Category Archives: Guest Posts

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.

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

 

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

We aren’t 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. Continue reading

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?”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading