Tag Archives: Animal Research

Animal research – a debate between a primate researcher and an opponent

This article was first printed in Spiegel on 28 December 2017 and is reprinted here in the English translation.

A moderated debate between Prof. Stefan Treue, (pictured below) animal physiologist, neuroscientist and director of the German Primate Center – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen and Jörg Luy, philosopher, veterinarian and animal ethicist at the Research and Advisory Institute for Applied Ethics and Animal Welfare Instet in Berlin.

Thousands of monkeys are kept in Germany alone for animal experiments. Is that justifiable?

Spiegel Moderation: Ann-Katrin Müller and Philip Bethge.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Lucy, researchers in Japan have recently transplanted cynomolgus nerve cells that had previously been bred in the laboratory. The monkeys were suffering from Parkinson’s disease. After the transplant they could move better again.

Luy: That sounds great, but it’s not, because Parkinson’s disease was artificially caused in the animals. If you want my short ethical assessment: unacceptable.

SPIEGEL: Would you stick to this assessment if a close relative of yours had Parkinson’s and would benefit from the monkey-engrafted transplant?

Luy: Unfortunately, we have a Parkinson’s case in the family. But that does not change my assessment. It is unlikely that the Javan monkeys have voluntarily consented to this transplantation experiment, let alone the procedure that artificially causes Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, the experiment is ethically not allowed. One would never make such attempts on people.

SPIEGEL: Does not the healing of a disease have a higher ethical value?

Luy: That’s a very dangerous thought. If you continue to spin, you will end up with human experiments. They might also help patients. If we even weigh process and utility, then the crucial point is: is it worth it for the test object to participate in the experiment? Is it a fair deal?

SPIEGEL: Mr. Treue, in Germany about 3,000 primates are currently being kept for animal research, especially crab ape and rhesus monkeys, and there are tens of thousands worldwide. Socially, experiments on primates are apparently considered justifiable throughout the world. Also from you?

Treue: No one is happy about animal testing, but on certain research questions they are necessary and justifiable. Exactly this is also the legal situation: There is no general prohibition of animal experiments, but a process of consideration. In other words, experiments on animals are prohibited unless a long list of conditions are met.

SPIEGEL: What does “weighing” mean? If cancer patients would benefit from experiments on primates, then you can do them?

Treue: The criterion is whether the expected suffering is ethically justifiable. It is about the difficult balance between the potential suffering of the animal and the gain in knowledge for research, medicine and society.

Luy: I often hear this answer: Animal experiments can be imagined for serious human illnesses, but you cannot accept them for being succinct. But there is a mistake in thinking. Here are the same mechanisms used as in shopping. People buy a product if the price-performance ratio is right. Translated on animal experiments this means: For the benefit of X, the stomachache Y is acceptable, which I have with the experiment. But this is not how our sense of morality and justice works. We change the perspective, even more, we transform ourselves imaginatively into those affected, be it humans or animals. If, from the point of view of the affected individual, we cannot accept the treatment, then our sense of morality signals: unacceptable.

SPIEGEL: How do you measure the suffering of the experimental animals, Mr. Treue? You cannot ask the monkey how he is and how much pain he finds acceptable.

Treue: This can not be measured with absolute reliability, but we can, for example, monitor behavior or physiological reactions such as the release of stress hormones. But right: An animal cannot agree with the experiments, because he lacks the cognitive abilities. Ultimately, we carry out this process of consideration. The protection and needs of people are particularly important.

SPIEGEL: Because of our cognitive abilities?

Treue: No, because we are more capable of suffering.

SPIEGEL: So we can also sense the suffering of the other, in this case the primate?

Luy: We feel it is disrespectful to harm others. Primates look similar to us, so we have more respect for them than for animals that are less similar to us.

SPIEGEL: Surely it cannot be an ethically relevant criterion if I feel close to a species of animal optically.

Luy: Yes, that’s a mistake. But these mistakes are everyday. People would be outraged if someone pulled a gorilla on a leash behind them. No one gets upset with a dachshund.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Treue, under what conditions is an attempt on primates justified for you?

Treue: For example, if there is no alternative species for a question. If I can test a vaccine on a mouse as well as a primate, only the mouse test is approvable. If there is a good computer model, no animal experiment is justifiable.

Luy: How are you weighing up? When do you come to the point where you say that an animal experiment is ethically unjustifiable for this research question?

Treue: The criterion is whether the question is of great importance.

SPIEGEL: Are there any questions you would not research because you would not accept the burden of primates?

Treue: But yes. Classic examples are cosmetics or weapons research. These are not essential questions for society. The brain, on the other hand, whose function we are investigating, is so central to our self-understanding, to medical and fundamental biological issues, that a better understanding of its functioning is of great importance.

SPIEGEL: Is it mandatory to use primates in certain drug tests?

Treue: Normally, two species of mammals are used, and depending on the type of drug and the risk potential one sees, a primate species is often present – especially in the toxicity test.

Luy: So most of the primates get poisoned …

Treue: It depends on whether the animals belong to a control group or a measurement group.

Luy: For the measuring group, the experiment usually ends lethally.

Treue: Such attempts have become much rarer, and primates play a minor role. Sometimes, however, there is nothing left. Doctors and patients must know at what dose a drug that otherwise works well, is life-threatening.

