animal Research, to discuss how to implement EU Directive 2010/63, on the use of animals in scientific research, as effectively as possible.

Kirk Leech identified a number of areas where the implementation of the Directive could be improved to help a better understanding by the general public, including the presentation of annual animal statistics and the quality of the Non-Technical Summaries, provided when seeking a licence to carry out research using animals.

He added: “Scientists play a key role in openness as the general public is more likely to listen to their opinions above those of healthcare bodies or the activists.

“Yes, the message also needs to be communicated by patient groups and charities, but the biomedical sector is in no position to ask these groups to be open when we are not yet fully open ourselves.”

The roundtable, which included Susanna Louhimies, EU Policy Co-ordinator at DG Environment, agreed that the Directive was the best way to bring about the safe and effective use of animals in scientific research and also discussed how to improve education and training for the biomedical sector, the role of national animal welfare bodies and the reproducibility of study results.

FENS Forum to discuss openness and communications on animal research

Details have been released on the session on animal research communications that will take place at this year’s FENS Forum of Neuroscience, in Berlin, 7-11 July.

Featuring EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, the special interest event entitled Communicating Animal Research: Challenges and Opportunities, looks at how neuroscientists can counter opposition to their research work using animals from activist groups.

The biomedical research sector has often been hesitant and defensive in its response and the event will explain how proactive communications, and openness on animal research can encourage public trust.

Also on the programme of speakers at the event, will be Wolf Singer of the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience (an EARA member) and Cristina Marquez, of the Institute of Neuroscience, Alicante, Spain. FENS, is the voice of European neuroscience and represents close to 23,000 European neuroscientists and the Forum will be its major event this year.

Kirk Leech (right) said: “There is a growing understanding in the biomedical research sector that being more open and transparent about the use of animals in research can improve public understanding and acceptance, however the need for a collective commitment, including better information to the media and the general public is also important.

Wolf Singer (right) will talk on the Ethical Implications of Animal Experimentation in Basic Research. He looks at how the acquisition of knowledge has an ethical value in itself despite the difficulty of proving that the expected gain of knowledge will contribute directly to the alleviation of conditions that cause suffering.

In Cristina Marquez’s talk, Neuroscience Outreach for +3 to 99 year-old, she shares her personal experiences of organising outreach activities for all ages, communicating her research in social decision-making in rodents.

The event will take place on Sunday, 8 July, 12:30-13:30.

Brain Prize winner emphasises essential need for animal research into Alzheimer’s

Basic researchers into Alzheimer disease awarded major scientific prize

Today it was announced that the 2018 Brain Prize will be awarded to Bart De Strooper (VIB, KU Leuven and University College London), Michel Goedert (University of Cambridge), Christian Haass (DZNE, Ludwig-Maximilians-University) and John Hardy (UCL) for their groundbreaking research on the genetic and molecular basis of Alzheimer’s disease.

The four researchers will share the 1 million EUR prize awarded by the Lundbeck Foundation.
This year’s Brain Prize winners have made essential contributions, in basic research, to the genetic and molecular knowledge of Alzheimer’s, mapping new avenues for the diagnosis, treatment and possibly even prevention of this neurodegenerative disorder. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting approximately 30 million people worldwide.

Accepting his prize, Prof. Bart De Strooper, who is also the new Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, and professor at UCL, as well as VIB and KU Leuven, Belgium (both EARA members) made a strong case for the need for animal research.

“Animal rights activists often talk about alternatives, but there is no in vitro model for brain function. We can’t study dementia in a dish and there is no way around testing new medication in a living organism. Yet people without any research experience keep spreading half-truths to mislead the public opinion,” he said.

Prof. De Strooper was also pleased that the Brain Prize had underscored the importance of basic neuroscience: “The Brain Prize recognises that basic science makes a real contribution, even though it cannot always be directly applied to clinical care.”

“The Prize is an important sign for young scientists to know that they can still make big discoveries, and that we urgently need them to pursue research into diseases of the ageing brain.”

