Category Archives: News

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).

There was a large rise in the use of fish (266,502 +72%) and birds (47,256 +20%), while rabbit use dropped (98,339 -11%). There were falls in the use of dogs (3,976 -11%), cats (766 -31%) and primates (2,418 -22%), which together accounted for less than 0.4% of all procedures.

The number of animals used, including those used for harvesting tissues and organs (but not used in any procedure), rose 1.6% to 2,796,773 animals. The fact this rise was smaller than the rise in procedures was because the number of animals used for harvesting tissues/organs dropped 12% from 754,997 (2015) to 665,325 (2016). This may reflect more effective efforts to share tissues/organs to ensure the most use can be made of any single animal killed for this purpose.

Mice are disproportionally used for harvesting tissues/organs, while cats were not used at all for this purpose, dogs only used once, and primates only 44 times.

Mice, fish and rats together accounted for around 90% of all animal procedures in Germany in 2016. Germany remains one of the few European countries where rabbits are the fourth most commonly used species in 2016. Dogs, cats and primates accounted for 0.32% of all animals, despite a doubling in the number of animals used for these species.

In previous years, Germany conducted its retrospective assessment and reporting on severity using numbers of animals. This year, in line with EU reporting requirements, they are done by procedure. This means comparisons to 2015 are meaningless as a large chunk of “non-recovery” procedures (all those where animals are killed for harvesting tissues without any procedure prior) are removed. Overall 71.7% were Non-recovery (234,679) or Mild (1,334,894), 23.1% were Moderate (504,864) and (114,824) were Severe.

Other interesting information provided by the annual statistical release includes:

  •     99% of animals used were bred within the EU [Table 3]
  •     The main purpose of research procedures was “Basic Research” (53.7%), followed by “Regulatory use and Routine production” (25.4%), and “Translational and Applied Research” (14.2%) [Table 9]
  •     Two-thirds (64.9%) of the total dogs, cats and primate procedures were used for Regulatory testing. A quarter (23.6%) were used for Translational and Applied Research [Table 9]
  •     42.4% of animals were genetically altered, compared with 63.6% which were not. Over 97% of the genetically altered animals were mice or zebrafish [Table 20]

Source of German Statistics: https://www.bmel.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/Tier/Tierschutz/Versuchstierdaten2016.pdf?__blob=publicationFile

See previous years’ reports:

  2015
    2014
  2013

END

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.

The major benefits of cloning are not going to be as a treatment for infertility, at least not in the immediate future. Instead, cloning offers the possibility of providing replica animals for commercial (farming), environmental (species recovery) or medical (disease modelling) purposes. Animals that yield higher quantities and quality of meat can be cloned so that their gene line is reproduced exactly and preserved indefinitely without the vagaries and gamble of sexual reproduction. Species teetering on the brink of extinction can be preserved through cloning techniques that put more of the animals back into the wild. Treatments that need to be tested in a controlled genetic environment can have that environment reproduced over and over through cloning.

These benefits are real and of obvious importance, but the benefits of cloning are not necessary to make what has happened in China an amazing breakthrough. What is being missed in much of the reporting on Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua is what an incredible demonstration of human ingenuity this is, and how far it shows we have gone in knocking down dogmatic beliefs about what humans cannot do.

In 1895 Lord Kelvin chose to announce that ‘heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible’. The Wright brothers took just eight years to prove him wrong. In 1920 the New York Times claimed that space travel would be impossible because no craft could accelerate in space, and in 1957 the American inventor of the vacuum tube, Lee De Forest, stated that a manned voyage to the moon ‘will never occur regardless of all future advances’. In 1969 Apollo 11 made its way to the moon, and the New York Times retracted its previous statement.

The discussion of Zhang Zhang and Hua Hua has been similarly dismissive of what science can achieve. Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute, who does excellent work and is often very measured in his comments, was widely reported as saying, ‘While they succeeded in obtaining cloned macaques, the numbers are too low to make many conclusions, except that it remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure… with only two [clones] produced it would have been far simpler to just split a normal early embryo into two, to obtain identical twins… [Human cloning] clearly remains a very foolish thing to attempt: it would be far too inefficient, far too unsafe, and it is also pointless.’

Such comments are sadly dismissive. Of course first attempts are going to involve a lot of errors. Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland estimates he used more than 15,000 monkey eggs in cloning attempts in the 2000s, with not a single live birth. All science is inefficient and hazardous in its first steps. If that stops us, then we take no further steps forward. Similarly, there will always be alternatives. We didn’t need to fly. We could have ridden a horse, or walked, or just stayed home.

Thankfully, we want to push the boundaries of what is known because it is exciting to do that even if it is uncertain, dangerous and without obvious application. Right now the barriers to human cloning are large, and I would hope any steps in that direction be taken in a measured and open fashion. But a large step in that direction has just taken place, and more will certainly follow. Why? Because we can.

Reprinting kindly permitted by www.spiked-online.com

Stuart Derbyshire is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and A*STAR-NUS Clinical Imaging Research Centre at the National University of Singapore.

EARA is recruiting for a Stakeholder Engagement Officer

EARA STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT OFFICER

  • Contract: Permanent, full-time (35 hours a week)
  • Salary: Up to £27,000, depending on experience
  • Benefits: 25 days paid holiday per year, employer contribution to pension
  • Located: Central London
  • Reports to: EARA Executive Director

 

European Animal Research Association (EARA)

EARA is a European-wide organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals by providing accurate and evidence-based information. We aim to educate the public on the benefits of animal research to health, by working in partnership with research stakeholders, and promoting the creation and development of national networks.

Purpose of the role

Under the management of the Executive Director, the role holder will oversee the planning, implementation, and delivery of specific short-term and long-term EARA advocacy and public engagement projects in Germany, Belgium, Portugal and other countries as directed.

Principal duties:

Co-ordinate EARA projects in Germany and other European countries.

Generate ideas, opportunities and content to highlight EARA’s work, ethos and areas of concern in Germany to its target audiences.

Act as a liaison between the Executive Director and the EARA membership and other stakeholders.

Assist the Communications and Media Manager in responding to media enquiries and contribute to press releases, briefings and social media as appropriate.

Other duties:

Deliver presentations to EARA members and potential stakeholders

Undertake other reasonable tasks required by EARA when needed

Person Specifications

 Required experience:

  • Proven experience of project management/and or campaigning and or advocacy/public affairs.
  • Excellent English and German communications skills, both written and verbal.
  • Experience of working in communications, preferably in the area of science/biomedical research.

Desirable experience:

Any other media relations experience or working for an association/professional body/membership organisation.

Event management experience.

Using social media in a business context.

Written and/or oral competency in an additional European language is desirable

Additional requirements:

Educated to degree level, relevant post-graduate qualification an advantage.

Willing to undertake some travel in the UK and Europe.

A commitment to the aims and objectives of EARA

An understanding of the scientific, ethical and moral justification for animal research

Experience of engaging with a variety of internal and external stakeholders

Ability to work under pressure, meet deadlines, prioritise workload and maximise the use of time.

Ability to work both as part of a small team and independently

To be able to work occasional evenings and weekends

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 ‘Stakeholder Engagement Officer’. Please also give an indication of when you would be available to start work.

The application deadline is Febuary 23rd 17.00 GMT.

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.

People in pain report a physical sensation (throbbing, aching, stabbing and so on) and an unpleasantness. If the pain is severe or continues for a long time, that unpleasantness becomes a suffering that can entirely consume the being of that person. People in pain also face the dread and fear of what might happen next (death or disability). For humans, therefore, pain is complex and multidimensional. That pain involves large amounts of our cerebral cortex, the outer large part of our brain, which is completely absent in lobsters and crustaceans.

Pain is also a high-level subjective experience that draws on our memory, attention and general understanding of what bodies are, how they work, and how they can be broken or permanently damaged and destroyed. Pain is often accompanied by a tremendous anxiety connected to the existential recognition of the dangers that pain might be indicating. A life suddenly interrupted, projects that will never be finished, loved ones who will never again be seen – everything finishing in a blistering blaze of final agony.

