Category Archives: Guest Posts

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.

While the Directive represented progress the meeting agreed that focus is required on ensuring it is implemented in a way that focuses on welfare impacts, avoids duplication or unnecessary processes and shares good practices, in particular on issues where the scientific community can do more to deliver on 3Rs and quality of science.

The meeting was also attended by EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, who called on scientists to play a greater role in openness.

The meeting was chaired by Professor André Parodi, Honorary President of the French National Academy of Medicine and of the French Veterinary Academy.

About the FEAM European Biomedical Policy Forum
The FEAM European Biomedical Policy Forum provides a platform for discussion on key policy issues for the biomedical community.

The Forum is an initiative from the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM). It 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. If you would like further information on the FEAM European Biomedical Policy Forum or becoming a partner, please contact silvia.bottaro@feam.eu

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.

Dr Line Matthiessen of the European Commission (DG Research and Innovation) provided valuable insight into the drivers for prioritising biomedical and health research objectives in FP9. These drivers include: the challenges facing society, for example in terms of health and care costs, inequalities and environmental factors; and the need to  promote  innovative  industry  competitiveness.  There  is  also  the  opportunity  to capitalise  on  previous  achievements  in  funding  programmes  associated  with  the  development  of human capital (including in cross-sectoral collaborative initiatives) and the paramount requirement to deliver impact.

Recent proposals to increase mission-oriented approaches in FP9 are very relevant to health research: successful characteristics of a mission orientation were illustrated by the work of a consortium on rare diseases in Horizon 2020 (i.e. the International Rare Diseases Research Consortium – IRDiRC). Increased impact can be anticipated if the scientific community and other stakeholders are mobilised to address shared goals.

High-level experts from academia, industry and patient groups then responded with their perspectives on the vision for  FP9.  For example,  there  were  suggestions  for  other  health  research  missions  with potential  for  EU  added  value  to  address  unmet  medical  needs  in  the  fields  of  dementia,  infectious diseases/antimicrobial  resistance,  and  mental  health.  Among the  many  significant  issues  arising  in discussion was an emphasis on the importance of:

  • Continuing the use   of   animals   in scientific   research.   Despite   progress   in   developing alternatives,  well-regulated  animal  models  are  still  needed  to  provide  biological  insight  and help to tackle unmet medical needs.
  • Continuing commitment to basic, discovery science (investigator – driven, bottom up ideas) at a time of increasing attention to translational science: ensuring a balance between mission-oriented and fundamental research.
  • Addressing the challenges of transdisciplinary in a culture where many academics still work in silos: this may require new incentives but is essential to enable innovation and deliver more integrated approaches to health management.
  • Harnessing the combined skills of academia and industry in partnerships that will also include health services and patients. There is considerable scope to facilitate all stakeholders working together to identify research   priorities and clarify research design, increasing patient representation throughout research. Scientific and clinical communities must augment their efforts to engage with patients and the public to understand their priorities for unmet medical needs.
  • Exploring how to improve collaboration  across  the  large  part  of  health  research  that  is currently organised and funded at a national level. The proposed European Council for Health Research may help in underpinning coordination and synergy,  and act as a single point of entry for all health research. There is a broad agenda for co-ordination in addition to funding. There  will  be  new  challenges  for  maintaining  the  essential mobility of scientists and  their families  and  for  building  multilateral  partnerships  in  Europe. Education  and  training  must incorporate   the   acquisition of  new  complementary skills for researchers and health professionals,  for  example transdisciplinary and  the  capacities for interpreting and  using large data sets.
  • Developing future healthcare systems for people-centred quality care with the focus shifting to health rather than disease and entailing new understanding of multimorbidity and of early pathogenesis. Among the requirements, this transformation calls for renewed commitment to digital health and digital infrastructure, with implications for training and research.

End

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). 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.

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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