Category Archives: Guest Posts

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?

The wild card of animal rights’ groups: Freedom of Information requests

This blog post was originally published on the Understanding Animal Research website on February 3.

EARA and Understanding Animal Research, one of our UK partners, promote the importance of universities and other research institutions across Europe of being clear and open about their research. To pre-empt the regular Freedom of Information (FOI) requests about the numbers of animals used, some institutions have taken to pro-actively publishing these on their website (often including a breakdown by species). Continue reading

The Fight Against Zika Relies On Animal Research

This post was originally published on the website of the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) on January 28, 2016. It

The major public health problem of 2016 has been the sharp rise in the ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus, as well as its probable link to microcephaly in infants. While Zika has been on the rise since 2014, it has recently reached pandemic levels and is forecast to spread to nearly all of North America; outbreaks in southern Europe are also possible. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, which is spread through mosquito bites. It causes an illness similar to a mild form of dengue fever, but the biggest threat from the virus is the link to Guillain–Barré syndrome in some patients and microcephaly when pregnant women are infected. Continue reading

Why People Are Wrong to Oppose the New UK Beagle Breeding Facility

This post was originally published on the Huffington Post UK website on July 21, 2015 in response to the negative reactions to the UK government’s decision to grant B&K Universal permission to expand their beagle breeding facility. It

Where do medicines come from?

It’s not a question most of us bother with when we take advantage of the huge array of medical treatments available to us.

All modern medicine is built on the ‘basic research’ which allows us to understand our physiology, and the diseases we suffer. Much of this research has been done, and continues to be done, in animals. Had Mering and Minkowski not shown the causal link between the pancreas and diabetes in dogs, we might never have discovered insulin (much more work was conducted in dogs by Banting and Best who later won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin). Had Pasteur not shown how dogs could be vaccinated using weakened samples of the virus (made from rabbits), we would not have both the veterinary and human rabies vaccines. Continue reading

A Researcher’s Perspective

This post is a translation of a Dutch blog that was originally published on the Faces of Science website on March 12, 2015

Marieke Rienks, PhD student in Molecular Cardiology at Maastricht University

Marieke Rienks, PhD student in Molecular Cardiology at Maastricht University

Born in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, Marieke Rienks completed her Master in Medicine in 2010 at Maastricht University. Her interest for Cardiology and Internal Medicine led her to pursue a PhD position focusing on the role of extracellular proteins in inflammatory heart muscle abnormalities. After finishing her PhD at Maastricht University she will return to the clinic to complete her training to become an internal medicine specialist. Because of her involvement with animal welfare and experience of animal research in academia, she is very avid on open and honest communication about animal research.

“I use animals to study heart failure; does that make me a bad person?”

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Serendipity and Animal Research

Dr. Alberto Ferrari is a member of the managing board and of the scientific Committee of Pro-Test Italia, an association dedicated to correct scientific information on the topic of animal research in Italy. He has a Ph.D. in molecular medicine; during his training he has worked on animal models of psychiatric disorders. Currently, he is specializing in biostatistics and collaborates with the unity of medical statistics at the University of Pavia, Italy.

Animal experimentation has always drawn criticism from an ethical standpoint; but while concerns about animal welfare or good laboratory practice are legitimate (if not always easy to agree on), we know that the position of those who deem animal testing useless or dispensable from a strictly scientific point of view is much less acceptable.

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Pro-Test Deutschland: Yes to research in Germany!

Our peers at Pro-test Germany explain the mission of this recently launched advocacy organisation.

Pro-Test Deutschland lends its voice to science. We supply information for everyone to help understand the role of animal experiments in research. By offering clarification on many scientific, ethical, legal, social, and psychological aspects of animal research, we provide a common platform to all those who wish to stand up for science. And above all, we say: Yes to research. Yes to science. No to ignorance, distrust, half-truths and hostility. Yes to insight – and Yes to a deeper understanding of what we humans are.

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It’s All About the Animals

This post was originally published in Speaking of Research website on

The following guest post is by Richard Marble RLATg, CMAR, Laboratory Animal Facility Coordinator at Ferris State University. In this article, he provides an insight into animal facilities from the perspective of a lab animal facility manager. Continue reading

Ammendments to the European Directive 2010/63 in Italy have a huge impact in my research

Riccardo Avvisati is a PhD student at Sapienza University of Rome, studying the influences of the environment on drug of abuse in a rodent model. He is currently a visiting research student at the University of Sussex.

There is no doubt that animal rights organisations are gaining support and momentum from the public and policy makers in Italy. In recent days, we are seeing quite a big change as the government recently implemented the transposition of the European Directive 2010/63/EU but with the following major restrictions:

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Sometimes My Job Seems Like a Secret

Amy Davidson with CatThis article was originally published by Amy Davidson BSc (Hons), MBA, RQAP-GLP. Amy is Vice President, Operations at Kingfisher International Inc. She has worked as an animal care attendant, technician, quality assurance auditor and now manages a team of dedicated animal research professionals. Amy explains how talking about her profession has changed and the benefit of sharing accurate information about animal research all that will listen. This article has also appeared on the Speaking of Research website.

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