In an article in National Geographic, Khara Ramos, of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, asked if “the development and application of new neuro-technologies may require us to examine ethical standards, and for those standards to evolve”.
In The Guardian, ethical questions such as ‘How do we delimit consciousness in a brain removed from the body?’; ‘Is it possible to speak about consciousness in an isolated brain?’ were also raised.
Portuguese TV news has highlighted the use of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as an animal research model at the labs of the Champalimaud Foundation
The institution, also an EARA members, is based in Lisbon, Portugal. and uses fruit flies in six of the 19 research groups to study cancer and neurosciences.
In the TV item (in Portuguese), Maria Luísa Vasconcelos, the Principal Investigator of Innate Behaviour Research Group, explained why the fruit fly is the ideal model to study innate behaviours: “We can work with very large numbers of animals because they are tiny and easy to keep”.
Platform is the facility that offers conditions for breeding,
maintenance and manipulation, supporting scientists in establishing, applying
and developing advanced genetic approaches.
The researchers explained that besides the size of the organism there are other advantages in using flies as a model. For example, the lower ethical and legal questions, the short generation time and the sophisticated tools available to manipulate the genome.
On the eve of Biomedical Research Awaerness Day (BRAD 18 April), EARA looks back at some of the important medical advances over the last year that have involved research using animals.
Among the breakthroughs reported,
that benefit both humans and animals, are:
Research using mice led to many new breakthroughs, such as multiple sclerosisresearch, at the University of Cambridge and to fight chronic pain using synthetic Botox at University College London, UK.
In surgical research on sheep at Lund University, Sweden, freeze-dried valves – later rehydrated for transplantation – were used in animal heart surgery for first time.
A team from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), Madrid, Spain, succeeded in curing pulmonary fibrosis disease in mice using a gene therapy.
In Belgium, researchers at EARA members VIB, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven used mice to develop new antibacterial drugs.
Building on a technique developed in rats, Swiss researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, have announced that stimulating a person’s spinal cord can restore voluntary movement in some paralysed patients (see picture).
Scientists are also developing new biomedical treatments and
techniques that replace, refine or reduce (3Rs) the use of animals in research.
A team from the University of Oxford, UK, and EARA member Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgium, won the International 3Rs Prize using a computer model that predicts accurately the risk of drug-induced heart arrhythmias in humans.
Animal research is integral to ongoing research in areas such as spinal cord repair, stem cell treatments (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), gene therapy (muscular dystrophy, diabetes) and molecularly targeted cancer medicines. Historically, animal research has also led to new diagnostic tests for early treatment (cancer, heart disease); and effective treatments for serious illnesses (diabetes, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease).
The same research often helps humans and animals (treatments for arthritis, neurological disorders, organ transplants, cancer therapies) and contributes to farm animal welfare and techniques to save endangered species.
EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “Without the use of animals the pace of advances in biomedical research would be dramatically slower.
“Finding alternative methods to animal research, such as computer models and cell cultures are extremely important, but animal testing remains the safest and most effective way to produce drugs and treatments for us all.”
Increased biomedical research into cancer has seen a rise in the number of procedures using animals in the Netherlands, the latest statistics show.
The annual figures for 2017, show an overall increase in the number of animals used (in Dutch), with 530,568 procedures being conducted: 80,694 (17.9%) more than in 2016.
In 2017, more animal tests were conducted with zebrafish (research into anti-cancer drugs and an EU-funded project into hormone-disruptors that affect the human body) and mice (various investigations, particularly cancer research).
In addition, under a new EU reporting requirement, the number of animals that were bred, but were killed or died without being part of an animal test, was 448,252 animals, (see Additional Animals note).
The annual figures, have been released by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit, NVWA) in line with the requirements of EU law and demonstrates the continuing commitment of the Netherlands’ biomedical sector to research, as well as observing the principles of the ‘3Rs’ (Replacement, Refinement, Reduction) in the use of animals.
Wilbert Frieling, of the Dutch animal reseach advocacy group SID, said: ‘The use of animals is essential for biomedical research into diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s and for vaccines – including the ones taken to protect us during overseas trips.
“Many of the cures and treatments we use today for conditions such as diabetes and pneumonia were made possible through the use of animals. The development of treatments and vaccines for animals also requires the experimental use of dogs and cats.’
Commenting on the figures, EARA Executive Director Kirk Leech said: ‘The publication of these figures shows that biomedical researchers in the Netherlands have nothing to hide. Behind each statistic is the story of basic research, of work towards combating disease and of improvements in human or veterinary medicine.’
Notes to editors
Additional animals Additional animals are those animals which were killed in the research setting without ever having undergone a regulated procedure. Examples of why this may happen include: • Animals bred for tissue samples • Animals that were bred for research, but could not be used. Reasons include: – They were the wrong sex for the research. – They were involved in creating or maintaining genetically altered lines, but did not express the required genetic alteration (i.e. were born as wild types). – The number was over and above the numbers needed for the research study (litter sizes can be unpredictable). • Animals used to sustain inbred colonies (this includes breeding stock and neonatal losses) • ‘Sentinel animals’ used for health screening of other animals in the laboratory
About EARA The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is an organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals and provides accurate, evidence-based information. It has more than 70 partner organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, across 15 European countries. EARA’s vision is to enhance the understanding and recognition of research involving animals across Europe, allowing for a more constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and a more efficient climate for research in Europe.
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.
A guide on how to develop and implement a communications strategy on the use of animals in research has been published by the European Animal Research Association (EARA).
A free hard copy of the EARA Communications Handbook (in English only, cover price €375), along with an encrypted electronic version has been distributed exclusively to EARA member organisations.
The Handbook is intended to be shared with in-house research and communications professionals and includes a step-by-step guide to developing a long-term communications strategy and other advice on actions you can take to encourage a more balanced public debate on the issue of animal research.
There is also practical communications advice on how to handle those crisis situations that may occur.
EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, said: “We encourage all EARA institutions across Europe to implement the recommendations outlined in this manual and to engage with EARA for further support or advice.”
Organisations that are not EARA members can purchase the Handbook or arrange to discuss communications further by contacting Kirk Leech.
The Max Delbrück Center (MDC), an EARA member, welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she opened its new research building in Berlin.
The building hosts the Berlin Institute for Molecular Systems Biology (BIMSB), as a second MDC campus, committed to research excellence and openness.
It is anticipated that it will host 250 researchers and 16 labs in the near future (see video of the opening).
Setting the scene for different scientific disciplines – biotechnology, computational science, molecular biology, clinical research – BIMSB leader Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky (pictured second left) promised a ‘radical approach to collaboration’.
Chancellor Merkel viewed a ‘mini-brain’ (brain organoid) through a microscope and started a single-cell sequencing process with a computer.
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
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
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
Unfortunately, we cannot simulate
what we do not understand; that’s kind of the definition of a simulation.
Despite our increasing knowledge, there are still a lot of body processes that
we do not understand well enough to be able to fully predict them. If we could,
we would already have a solution to all diseases.
Just like animal experiments,
computer simulations are one type of tool in our experimental toolbox and they
can certainly help us in the search for answers. For example, computer
simulations are useful to screen different versions of a candidate drug
molecule, or to predict possible negative effects of a drug on a cell.
Depending on the substance and the application, additional (animal) tests will
nevertheless be required.
Myth Two: Researchers use laboratory animals because it is easier and
Researchers who work with laboratory
animals don’t do this for fun. The breeding and housing of experimental animals
is – depending on the species – time-consuming and very expensive. There are
strict rules and conditions (and rightly so!) which mean that for each test an
ethical file has to be drawn up and submitted to an ethical committee.
If an experiment can be done in a
cell culture dish, then the animal experiment simply cannot take place. Can
human samples be used instead? Also then, animal tests are prohibited.