We might never be certain exactly what, if anything, a lobster might feel when plunged into boiling water. We can, however, be certain that lobsters do not live the kinds of lives we live, do not have the kinds of brains we have, and so cannot experience the kind of self-reflective recognition of being in pain that we can have when plunged into boiling water. A lobster cannot experience their final journey as painful like us because that demands too much from the lobster – labelled sensations, suffering, reflection, regret, fear, angst, anger, sadness, and so on.

Lobsters can generate defensive reactions when faced with environmental threats to their bodily existence, but that is not the same as being in pain and knowing one is in pain. We can make laws to avoid such defensive reactions if we want to, but we shouldn’t make those laws based on the idea that lobsters can feel pain like us.

Stuart Derbyshire

Stuart Derbyshire is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and A*STAR-NUS Clinical Imaging Research Centre, National University of Singapore stuart.derbyshire@nus.edu.sg

 

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.
End

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.

Two standpoints, one set of principles
The public hearing followed in 2017. In October the Senate voted for the Principles to be adopted – without any objections or votes against. The Press Office and the researchers now resumed their plans for a press event. The result can be seen today, on this day in November, with the seven journalists who have come to visit EIMI. Before everyone can take a look inside the lab, there is first a press briefing. After a look inside the lab, the next step will be a visit to the Central Institute for Animal Experiments at the Faculty of Medicine.

It is clear even before the Principles are presented that animal experiments are a controversial issue. Biophysician Prof. Stefan Schlatt is the spokesperson for the Coordination Committee for Animal Testing. He also uses monkeys in his research work – and does so because he wants to help people. In contrast to Stefan Schlatt, Committee member Dr. Johann Ach – a philosopher undertaking research into ethical problems in modern medicine and into animal ethics – considers most animal experiments to be “ethically unacceptable”. Two opposing opinions which are taken up and included in the journalists’ reports.

“Some honesty at last”
Despite their differing standpoints, both Stefan Schlatt and Johann Ach put forward their concerns in a level-headed and constructive manner. Several questions are raised on the practicability of implementing the Principles. After all, the paper can include all sorts of things, but how can it be verified that researchers at the University take seriously the moral responsibility they have towards sentient creatures? The paper provides a framework for guidance, says Johann Ach, and time alone will tell whether it proves itself in practise. The Principles are not something that only research staff and those responsible for animal testing should adhere to – the University’s Rectorate also firmly supports them. “These Principles have the support of the Rectorate, and have been voted for by the Senate, and the University thereby wishes to make it clear where it stands on this issue,” says Prof. Monika Stoll, Vice-Rector for Research, by way of clarification. The journalists seize on this message. In the next few days, the University’s stated intention is reflected in press headlines such as “Principles for Less Suffering” or “Some honesty at last”

Münster University wants a level-headed, public debate – for which PR work is necessary. In 2015 the Press Office had already made a first move towards greater assertiveness and transparency in dealing with the issue of animal testing. The occasion at the time was the opening of a second Animal Protection Centre at the University, which was set up at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences in addition to the existing Centre at the Faculty of Medicine. The Press Office published a two-page article on animal testing in the June issue of the University newspaper “wissen|leben”. The article included a debate between Stefan Schlatt and Johann Ach, in which they each put forward their opposing standpoints.

After the article was published, there followed a waiting game. What would happen now? Might the University’s image be damaged if journalists seized on the issue and reported on animal experiments at the University? And things could have turned nasty: everyone involved had in the back of their minds cases involving other German research institutes, where researchers had been personally attacked by radical animal rights activists. After a few weeks it became clear that … nothing would happen. Some praise here and there for the comprehensive reporting, but otherwise no reaction.

Seeing how animals are kept
Back to the journalists’ visit. After the press briefing and the visit to EIMI, the next topic to be dealt with is how animals are kept – because keeping animals for research purposes in appropriate conditions is also a responsibility that researchers have. The journalists get to see how animals are kept at the University of Münster when they visit the Central Institute for Animal Experiments (ZTE), which houses rats, pigs, zebra fish and 14 white rabbits for courses on animal testing. The rabbits live in small groups and can move around freely in three straw-bedded boxes.

