Category Archives: Guest Posts

Improving welfare of animals used in research: a critical necessity

This article is reprinted from the Utrecht 3Rs newsletter, with the message of Jan Langermans, Professor ‘Welfare of Laboratory Animals’ at Utrecht University and also deputy director of Biomedical Primate Research Centre, Netherlands, on welfare improvement of animals used in research.

More attention to the welfare improvement of laboratory animals. That is the message prof. dr. Jan Langermans wants to propagate. He was recently appointed professor ‘Welfare of Laboratory Animals’ at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University. He will focus on the welfare improvement of larger animals used for scientific purposes.

“In those fields of research where we cannot move forward without laboratory animals, we have to invest in the highest possible welfare standards” says Langermans. “This is an essential part of responsible use of animals for research.” He emphasizes that with refinement, he does not only mean the reduction of pain and discomfort, but also the introduction of positive aspects that contribute to a positive welfare state. For example, simple improvements in food or cage enrichment and creating positive associations with the experimental procedures by means of training can make a huge difference in the quality of life of these animals. Three themes on which he wants to focus are the training of laboratory animals, the introduction of enrichment under experimental conditions and the use of innovative techniques to improve welfare and reduce the number of animals needed for research.

Training both animals and researchers

“An important question that people who work with laboratory animals must continuously ask themselves is: how can we improve the circumstances for these animals?” says Langermans. Continue reading

Pig hearts and human ingenuity

Animal-to-human transplants are on the horizon.

In an article that first appeared in Spiked, academic and author Stuart Derbyshire, applauds the progress towards xenotransplantation.

In August 1979, British surgeon Terence English successfully completed the first heart transplant in the UK. This month he was making headlines again by predicting that we will be successfully transplanting hearts grown in pigs into human patients by 2022.

The transplantation of organs from animals into humans, known as xenotransplantation, would be a huge benefit to those waiting for transplants. There are currently around 6,000 people on the UK transplant waiting list, and over 400 of them died waiting last year. Donor pools are simply insufficient to meet demand.

The insufficiency is getting worse for at least two (good) reasons. First, transplantation techniques are improving, and that means ever greater numbers of patients are becoming eligible for transplantation, increasing demand on donor pools. Secondly, the safety, health and longevity of everyone is improving, meaning that the pool of young, healthy, eligible donor organs is shrinking. Solutions other than human-to-human transplantation are necessary to meet the demand-and-supply gap.

One solution is xenotransplantation, and a report from a team of surgeons in Germany last December brought that solution much closer to fruition. The team transplanted pig hearts into three groups of baboons. Four baboons made up the first group and the results were poor. Three of them survived only one day, and the last survived just 30 days.

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How the European Animal Research Association was created

This article is reprinted from the Understanding Animal Research website marking the tenth anniversary of UAR.

Understanding Animal Research has a small staff and a clear remit to help the UK public to understand why and how animals are used in research while supporting its member organisations and maintaining an operating environment that allows properly regulated animal research to continue in this country. So when in 2012 UAR started to receive requests for support from biomedical research organisations in Italy, Germany and elsewhere in mainland Europe, it reluctantly had to say that we did not have the resources to give assistance.

The decision by several ferry companies to stop transporting research animals across the English Channel, also in 2012, compounded the feeling that activists across Europe were gaining the upper hand and beginning to exert pressure on the supply chain for our sector.

A meeting convened by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) in Brussels, in early 2013, saw UAR Chief Executive, Wendy Jarrett, and Kirk Leech, then of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, volunteer to co-ordinate efforts to create a project aimed at countering this rise in activism, improve public understanding of animal research and open up new transport routes for animals between the UK and the rest of Europe.

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New steps towards transparency at Belgian EARA member

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

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

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

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

See also the UCB video.

Why Belgium still needs animal testing in the fight against cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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The first ten years of the UK’s Understanding Animal Research

by UAR Chief Executive Wendy Jarrett

Understanding Animal Research (UAR) reached its tenth birthday on 1 January 2019 and we have been engaging and informing people about how and why animals are used in research for a decade. So we thought that it would be a good time to have a look back at some of the highlights of the past decade and remind ourselves of how UAR came about and what it has achieved so far.

UAR has inherited the DNA of two parent UK organisations – the Research Defence Society (RDS) and the Coalition for Medical Progress (CMP). RDS was founded by Stephen Paget in January 1908 as a response to the rising profile of organisations opposed to the use of animals in research, primarily the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV, now known as Cruelty Free International). Continue reading

EU Directive ‘cannot be implemented in isolation’ Brussels roundtable agrees

At a roundtable discussion on the use of animals in scientific research there is overwhelming agreement that Europe has appropriate and detailed legislation regulating the use of animals in scientific research, that adapts to and encourages scientific progress.

Conclusions also show that successful implementation of the Directive is a shared responsibility. The round table identified opportunities to join forces and work together, as the Directive 2010/63/EU cannot be successfully implemented by organisations or individuals working in isolation.

At the meeting in Brussels, representatives from the diverse sectors within the biomedical community (academia, industry, research organisations, medical charities, etc.) and policy-makers discuss the recommendations of the European Commission review report of the Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes.

The objective of the roundtable was to  inform policy discussion in EU institutions and to identify recommendations for the users’ community on this basis. Topics under discussion were: the implementation of the Directive; improving openness and transparency; ideas for further areas to be tackled. Continue reading

Supporting excellent biomedical science in Europe

The first FEAM European Biomedical Policy Forum annual lecture took place in Brussels, in March, dedicated to the topic Biomedical and health research: developing a vision for Europe.

The Forum is an initiative from the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and aims to bring together representatives from academia, research charities, industry, European and national trade associations and professional bodies, regulators, public health bodies, and patient and consumers groups. Among the topics discussed were: thematic priorities for future research; linkage with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); research missions; current gaps in support; and how to improve coordination and consolidation of research programmes across Europe.

This  is  an  important  time  for  European  health  policy  and  for  sustaining  biomedical  research  and innovation. The forthcoming EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, FP9, provides a critical opportunity for stakeholders across the biomedical and health sectors to discuss their research vision and priorities for Europe, linkage with global goals, and defining approaches to closing gaps in support and to promoting coordination of effort. 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.

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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. Continue reading