Tag Archives: Belgium

Belgian scientists hit back at ‘Nazi’ slur in one-sided media reporting

Belgian researchers have countered an uncritical feature interview with animal rights activists who repeated factual inaccuracies about animal research and likened scientists to Nazis.

In response to the pieces in De Morgen and Humo (both in Flemish) the scientists refuted the claims that animal experiments are unreliable, that computer simulations and artificial intelligence are fully-fledged alternatives, that scientists just “do what they want” and that animal experiments are of no use (an attack on basic research).
Full translation of Humo article

“Presenting researchers as Nazis is all too easy when we all reap the benefits of modern medicine,”  said an article signed by Professor Rufin Vogels (KU Leuven), Professor Wim Van Duffel (KU Leuven and Harvard Medical School) and the animal research portal Infopunt Proefdieronderzoek (IPPO).

The response is as follows:

I and a number of colleagues are disappointed that for the second month in a row De Morgen forms a platform for the dissemination of incorrect information about animal testing. This time on the basis of an interview from Humo with three animal activists. Animal welfare is of course an important topic, but it is unfortunate that these three are given the opportunity to make statements about the context in which and the reasons for animal testing in Flanders, without making any comments.

Myths about animal testing
(or if you want to use a quote, possibly “Explaining researchers as Nazis is too easy when we all reap the benefits of modern medicine.”)

In a conversation with three animal activists yesterday in De Morgen and earlier in Humo, in addition to veganism, animal experiments were inevitably also involved. Ann De Greef (GAIA), Benoit Van den Broeck (Animal Rights) and Benjamin Loison (Bite Back) are against. That can not surprise anyone and it is also their right. That they thereby get such a broad platform to send wrong information to the world, we want to rectify this.

Myth 1: Animal experiments are unreliable

Wrong! An animal is only a model, but the same applies to cells in a Petri dish. Scientists try to make the leap from model to man as small as possible.
That is why it is also important to use the right animal or the right animal-free method to investigate a certain aspect of how our body works. In genetics, for example, fruit flies are often used, while behavior and memory are often examined in mice or rats or, if not possible, in monkeys. Less complex interactions can then be studied in cell cultures derived from human tissue.

Myth 2: Computer simulations and artificial intelligence are full-fledged alternatives

Too bad, but unfortunately not true. A computer simulation is only as good as the data you put into it. We can reliably simulate biological systems that we fully understand with the computer. For example, we can already make a lot of predictions about how they react with certain tissues for chemical substances based on their structure. But if we want to discover how our brains work, how our organs develop or why someone gets cancer, then we can not find the answer in a computer.

Myth 3: Scientists “do what they want”

Not at all the case! Test animal research is very strictly regulated, and also good. Each test must be approved by an ethics committee, which also includes animal welfare experts and ethicists. If there are alternatives, then scientists are obliged to use them, and they also do so.

Myth 4: Animal experiments are of no use

That fundamental research into how the brain works has not yet resulted in a pill against Alzheimer’s disease, means for Ann De Greef that we should better stop it. But four out of five of the most groundbreaking new drugs from the past decades stem from this type of basic research, with animal tests, among other things.

These arguments have been refuted so many times, but they continue to pop up. It does not help the debate, and certainly the laboratory animals, one meter ahead.

Explaining researchers as Nazis is too easy when we all reap the benefits of modern medicine. Scientists also love animals, as well as among non-scientists, vegetarians and vegans can be found back. Yet they realize all too well that animal testing is still necessary to answer biomedical questions and so offer hope to people who are incurably ill.

Suggesting that conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented simply by avoiding red meat and dairy products, is so short-legged that it is almost irresponsible to put it in the newspaper. In any case, it shows that the activists do not take their own advice-orphan critically for yourself.

Professor Rufin Vogels (KU Leuven), Professor Wim Van Duffel (KU Leuven and Harvard Medical School) and Infopunt Proefdieronderzoek (IPPO).

See the response in Flemish

Brain Prize winner emphasises essential need for animal research into Alzheimer’s

Basic researchers into Alzheimer disease awarded major scientific prize

Today it was announced that the 2018 Brain Prize will be awarded to Bart De Strooper (VIB, KU Leuven and University College London), Michel Goedert (University of Cambridge), Christian Haass (DZNE, Ludwig-Maximilians-University) and John Hardy (UCL) for their groundbreaking research on the genetic and molecular basis of Alzheimer’s disease.

