Category Archives: News

Job vacancy: Digital Media Officer

Digital Media Officer position at the European Animal Research Association

EARA is looking for a Digital Media Officer to manage our social media presence and other digital channels. The candidate will be required to work for a minimum of 3 days per week (with the possibility to expand to 5 days) in our office in Clerkenwell, London. There is also the possibility of international travel.

Salary: £10 per hour, minimum 3 days a week with the possibility of more days depending on the suitability of the candidate, at least until December 2017.

To apply: Send your CV and covering letter to kleech@eara.eu by 9th June.

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Max Planck Society publishes White Paper on animal research

On Thursday 12 January the Max Planck Society (MPS) in Germany 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.

A Presidential Commission on Animal Research in basic science at the Max Planck Society produced the White paper as part of an extensive and rigorous discussion process. In this process, the MPS consulted a group of renowned researchers from various areas of the life sciences, behavioural researchers, ethicists, communication specialists and senior individuals from the field of research policy.

Image: Max Planck Society

The Presidential Commission was convened by Professor Dr. Martin Stratmann (President, Max Planck Society) and chaired by Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Wolf Singer (Founding Director, Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience in cooperation with Max Planck Society). Experts who fed into the White Paper include Professor Sir Colin Blakemore (Neuroscience and Philosophy), Professor Dr. Stefan Treue (Director, German Primate Center), Professor Sir Mark Walport (Chief Scientific Adviser, UK Government) and Kirk Leech (Executive Director, European Animal Research Association).

Read the full White Paper: “Position statement of the Max Planck Society concerning the use of animals in experiments for basic research” (in German; English version starts on page 32)

Read more: Animal research at the Max Planck Society

We are not 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.

We are not all that different from you. With your support for ‘Kom op tegen kanker’ [cancer fundraiser] and your efforts to make sure dementia is not forgotten you are going for the same goals as we are. Just like you, we ‘move for Parkinson’s’ and we take up the ice-bucket challenge to raise awareness for ALS. We believe that in time, we can live in a world where these diseases can be treated or even prevented; but if this means we need lab animals, you hesitate.

Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) is an organism with a lower level of consciousness, used in genetic research

There are many ways in which we can minimise animal suffering. A lot of genetic research is done in yeast or fruit flies, organisms with a lower level of consciousness. We often perform experiments on cultured cells, for example cells taken as a tumour- or skin biopsy from patients. But even cell cultures still require animal serum to grow, and the development of antibodies (essential in biochemical research) is currently only possible in animals.
Moreover, it is only possible to study complex processes, such as memory function or the effect of a medication on the immune system, in laboratory animals.

But animals aren’t humans, you say. So what’s the use of this research?
Almost all medical breakthroughs of the past 100 years have used laboratory animals: from the development of the polio vaccine to blood transfusion techniques, kidney transplants, HIV and breast cancer medicine and brain implants for Parkinson’s. Humans and mice may indeed seem very different, but we share 99% of our DNA and most biological processes are almost identical. Unfortunately, not everything can be translated between species, but even these differences provide information about the disease process.

Let us be very clear: there is strict European legislation about the use, care and housing of animals in research and transgressions are inexcusable. Everyone who works with lab animals receives mandatory training and for each experiment involving lab animals we need to get permission from an ethical commission. This commission, which includes experts in animal welfare, also assesses whether there are really no alternatives. People who don’t follow the rules should be punished, but there is a clear difference between animal abuse and following legal procedures that may look cruel when taken out of context.

Unfortunately, incorrect and sensational messages are circulated regularly, which prevents any type of rational debate. These communications insinuate that we can ‘do whatever we want’, and worse they presume that ‘what we want’ would be to kill animals for fun. In addition, the new bill of the Green party concerning a “laboratory animal tax” assumes we only need a small nudge in the right direction to stop using lab animals. Taxing research that is often (in)directly subsidised by the government puts the blame again with the researchers. If the government wants to invest in new alternatives, this could be done without a tax.

We feel these gratuitous accusations are very unfair. We do our research with the sincere hope to make this world a better place. To contribute a small piece of knowledge to find solutions for, in this case, medical problems. We did not become researchers because we are sadists; quite the opposite. We feel for the parents who lost their kids to cystic fibrosis, for the man who no longer recognises his wife of fifty years, or for the son who hopes his mother with breast cancer will enjoy another Christmas. For many of us, this is not an abstract hope. Just like you, we have been confronted with heartbreaking situations in which current treatments fall short.