Professor Anders Bjorklund, chairman of the Lundbeck Foundation Brain Prize selection committee, said, “Alzheimer´s disease is one of the most devastating diseases of our time and remarkable progress has been made during the last decades. These four outstanding European scientists have been rewarded for their fundamental discoveries unravelling molecular and genetic causes of the disease.

The award recognises that there is more to Alzheimer´s disease than amyloid, and that the field of dementia research is more than Alzheimer´s disease alone.”
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Germany sees 7% rise in animal research procedures in 2016

This article first appeared in Speaking of Research 06/02/18

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft) has produced its 2016 annual statistics on animal research procedures for Germany. These statistics have seen some big changes from previous years and we will attempt to show comparisons according to the different methodologies used. Germany produces two sets of data as part of the Animal Protection Act.

  • 7(2) – procedures on animals
  • 4(3) – animals killed solely for tissues or organs without any prior procedures

A mouse procedure

Historically, Germany has used data from animals used under both §7(2) and §4(3) of the Animal Protection Act to create a dataset of animals used in research. This dataset was broken down by varying categories including use, severity, genetic status and more. This year, while the old totals can be seen, the main datasets are numbers of procedures on animals, excluding animals killed for tissues or organs (under §4(3)). This newer methodology puts Germany in line with the EU reporting requirements for animals in research – allowing for easier comparisons between countries.

In 2016, Germany reported 2,189,261 procedures on animals, up 7.1% from 2015. The number of animals is slightly lower at 2,131,448 (due to some animals being used in more than one procedure during 2016). Continue reading

Three cheers for China’s cloned monkeys

The cloning of primates is a great scientific breakthrough.

Academic and author Stuart Derbyshire hails the scientific possibilities of the successful cloning of non-human primates in China.

It’s likely that you have heard of ‘Dolly’ the sheep, famously announced as the first mammal ever to be successfully cloned, in February 1997 (Dolly was born in July 1996). Dolly was a product of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), which involved taking an adult cell from the udder of a female sheep and using the nucleus from that cell to replace the nucleus of an egg from another female sheep. The egg was successfully encouraged to fuse with the new nucleus using electric shocks and then began to divide as would a normal embryo. The fused egg was implanted into a third female sheep for gestation. Dolly, bizarrely, had three mothers, and was a genetic clone of the mother who donated the udder cells.

Last week, scientists from Shanghai’s Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience reported that they had used a similar SCNT technique to clone two macaque monkeys – called Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. Cloning of animals by SCNT had been previously reported in 23 other mammal species, including mice, cattle, pigs, rats, cats and dogs, but had never before been reported in a primate species. The relative genetic closeness of humans and monkeys has generated a lot of hand-wringing and concerns about the now nearer possibility of human cloning.

Most reports have, however, downplayed that possibility. The eventual birth of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua followed the production of 260 early embryos, resulting in 43 pregnancies of which 41 failed. Such failure rates would not be tolerated as reasonable to produce human offspring. Also, the SCNT technique used to produce Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were only successful with cells taken from foetal, rather than adult tissue. The attempts made with adult tissue all failed. Although we do have a primate clone, therefore, we still do not have a primate clone generated from adult cells as was the case for Dolly. That makes the prospect of cloning as a fertility treatment, and more fanciful suggestions of rearing a clone of an adult or recently deceased relative, currently distant. Continue reading

Opinion: Making sense of sentience

With a draft UK Animal Welfare Bill looking to put the concept of ‘animal sentience”directly into law and an ongoing debate about the levels of pain different species might experience, psychologist Stuart Derbyshire asks if we are really observing pain in some animals or some other reaction.

Recently, the government of Switzerland ordered that lobsters should no longer be dropped alive into boiling water in case the lobster feels pain. Much of the evidence that lobsters might feel pain is extrapolated from observations of other crustaceans, such as hermit crabs, which avoid areas where they previously received electrical shocks, and will leave a protective, sheltered, area when shocked. It is also noted that lobsters and other crustaceans will move away from intense heat.

Still, how much of a ‘pain’ experience can we expect a lobster to have with such a sparse nervous system?  The avoidant behaviour of crustaceans is certainly consistent with an experience of pain. Locusts, for example, have been observed to continue munching on vegetation even while they are themselves being eaten, which is much less consistent with pain experience. Avoidant behaviour, however, is far from demonstrating an experience of pain. Even the humble fruit fly drosophila (otherwise known as a maggot) will bend and roll away if you light a naked flame next to it.

The lobster beats the maggot because it does have a more sophisticated nervous system involving centralized bundled nerve endings known as ganglia. Arguably those centralized bundled nerve endings can be called a brain, but that brain is notably puny – about the size of a grasshopper brain. Based on that, it seems unlikely that the lobster will be capable of much experience that we could relate to as common.

Nevertheless, lobsters do have an opioid system, which regulates pain in humans. Morphine is the compound that mimics our natural opioids and morphine is a powerful painkiller. Injecting morphine into crabs makes them less responsive to electrical shock, and less likely to emerge from a protective shelter. To my knowledge, nobody has tried injecting lobsters with morphine, but I would expect that such injections would make the lobster similarly less likely to move away from intense heat. Continue reading

Join the Webinar on steps to transparency and openness in the U.S.

FREE WEBINAR
Tuesday, 6 February, 11am (U.S.Eastern)
Topic: How to advance public acceptance of research with animals in the U.S. through greater transparency and openness.
Joining details
The National Primate Research Centers is hosting this webinar as a precursor to more detailed discussions at the 5th International Basel Declaration Society Conference in San Francisco, February 14-15.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, will open the webinar with a brief presentation about the European approach followed by a moderated a discussion on ways the scientific community can improve public support in the U.S. for animal research.

There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest those who conduct research with animals are failing to improve public acceptability of animal research in the United States. Recent polling also suggests that when animal research is put into context, such as highlighting the specific disease areas and potential advances being investigated using animal models, support rises substantially. Thus, the need for the scientific community to more consistently communicate the continuing need for animal research to the public is apparent.
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University of Munster launches Principles document on the ethical treatment of animals in testing.

The University of Münster, in Germany, has launched its Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Scientific Research and Teaching, as part of the institution’s approach to greater transparency on the issue of animal research.

Part of this initiative has been to invite journalists to visit the university’s European Institute for Molecular Imaging (EIMI) and the Central Institute for Animal Experiments (ZTE), which houses rats, pigs, zebra fish and 14 white rabbits for courses on animal testing. this article is reproduced from the university’s website.

Dr. Sonja Schelhaas, who works at the European Institute for Molecular Imaging at Münster University, answers questions from ZEIT editor Fritz Habekuß during the journalists’ visit.

BEHIND THE SCENES: JOURNALISTS VISIT THE ANIMAL TESTING LAB
AT MUNSTER UNIVERSITY

“The white mouse has been anaesthetized. Its little legs have been fixed to a heating plate by means of adhesive strips, and a large amount of gel has been spread over its clean-shaven breast. An ultrasound probe is positioned overhead, and Richard Holtmeier, a member of the team at the European Institute for Molecular Imaging (EIMI) at the University of Münster is using this to study how the mouse copes with a plastic catheter which has been inserted into its carotid artery. Sources of infection inside the body can be seen on the screen of the ultrasound device.

“We can’t see inflammations without using optical imaging,” says Prof. Michael Schäfers, the Director of EIMI. The researchers use this experiment to try and find out why bacteria collect on artificial implants such as hips or knees. The experiment lasts ten minutes, and afterwards Richard Holtmeier carefully puts the mouse in the storage box. “We need animal testing because we can’t carry out the experiments on humans,” Schäfer explains. “It takes a very long time before our findings can be used for the benefit of patients.” During any series of experiments a mouse is used, on average, two and a half times. After this, the animal is killed and tissue is removed from it for further research.