The four researchers will share the 1 million EUR prize awarded by the Lundbeck Foundation.
This year’s Brain Prize winners have made essential contributions, in basic research, to the genetic and molecular knowledge of Alzheimer’s, mapping new avenues for the diagnosis, treatment and possibly even prevention of this neurodegenerative disorder. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting approximately 30 million people worldwide.

Accepting his prize, Prof. Bart De Strooper, who is also the new Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, and professor at UCL, as well as VIB and KU Leuven, Belgium (both EARA members) made a strong case for the need for animal research.

“Animal rights activists often talk about alternatives, but there is no in vitro model for brain function. We can’t study dementia in a dish and there is no way around testing new medication in a living organism. Yet people without any research experience keep spreading half-truths to mislead the public opinion,” he said.

Prof. De Strooper was also pleased that the Brain Prize had underscored the importance of basic neuroscience: “The Brain Prize recognises that basic science makes a real contribution, even though it cannot always be directly applied to clinical care.”

“The Prize is an important sign for young scientists to know that they can still make big discoveries, and that we urgently need them to pursue research into diseases of the ageing brain.”

Professor Anders Bjorklund, chairman of the Lundbeck Foundation Brain Prize selection committee, said, “Alzheimer´s disease is one of the most devastating diseases of our time and remarkable progress has been made during the last decades. These four outstanding European scientists have been rewarded for their fundamental discoveries unravelling molecular and genetic causes of the disease.

The award recognises that there is more to Alzheimer´s disease than amyloid, and that the field of dementia research is more than Alzheimer´s disease alone.”
End

Animal rights infiltration at Brussels university

On Tuesday, Belgian animal rights group GAIA published video material taken during an undercover investigation at the animal research facility of the Free University of Brussels (VUB), Belgium. The footage was taken over the course of three months, and suggests that the care for the animals in the facility was inadequate. VUB announced that they will investigate the footage and cooperate with an external inquiry announced by the State Secretary for animal welfare.

vub-infiltration

Coverage of the infiltration on the website of Het Laatste Nieuws, the most popular newspaper in Flanders and Belgium.

The infiltration took place between March and June of this year. Under orders of GAIA, an undercover informant spent three months working as an animal caretaker at VUB’s Animalarium, the animal research facility at the university’s Jette campus. The six minute long video that GAIA released on Tuesday shows footage of animals in the facility, as well as recordings of conversations with employees at the Animalarium. Reactions to the video where mixed: half of comments on the article in Het Laatste Nieuws were opposed to animal research, while around 25% explained the role of animal research in biomedicine, and a further 25% were neutral on the issue.

VUB has announced that it will thoroughly investigate the footage to determine whether any of the events in the video breached national legislation or the university’s internal standards. The university understands that the video has raised concerns, and will examine the need for a strengthening of internal procedures. In addition, VUB has advanced plans for a new research infrastructure designed to provide housing for research animals with the most modern techniques, with particular attention being paid to animal welfare.

Bianca Debaets, Brussels State Secretary for Animal Welfare, has said she was shocked by the footage, and that her administration will carry out an extra inspection of the lab in question. The VUB has promised its full cooperation in the inspection. Debaets added that Brussels subsidises promising 3Rs research at the VUB and that animal research remains necessary in research, and should remain possible within a strict and well-enforced legislative framework.

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

On Lab Animal Day, Belgian science unites in support of animal research

This blog was also published on Huffington Post UK.

World Day for Laboratory Animals on 24 April was originally established by animal rights activists to raise awareness for the fate of animals in laboratories. Every year on that day, they organise demonstrations and petitions against animal research. But this time, on behalf of 24 research institutions in Belgium, we wanted to raise awareness of the important biomedical research that would not be possible without research using animals. Continue reading

Belgian research organisations unite in support of animal research

We are proud to announce the release today of a Statement in support of animal research and a transparent approach in Belgium to mark World Day for Laboratory Animals (April 24th). Signed by 24 research organisations, the statement sees public and private research institutions from all three regions in Belgium unite in a pledge for openness on animal research. Continue reading