Everyone wants medical progress, but apparently not everyone is willing to pay the price. Yet we would be nowhere without laboratory animals. Portraying us as animal abusers does not change that reality. You are completely right to demand that we perform animal research with respect for the legislation and animal welfare. But can we also receive your respect and trust in return?

Scientists’ engagement in animal research policy-making – Lab Animal Europe column

The November issue of Lab Animal Europe magazine features an Outreach article written by Emma Martinez, EARA’s Communications and Policy Officer. In this article, also published in Lab Animal (US), Emma discusses how the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Stop vivisection’ and the review of Directive 2010/63/EU converge on the European Commission scientific conference ‘Non-Animal Approaches – The Way Forward’ and the need for scientific engagement.

Read the full size version here.

LAE-Nov16-Op-ed-scientists-engagement-policy-making

This article has been reposted with permission from Lab Animal Europe.

Transparency Agreement on Animal Research launched in Spain

A Transparency Agreement on Animal Research in Spain was launched yesterday in Madrid. The Acuerdo de transparencia sobre el uso de animales en experimentación científica en España (lit. ‘Transparency agreement on the use of animals in scientific experimentation in Spain’), has been developed by Spain’s Confederation of Scientific Societies (COSCE) in collaboration with EARA’s Emma Martinez-Sanchez. The Spanish document has been developed based on the UK Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. Similar to the UK Concordat, the Agreement outlines four commitments for research centres in Spain to provide more information about animal research at their institutions.

Animal rights groups in Spain have been challenging research centres in Spain requesting to participate in the public debate. These challenges follow similar initiatives that have been happening in other European countries such as Italy and Germany. The European Commission acknowledged these calls for participatory debates in its response to last year’s European Citizens Initiative ‘Stop Vivisection’, where they called for more transparency and information.

The Spanish Transparency Agreement was featured in the November 2016 issue of Lab Animal Europe.

Logos of the 90 institutions that signed up at the time of the launch

Kirk Leech, Executive Director of EARA, said:

“I congratulate the Spanish scientific community with the successful launch of the Spanish Transparency Agreement on Animal Research. The Spanish Transparency Agreement is the latest in a series of initiatives across Europe to encourage transparency on animal research.

“It’s fantastic to see such a large number of research institutions signed up to the Transparency Agreement. This provides great strength in numbers in improving communication to the public about animal research. The next challenge will be to put the commitments into action – EARA will be helping COSCE to follow up on this and ensure that Spain keeps moving forward in openness on animal research.”

The Spanish Transparency Agreement was already mentioned in press in the context of the launch of Tierversuche Verstehen (‘Understanding Animal Testing’), the animal research website of the Allianz of German Research organisations.

Yesterday’s launch of the Spanish Transparency Agreement has been featured in many Spanish national papers and on some radio stations. Below are some examples:

El País: Los laboratorios que experimentan con animales abrirán sus puertas
RTVE: Presentan un acuerdo de transparencia en el uso de animales para experimentación
Noticias de Gipuzkoa: Presentan un acuerdo de transparencia en uso de animales en experimentación
Europa Press: Más de 80 instituciones públicas y privadas se comprometen a hacer más transparente la experimentación con animales
Te Interesa: Un centenar de instituciones firman un acuerdo de transparencia sobre la experimentación animal porque “No hay nada que ocultar”
Comunica Biotec: Transparencia también en experimentación animal

Hundreds of scientists sign letter supporting primates in neuroscience

Over 400 primate and neuroscience researchers signed a letter supporting the use of non-human primates in neuroscience, which was published in the Guardian today. Coordinated by Understanding Animal Research (UAR), the letter emphasises the key role that primate research has played and continues to play in vital neuroscience research. EARA signed the letter alongside 20 other institutions, as well as reaching out to our networks in Europe to gain further support. The letter can still be signed via this link.

The letter is a timely response to mounting pressure by animal rights groups against the use of non-human primates in biomedical research. Last week, the Independent published a letter coordinated by Cruelty Free International denouncing primate research, and earlier this year, the Australian Senate rejected a proposed ban on importing non-human primates for scientific research. The UAR letter is the latest in a series of efforts from the scientific community to underline the importance of this type of research, including the Foundation of Biomedical Research’s White Paper on primate research and the National Institutes of Health workshop held last week.

