Tag Archives: Animal Research

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?

Hundreds of scientists sign letter supporting primates in neuroscience

Over 400 primate and neuroscience researchers signed a letter supporting the use of non-human primates in neuroscience, which was published in the Guardian today. Coordinated by Understanding Animal Research (UAR), the letter emphasises the key role that primate research has played and continues to play in vital neuroscience research. EARA signed the letter alongside 20 other institutions, as well as reaching out to our networks in Europe to gain further support. The letter can still be signed via this link.

The letter is a timely response to mounting pressure by animal rights groups against the use of non-human primates in biomedical research. Last week, the Independent published a letter coordinated by Cruelty Free International denouncing primate research, and earlier this year, the Australian Senate rejected a proposed ban on importing non-human primates for scientific research. The UAR letter is the latest in a series of efforts from the scientific community to underline the importance of this type of research, including the Foundation of Biomedical Research’s White Paper on primate research and the National Institutes of Health workshop held last week.

Kirk Leech, EARA’s Executive Director, said:

“NHP research continues to underpin our understanding of brain processes and debilitating brain conditions and allows assessing the efficiency and safety of a candidate drug. Animal research, in particular with regard to primates, is highly regulated on legal and ethical grounds as enshrined in European Directive 2010/63.

“Out of the 4.14 million procedures completed in the UK in 2015, only 0.16% were performed on primates, which accounts for 3,600 procedures. This number does not even represent the real number of primates used in procedures, since some animals undergo several procedures to reduce the use of animals. Out of this small proportion, only 0.8% were classified as severe. 

“Accurate and contrasted information is necessary to ensure a balanced dialogue that considers all risks and opportunities involved, especially in such a contentious issue as using primates in neuroscience research. We encourage and support the scientific community in the quest to provide timely and truthful information to promote scientific research.”

Full text of the letter:

Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of 50 medical advances from the last 50 years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.

The biological similarities between humans and other primates mean that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than 10 million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over 200,000 Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to deep brain stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980s and 1990s.

Given that primates are intelligent and sensitive animals, such research requires a higher level of ethical justification. The scientific community continues to work together to minimise the suffering of primates wherever possible. We welcome the worldwide effort to replace, refine and reduce the use of primates in research.

We, the undersigned, believe that if we are to effectively combat the scourge of neurodegenerative and other crippling diseases, we will require the careful and considered use of nonhuman primates. Stringent regulations across the developed world exist to ensure that primates are only used where there is no other available model – be that the use of a mouse or a non-animal alternative – and to protect the wellbeing of those animals still required. The use of primates is not undertaken lightly. However, while not all primate research results in a new treatment, it nonetheless plays a role in developing both the basic and applied knowledge that is crucial for medical advances.

For an up-to-date list of the signatories to the letter, see the website of Understanding Animal Research.

Statement in support of European Directive 2010/63 features in Lab Animal Europe

The European Animal Research Association (EARA) has published a statement on behalf of leading biomedical research organisations, learned societies, industry representatives, universities and patient groups in Europe in support of Directive 2010/63/EU.

With the Directive being reviewed in 2017 as part of the standard European legislative process, this statement illustrates the continued need for the responsible use of animals in medical, veterinary and basic research and the importance of communicating about the topic.

The statement has been featured in the news section of Lab Animal Europe December’s issue. Lab Animal Europe is the biggest and most widely read magazine in this sector of the research industry.

LAE_Dec2015_Eur-Statement

 

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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‘Stop Vivisection’ petition stopped

For immediate release 3rd June 2015, London

We welcome the response of the European Commission to the European Citizens’ Initiative Stop Vivisection petition reiterating its support for the European Directive 2010/63 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. Any roll back from the Directive would have jeopardised the European Research Area and Europe’s leading role in important biomedical research that benefits both human and animal health.

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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

FENS joins EARA to support the responsible use of animals in research

MEDIA RELEASE
Brussels/London, 17 March 2015

The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) is actively committed to the responsible use of animals in research. On the 22nd of January 2015 FENS joined forces with the European Animal Research Association (EARA), a communication and advocacy organisation whose mission is to uphold the interests of basic and biomedical research and healthcare development across Europe, and to provide clear information to the public.

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Letter to the Sunderland Echo providing the public with accurate reporting on animal research

At the end of February some UK media channels published information about an animal research license which was denied in Germany to a Newcastle researcher (Sunderland Echo and Chronicle Live). These news regarded an old German case that was not appropriately explained in the article, thereby portraying a inaccurate narrative on the case.

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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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