Myth Three: Animal experiments are useless, because mice are not the
same as humans
Mice are indeed not people, but they
do show a lot of similarities. The functioning of many organs is similar and by
changing certain genes in mice, we are able to answer very fundamental
questions, for example about the interaction between the immune system and
cancer cells in a complex organism. That’s exactly why mice are used to study new
Exactly because there are also
important differences in mice and humans, researchers sometimes need to use
other animal species such as dogs or monkeys. As these are more evolved animal
species, they are only used in very exceptional situations.
We have achieved many medical breakthroughs thanks to animal experiments; think of organ transplants, blood transfusions, treatments for diabetes and AIDS, or the development of vaccines against polio, hepatitis and, most recently, the Ebola virus. More than 80% of the Nobel Prizes in Medicine also went to breakthroughs that were based on animal research.
VIDEO: In a lecture for the University of Flanders, Prof. dr. Damya Laoui, of VIB, in Belgium, underscores the need for animal research for her pioneering work into immunotherapy for metastatic breast cancer.
Animal experiments are not a perfect fix; of course they also have limitations. They shouldn’t be the default option, rather, it’s about using the right model for the right questions. Just as for other non-animal research methods, such as computer simulations or experiments in cell lines, there are advantages and disadvantages that have to be weighted.
The legislation on animal testing is therefore
built around the principle of the 3Rs: Reduce, Refine, Replace.
means that only the absolutely required number of animals is used for each
experiment. It is up to the researchers to make a statistically solid estimate
for each experiment, and up to the ethics committee to finally decide.
means that an animal test must be done under the best possible conditions, e.g.
with painkillers if necessary, and that animal welfare should be considered at
all times. This includes legally specified conditions relating to the number of
animals per cage, the control of temperature and humidity in the room, and the
provision of toys.
emphasises the legal need to replace animal testing where alternatives exist.
As researchers, we also apply the fourth ‘R’ of
responsibility. It goes without saying that there should be zero tolerance
policy of researchers who would flout these rules.
Scientists would love to have the tools
available to map the complex mechanisms of cancer metastases, for example, or
to explore new avenues for immunotherapy, without animal testing. For the time
being, however, we don’t. That does not stop us from trying to do better every
day. We keep pushing, not only for new treatments for patients, but also for
better, more refined research methods.
Speakers have been announced for this year’s first EARA German event on openness in animal research.
Supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience, the event (register here) is entitled, Improving Openness in Animal Research in Germany
The event, in Plön, will focus on why scientists, researchers, press officers and other stakeholders should talk about animal research, but it will not be a debate about the ethics of animal experimentation.
The list of speakers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, in Plön, on 21 March, 12pm-3pm CET will be:
• Kirk Leech, EARA Executive Director • Dr. Andreas Lengeling, of EARA member the Max Planck Society • Dr. Miriam Liedvogel, Behavioural Geneticist/group leader at MPI Plön • Christine Pfeifle, Mouse Management, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology.
It will then be followed by a panel discussion and then a drinks reception 3pm-4pm.
The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) together with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), last year kindly agreed to support an initiative by the European Animal Research Association (EARA) to raise awareness on the need for greater openness and transparency in communication about the use of animals in research among the neuroscience community in Germany.
The first of three events entitled Improving Openness in Animal Research in Germany, was held at the Max Delbrück Center, Berlin, (MDC) on Thursday, 12 July, 2018, and each of the four speaker’s presentations, plus the panel discussion afterwards was filmed and is featured below.
EARA devised the events with the aim of helping researchers and institutions that wished to be more open about the animal research they carry out. The intention was not to debate the ethics of animal research, but rather to invite a variety of speakers (researchers, policy, media) to make the argument for the need for greater openness in communication about animal research.
About the speakers The four main speakers in Berlin were:
Kirk Leech, EARA Executive Director
Dr. Andreas Lengeling, Animal Research & Welfare Officer, at the Max Planck Society (MPS)
Volker Stollorz, CEO of the Science Media Center, Germany
Dr.Thomas Kammertöns, Institute of Immunology, Charité University Medical Centre, Berlin