Kirk Leech, EARA’s Executive Director, said:

“NHP research continues to underpin our understanding of brain processes and debilitating brain conditions and allows assessing the efficiency and safety of a candidate drug. Animal research, in particular with regard to primates, is highly regulated on legal and ethical grounds as enshrined in European Directive 2010/63.

“Out of the 4.14 million procedures completed in the UK in 2015, only 0.16% were performed on primates, which accounts for 3,600 procedures. This number does not even represent the real number of primates used in procedures, since some animals undergo several procedures to reduce the use of animals. Out of this small proportion, only 0.8% were classified as severe. 

“Accurate and contrasted information is necessary to ensure a balanced dialogue that considers all risks and opportunities involved, especially in such a contentious issue as using primates in neuroscience research. We encourage and support the scientific community in the quest to provide timely and truthful information to promote scientific research.”

Full text of the letter:

Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of 50 medical advances from the last 50 years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.

The biological similarities between humans and other primates mean that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than 10 million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over 200,000 Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to deep brain stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980s and 1990s.

Given that primates are intelligent and sensitive animals, such research requires a higher level of ethical justification. The scientific community continues to work together to minimise the suffering of primates wherever possible. We welcome the worldwide effort to replace, refine and reduce the use of primates in research.

We, the undersigned, believe that if we are to effectively combat the scourge of neurodegenerative and other crippling diseases, we will require the careful and considered use of nonhuman primates. Stringent regulations across the developed world exist to ensure that primates are only used where there is no other available model – be that the use of a mouse or a non-animal alternative – and to protect the wellbeing of those animals still required. The use of primates is not undertaken lightly. However, while not all primate research results in a new treatment, it nonetheless plays a role in developing both the basic and applied knowledge that is crucial for medical advances.

For an up-to-date list of the signatories to the letter, see the website of Understanding Animal Research.

Studying the Zika virus in rhesus macaques

The 2016 Olympic Games are due to begin in Rio de Janeiro this weekend. In the lead-up to this year’s Games, the Zika virus has never been far from the headlines. A number of top golfers and basketball players have decided to pull out and other athletes have also expressed their concerns, despite the risk to anyone who is not pregnant being minimal. As it is not currently mosquito season in Brazil, experts say the Olympics will not accelerate the spread of the virus.

It is thought the epidemic has reached its peak in Latin America and will slowly burn out over the next few years. Still, there have been over 60,000 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Brazil since the outbreak began in early 2015 and the virus has reached Europe, with the first baby with Zika-related microcephaly born in Spain. Mosquitoes in Florida have now also been seen to transmit the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US have issued a travel warning for Florida.

Dr Koen Van Rompay, D.V.M. Ph.D., virologist at the California National Primate Research Center

Dr Koen Van Rompay, virologist at the California National Primate Research Center, studies the Zika virus in monkeys

The Zika virus remains a prominent public health concern and a priority for the biosciences. In March, EARA spoke to Dr Koen van Rompay, who helped to develop and test the anti-viral drug tenofovir, which is currently the most frequently used HIV drug in the world. We interviewed him on the day before he and his team at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) infected two female rhesus macaques with Zika virus to understand how the disease progresses. We asked him about his current study on the Zika virus, why he uses primate models in his work and how he responds to critics of animal research. Continue reading

On Lab Animal Day, Belgian science unites in support of animal research

This blog was also published on Huffington Post UK.

World Day for Laboratory Animals on 24 April was originally established by animal rights activists to raise awareness for the fate of animals in laboratories. Every year on that day, they organise demonstrations and petitions against animal research. But this time, on behalf of 24 research institutions in Belgium, we wanted to raise awareness of the important biomedical research that would not be possible without research using animals. Continue reading

Commission announces infringement procedure against restrictive Italian animal research law

The European Commission has announced the start of an infringement procedure against Italy, whose animal research law it calls ‘too restrictive’. The Commission has sent a letter of formal notice to the Italian government, as the first step in the infringement procedure. Earlier this year, EARA’s partner organisation Research4Life asked the European Commission on behalf of 37 public and private Italian research institutions for the law to be reassessed. Continue reading