Tag Archives: cancer

Cancer studies see rise in use of animals in Netherlands research

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.’

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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.

Why Belgium still needs animal testing in the fight against cancer

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 every year.

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 many lives.

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 cheaper

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 immunotherapies.

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.

  • Reduction 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.
  • Refinement 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.
  • Replacement 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.

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Nobel Prize awarded for turning the immune system against cancer

This year’s Nobel Prize winners for Physiology or Medicine used animal models to develop their novel cancer therapy.

James P. Allison, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA, and Tasuku Honjo, of Kyoto University, Japan, discovered in mice a way of unleashing immune cells to attack tumours by turning off the safeguards in the immune system that prevent it from attacking human tissue.

In turn, new drugs can now be developed offering hope to patients with advanced and previously untreatable cancer. Immune checkpoint therapy is already used to treat people with the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma.

Cancer kills millions of people each year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. By stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system to attack tumour cells this year’s Nobel Laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy. Continue reading

Another year of medical achievements thanks to animal research

A look back by EARA at some of the important discoveries in recent times

The last year has once again seen an impressive list of medical achievements globally, as scientists find better treatments for devastating diseases.

Among the breakthroughs reported are:

  • Human trials are now closer for an Ebola vaccine with a team at UW–Madison School of Veterinary aiming to produce an experimental vaccine (March 2018) that has already been proven to work safely in monkeys.
  • Researchers at University College London have announced (Dec 2017) that there is now hope for a way to stop Huntington’s disease, described as the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases in 50 years.
  • 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded with help of fruit fly (drosophila) study. The discoveries of the group of scientists who worked on the project show how plants, animals and humans co-ordinate their biological rhythms with the Earth’s daily cycle.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “There is no doubt that we would not see the remarkable advances in biomedical research that have occurred recently, without the use of animals.

“While alternative methods to animal research, such as computer models and cell cultures are important, testing using animals remains the safest and most effective way to produce drugs and treatments for us all.”

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.

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First cases of cancer in naked mole-rats reported

Naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are remarkable animals that are widely studied in ageing, stroke and cancer research, thanks to their longevity, ability to survive in low-oxygen environments and resistance to developing cancer. But in a case study published in Veterinary Pathology at the start of this month, scientists submitted the first ever reports of full-blown cancer in two naked mole-rats.

Continue reading