SPIEGEL: What kind of experiments do you do at the Primate Center in Göttingen?

Treue: I try to find out how the brain works, how brain processes, nerve processes take place in healthy animals.

SPIEGEL: What is this about? For a benefit or purely knowledge gain?

Treue: This is an interesting choice of words by you. The gain in knowledge is nevertheless a benefit. But you probably mean a medically definable benefit. If you take the position that every single animal experiment would have to cure a patient, then I have to answer you: That’s not how science works. A fundamental experiment always has an unknown result and initially no obvious and immediate medical benefit. Historically, however, those scientists who made the biggest breakthroughs wanted to openly understand how biological systems work.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Luy, are we not even obliged to use primates for research because it would be unethical to forego gaining knowledge?

Luy: No, because theoretically there would be a much better method: we could experiment with ourselves. And that’s the really exciting question for the ethicist: For what reason are we not experimenting with humans? There seems to be a limit to research? No patient has ever complained, as far as I know, that the research is no further because it has not resorted to, for example, people sentenced to death.

Treue: I hear this argument again and again. And it is by no means the case that there is a clear limit. There are indeed experiments made on people. Only: how far are they allowed to go? For example, we do not allow the sale of organs. At the same time, there are many medical studies involving people, even though they are not patients at all. They do that because they think it helps society.

Luy: Wait a minute, the participants get financial compensation. This is not altruism, but a deal. Without money you have to search your human subjects for a long time.

Treue: In a commercialised medicine, a subject would be pretty stupid to give up the money. Nevertheless, there are a lot of studies where you have to spend hours in an uncomfortable position and only get the money for the bus ride.

Luy: The deal is fair and people can decide for themselves if they want to join in the experiment. Why does that not apply to animals as well? The ethicist Peter Singer was one of the first to ask the question in 1975: Why do we actually measure with two different measures? Why do not we ask the animals? Or at least put ourselves in their position and decide consistently from their point of view, whether an experiment is okay, because the profit is an appropriate compensation for the suffering?

Treue: That can never work, because it’s almost always about a benefit that does not benefit the test animal itself.

Luy: That’s not the point. Just like the sports student volunteering for a medical impact assessment, I could reward the animal for volunteering. In fact, a pharmaceutical company has investigated whether it is possible to voluntarily make blood collections in pigs. Lo and behold, the pigs stopped for a single treat and had their blood taken. Apparently they found the deal fair. If animal experiments were that way, they would be ethically clean.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Treue, you fix your monkeys in so-called primate chairs. There, the animals can not move their heads during the experiments. Do the monkeys voluntarily consent to it?

Treue: It’s all reward-based.

Luy: Excuse me? They give the animals nothing to drink for days, they finally get something at the test. That’s not a reward.

Treue: No, that’s wrong! The animals are given the opportunity to drink daily, and not only their hydration, but also their health is under daily observation.

Luy: To my knowledge, the animals have not been able to move without thirst.

Treue: They are already working on the tasks, but not as long as when we can use their favorite liquid as a reward.

Luy: See? Someone from the German Animal Welfare Association told me that they had people as fixed as the animals in the primate chair. The subjects would have begged after 20 minutes and whined that they are released again.

Treue: And you believe that? There are many medical interventions in which patients are not allowed to move their heads. They also do not whine after 20 minutes. The primates become accustomed step by step to not being able to move their heads while in the chair. The animal is rewarded for every task in which it participates. Otherwise, there is no reward, but no punishment. This ensures that the animal remains healthy. Now we can argue about when it is suffering when one is thirsty.

SPIEGEL: Do you see the prospect of getting along in research without animal research?

Treue: We are already working a lot with computer models. We also use imaging techniques. Apart from the complex ethical questions, this is much cheaper than experiments with primates. If I knew how to do my research without animals, I would immediately abandon the primates.

Luy: Scientists are very creative people. There are many other ways to do research, including the target species, i.e. humans. Although this takes longer in case of doubt, the results are more useful. I cannot think of anything for which there could be no alternative to animal testing.

Treue: I can think of almost every medical breakthrough. We can meet again in 100 years. Maybe then the research is so far that primate experiments are superfluous.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Luy, Mr. Treue, we thank you for this conversation.



European scientific community welcomes EU review of the Directive for the protection of animals used for research


LONDON, UK – 10 November, 2017

The European scientific community supports the view of the EU Commission, that the Directive on the protection of animals used in biomedical research is bringing significant benefits in animal welfare and a sound foundation for future best practice in the sector.

The European Animal Research Association (EARA), which represents more than 60 organisations across Europe in the biomedical research sector, has welcomed the Commission report, published today. The report reviews the requirements of Directive 2010/63/EU – all uses of live animals for research or education and testing must be carried out in compliance with the Directive.

In particular, the EU recognised that measures to improve transparency to the general public on the performance of research establishments in the areas of animal use and welfare are starting to have an effect. Requirements to publish non-technical summaries of the objectives and benefits of research projects, as well as annual statistical data, are also seen to have greatly improved openness in Member States. 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

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.



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 unsuccessful

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

Brussels/London, 17 March 2015

The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) is actively committed to the responsible use of animals in research.

In January, 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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