Anyone entering the ZTE is met with a pungent smell of animal. Normally, visitors cannot enter the rooms just like that. The building is well secured – not least because germs must be prevented from entering it. This is why face masks, lab coats, gloves and shoe covers are compulsory for anyone coming into contact with animals. Marmosets and macaques jump around behind the bars of their cages. Before Stefan Schlatt lets the journalists into the room housing the macaques, he asks the group why they think the monkeys are staring at the blue door with the viewing window. There is a simple explanation: the monkeys are watching television, so that they are kept occupied. “Again and again there are discussions on how much TV is healthy in a day. Basically, our animals here are better off than in any standard form of accommodation for animals,” says Schlatt.

An unusual step
The issue of animal testing is controversial and will remain so. But ways of handling the issue are changing in many places. At Münster University, too, the issue is now more visible than in the past. 2017 saw the appointment to the University of Prof. Helene Richter, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Protection. The chair is the only one of its kind in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the things which the University of Münster is doing with its new Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals is to advocate greater transparency towards the public on the issue of animal testing. The visit to the lab at EIMI and the guided tour of the ZTE are a beginning, and one which one journalist described as “an unusual step”.

Christina Heimken and Kathrin Nolte

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.

SPIEGEL: What does “weighing” mean? If cancer patients would benefit from experiments on primates, then you can do them?

Treue: The criterion is whether the expected suffering is ethically justifiable. It is about the difficult balance between the potential suffering of the animal and the gain in knowledge for research, medicine and society.

Luy: I often hear this answer: Animal experiments can be imagined for serious human illnesses, but you cannot accept them for being succinct. But there is a mistake in thinking. Here are the same mechanisms used as in shopping. People buy a product if the price-performance ratio is right. Translated on animal experiments this means: For the benefit of X, the stomachache Y is acceptable, which I have with the experiment. But this is not how our sense of morality and justice works. We change the perspective, even more, we transform ourselves imaginatively into those affected, be it humans or animals. If, from the point of view of the affected individual, we cannot accept the treatment, then our sense of morality signals: unacceptable.

SPIEGEL: How do you measure the suffering of the experimental animals, Mr. Treue? You cannot ask the monkey how he is and how much pain he finds acceptable.

Treue: This can not be measured with absolute reliability, but we can, for example, monitor behavior or physiological reactions such as the release of stress hormones. But right: An animal cannot agree with the experiments, because he lacks the cognitive abilities. Ultimately, we carry out this process of consideration. The protection and needs of people are particularly important.

SPIEGEL: Because of our cognitive abilities?

Treue: No, because we are more capable of suffering.

SPIEGEL: So we can also sense the suffering of the other, in this case the primate?

Luy: We feel it is disrespectful to harm others. Primates look similar to us, so we have more respect for them than for animals that are less similar to us.

SPIEGEL: Surely it cannot be an ethically relevant criterion if I feel close to a species of animal optically.

Luy: Yes, that’s a mistake. But these mistakes are everyday. People would be outraged if someone pulled a gorilla on a leash behind them. No one gets upset with a dachshund.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Treue, under what conditions is an attempt on primates justified for you?

Treue: For example, if there is no alternative species for a question. If I can test a vaccine on a mouse as well as a primate, only the mouse test is approvable. If there is a good computer model, no animal experiment is justifiable.

Luy: How are you weighing up? When do you come to the point where you say that an animal experiment is ethically unjustifiable for this research question?

Treue: The criterion is whether the question is of great importance.

SPIEGEL: Are there any questions you would not research because you would not accept the burden of primates?

Treue: But yes. Classic examples are cosmetics or weapons research. These are not essential questions for society. The brain, on the other hand, whose function we are investigating, is so central to our self-understanding, to medical and fundamental biological issues, that a better understanding of its functioning is of great importance.

SPIEGEL: Is it mandatory to use primates in certain drug tests?

Treue: Normally, two species of mammals are used, and depending on the type of drug and the risk potential one sees, a primate species is often present – especially in the toxicity test.

Luy: So most of the primates get poisoned …

Treue: It depends on whether the animals belong to a control group or a measurement group.

Luy: For the measuring group, the experiment usually ends lethally.

Treue: Such attempts have become much rarer, and primates play a minor role. Sometimes, however, there is nothing left. Doctors and patients must know at what dose a drug that otherwise works well, is life-threatening.

SPIEGEL: What kind of experiments do you do at the Primate Center in Göttingen?