In the lab there are seven journalists from newspapers and a news agency who have been invited here by the Münster University Press Office. Full of curiosity, they watch the EIMI staff at work. A hubbub of voices fills the cramped room. Everyone is wearing a white coat, everyone has to watch out for the others in the room. While the researchers around Michael Schäfers describe their daily work and demonstrate three experiments involving imaging, the journalists go about their own work: asking questions, making plenty of notes. The reason for the journalists’ visit is the unanimous vote by the University Senate in October to adopt the six-page “Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Scientific Research and Teaching”.

Call for greater transparency
Seeing journalists in an animal testing laboratory at the University of Münster is something that would have been unimaginable until just recently. Over the past few years, though, there have been ever louder demands – from both inside and outside the University – for greater transparency. Calls for a debate came not only from among students, but also from scientists and researchers who advocated more openness. The idea of drawing up a set of principles was born and was supported by the Rectorate. On the “Coordination Committee for Animal Testing”, whose members came from a variety of disciplines, there then followed some lengthy, painstaking wrangling to reach agreement on content and wording.

The Principles were to be presented to the Senate in 2016. The Committee informed the University Press Office. One thing was clear: publicly, the Principles should be made as widely known as possible. But it was also clear that it would be difficult to persuade external journalists to come to Münster for a press briefing just to hear about these Principles. For journalists, it is incomparably more interesting to see and experience what the issue is all about. Thus it was that the idea was born of combining a press briefing with discussions and a look inside an animal testing laboratory. The Press Office had already worked out the plans with the researchers involved when the preparations had to be halted. The reason was that the Senate asked for a public hearing to be held before the Principles were adopted. And so the thought of any PR work was put on hold until then. Continue reading

Animal research – a debate between a primate researcher and an opponent

This article was first printed in Spiegel on 28 December 2017 and is reprinted here in the English translation.

A moderated debate between Prof. Stefan Treue, (pictured below) animal physiologist, neuroscientist and director of the German Primate Center – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen and Jörg Luy, philosopher, veterinarian and animal ethicist at the Research and Advisory Institute for Applied Ethics and Animal Welfare Instet in Berlin.

Thousands of monkeys are kept in Germany alone for animal experiments. Is that justifiable?

Spiegel Moderation: Ann-Katrin Müller and Philip Bethge.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Lucy, researchers in Japan have recently transplanted cynomolgus nerve cells that had previously been bred in the laboratory. The monkeys were suffering from Parkinson’s disease. After the transplant they could move better again.

Luy: That sounds great, but it’s not, because Parkinson’s disease was artificially caused in the animals. If you want my short ethical assessment: unacceptable.

SPIEGEL: Would you stick to this assessment if a close relative of yours had Parkinson’s and would benefit from the monkey-engrafted transplant?

Luy: Unfortunately, we have a Parkinson’s case in the family. But that does not change my assessment. It is unlikely that the Javan monkeys have voluntarily consented to this transplantation experiment, let alone the procedure that artificially causes Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, the experiment is ethically not allowed. One would never make such attempts on people.

SPIEGEL: Does not the healing of a disease have a higher ethical value?

Luy: That’s a very dangerous thought. If you continue to spin, you will end up with human experiments. They might also help patients. If we even weigh process and utility, then the crucial point is: is it worth it for the test object to participate in the experiment? Is it a fair deal?

SPIEGEL: Mr. Treue, in Germany about 3,000 primates are currently being kept for animal research, especially crab ape and rhesus monkeys, and there are tens of thousands worldwide. Socially, experiments on primates are apparently considered justifiable throughout the world. Also from you?

Treue: No one is happy about animal testing, but on certain research questions they are necessary and justifiable. Exactly this is also the legal situation: There is no general prohibition of animal experiments, but a process of consideration. In other words, experiments on animals are prohibited unless a long list of conditions are met. Continue reading