Treue: I try to find out how the brain works, how brain processes, nerve processes take place in healthy animals.

SPIEGEL: What is this about? For a benefit or purely knowledge gain?

Treue: This is an interesting choice of words by you. The gain in knowledge is nevertheless a benefit. But you probably mean a medically definable benefit. If you take the position that every single animal experiment would have to cure a patient, then I have to answer you: That’s not how science works. A fundamental experiment always has an unknown result and initially no obvious and immediate medical benefit. Historically, however, those scientists who made the biggest breakthroughs wanted to openly understand how biological systems work.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Luy, are we not even obliged to use primates for research because it would be unethical to forego gaining knowledge?

Luy: No, because theoretically there would be a much better method: we could experiment with ourselves. And that’s the really exciting question for the ethicist: For what reason are we not experimenting with humans? There seems to be a limit to research? No patient has ever complained, as far as I know, that the research is no further because it has not resorted to, for example, people sentenced to death.

Treue: I hear this argument again and again. And it is by no means the case that there is a clear limit. There are indeed experiments made on people. Only: how far are they allowed to go? For example, we do not allow the sale of organs. At the same time, there are many medical studies involving people, even though they are not patients at all. They do that because they think it helps society.

Luy: Wait a minute, the participants get financial compensation. This is not altruism, but a deal. Without money you have to search your human subjects for a long time.

Treue: In a commercialised medicine, a subject would be pretty stupid to give up the money. Nevertheless, there are a lot of studies where you have to spend hours in an uncomfortable position and only get the money for the bus ride.

Luy: The deal is fair and people can decide for themselves if they want to join in the experiment. Why does that not apply to animals as well? The ethicist Peter Singer was one of the first to ask the question in 1975: Why do we actually measure with two different measures? Why do not we ask the animals? Or at least put ourselves in their position and decide consistently from their point of view, whether an experiment is okay, because the profit is an appropriate compensation for the suffering?

Treue: That can never work, because it’s almost always about a benefit that does not benefit the test animal itself.

Luy: That’s not the point. Just like the sports student volunteering for a medical impact assessment, I could reward the animal for volunteering. In fact, a pharmaceutical company has investigated whether it is possible to voluntarily make blood collections in pigs. Lo and behold, the pigs stopped for a single treat and had their blood taken. Apparently they found the deal fair. If animal experiments were that way, they would be ethically clean.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Treue, you fix your monkeys in so-called primate chairs. There, the animals can not move their heads during the experiments. Do the monkeys voluntarily consent to it?

Treue: It’s all reward-based.

Luy: Excuse me? They give the animals nothing to drink for days, they finally get something at the test. That’s not a reward.

Treue: No, that’s wrong! The animals are given the opportunity to drink daily, and not only their hydration, but also their health is under daily observation.

Luy: To my knowledge, the animals have not been able to move without thirst.

Treue: They are already working on the tasks, but not as long as when we can use their favorite liquid as a reward.

Luy: See? Someone from the German Animal Welfare Association told me that they had people as fixed as the animals in the primate chair. The subjects would have begged after 20 minutes and whined that they are released again.

Treue: And you believe that? There are many medical interventions in which patients are not allowed to move their heads. They also do not whine after 20 minutes. The primates become accustomed step by step to not being able to move their heads while in the chair. The animal is rewarded for every task in which it participates. Otherwise, there is no reward, but no punishment. This ensures that the animal remains healthy. Now we can argue about when it is suffering when one is thirsty.

SPIEGEL: Do you see the prospect of getting along in research without animal research?

Treue: We are already working a lot with computer models. We also use imaging techniques. Apart from the complex ethical questions, this is much cheaper than experiments with primates. If I knew how to do my research without animals, I would immediately abandon the primates.

Luy: Scientists are very creative people. There are many other ways to do research, including the target species, i.e. humans. Although this takes longer in case of doubt, the results are more useful. I cannot think of anything for which there could be no alternative to animal testing.

Treue: I can think of almost every medical breakthrough. We can meet again in 100 years. Maybe then the research is so far that primate experiments are superfluous.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Luy, Mr. Treue, we thank you for this conversation.

End

 

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.”

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