Tag Archives: Germany

Pig hearts and human ingenuity

Animal-to-human transplants are on the horizon.

In an article that first appeared in Spiked, academic and author Stuart Derbyshire, applauds the progress towards xenotransplantation.

In August 1979, British surgeon Terence English successfully completed the first heart transplant in the UK. This month he was making headlines again by predicting that we will be successfully transplanting hearts grown in pigs into human patients by 2022.

The transplantation of organs from animals into humans, known as xenotransplantation, would be a huge benefit to those waiting for transplants. There are currently around 6,000 people on the UK transplant waiting list, and over 400 of them died waiting last year. Donor pools are simply insufficient to meet demand.

The insufficiency is getting worse for at least two (good) reasons. First, transplantation techniques are improving, and that means ever greater numbers of patients are becoming eligible for transplantation, increasing demand on donor pools. Secondly, the safety, health and longevity of everyone is improving, meaning that the pool of young, healthy, eligible donor organs is shrinking. Solutions other than human-to-human transplantation are necessary to meet the demand-and-supply gap.

One solution is xenotransplantation, and a report from a team of surgeons in Germany last December brought that solution much closer to fruition. The team transplanted pig hearts into three groups of baboons. Four baboons made up the first group and the results were poor. Three of them survived only one day, and the last survived just 30 days.

For the second group, the team introduced a procedure to prevent the heart being damaged in the transition from the pig to the baboon. Typically, the removed heart is placed into an ice-cold storage solution before transplantation, but that procedure can result in damage to the heart when blood is recirculated through the heart. Noting such damage in the hearts of the first group, the team intermittently pumped blood through the hearts before they were transplanted for the second group.

The four baboons in the second group demonstrated improved outcomes. One transplant failed on the fourth day because of a technical error, but the other three baboons lived for 18, 27 and 40 days respectively. The critical problem preventing longer survival in this second group was that the hearts grew too large.

Further modifications of the procedure for a third group prevented the overgrowth of the heart. Pigs have reduced blood pressure relative to baboons and a higher blood pressure stimulates heart growth. Thus the baboons were given antihypertensive drugs to lower their blood pressure. The baboons were also taken off steroid treatment more rapidly. The steroid cortisol is typically used in transplantation to help prevent organ rejection, but it can also cause the heart to grow. Finally, they gave the baboons a drug that directly reduced heart growth by stifling cell proliferation.

Five baboons were included in the third group. One baboon developed complications and was euthanised after 51 days. The remaining four lived healthily for three months, which was the original intended endpoint of the experiment. The team, however, extended the experiment for two of the baboons who both lived in a good general condition for over six months.

Those survival rates are dramatic and important. The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation suggested in 2000 that an animal survival rate of 60 per cent, with at least 10 animals surviving to three months, and with indication of potential for longer survival, would be enough to justify human clinical trials for xenotransplantation. The German study goes some way to meeting those criteria, and is the basis for Sir Terence’s optimism about human trials commencing by 2022.

There will still be significant hurdles to overcome before and during those clinical trials. Pig-to-human transplantation will face similar issues to pig-to-baboon transplantation. Human blood pressure, for example, is also lower than that of pigs, and human hearts are also smaller. A concern more unique to pig-to-human transplantation is the potential for cross-species infection with what are called porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs).

Those concerns, however, are likely overstated. We already place many pig products into the human body as part of other treatments and procedures, with almost zero evidence of PERV transmission. Moreover, pigs can be controlled, monitored and modified such that they are actually much safer than human donors. Modifying pigs with the genome editing technology CRISPR, for example, means that researchers can rear pigs without PERVs, eliminating any lingering concerns about infection. Such modification and control of human donors is, of course, impossible.

Another concern will be the use of animals to support human health, which animal-rights activists will view as immoral. I hope that view is quickly sidelined; as Sir Terence commented, ‘if you can save a life isn’t that maybe a bit better?’. It’s not just a bit better, it’s immensely better that humanity uses the resources of the natural world to prevent human suffering and premature death.

According a moral significance to animals and denying life to those awaiting transplantation reflects a profoundly anti-humanist view of society. The research that has got us to the point of being within reach of harvesting animal organs to save human lives itself expresses the ingenuity and moral worth of people over animals.

Stuart Derbyshire is an associate professor at the National University of Singapore Department of Psychology and Clinical Imaging Research Centre,

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EARA website study shows much more progress is needed to improve openness on animal research in Germany

A study by the European Animal Research Association (EARA), of websites of biomedical research bodies in Germany, assessing how they discuss research using animals, has found that the sector is still some way from an acceptable level of openness and transparency in animal research.

EARA assessed a total of 151 institutional websites in Germany during 2018, both public and private bodies, such as universities and pharmaceutical companies, and a rating system was developed to analyse the data. The main findings were that:

  • Just a third (34%) of the institutions conducting animal research carry a recognisable statement on their websites explaining the use of animals in research/animal welfare.
  • Just over half the websites assessed (55%) meet the criterion for providing ‘more information’, for instance by including the kind of animals used.
  • Well under a third (28%) of the websites can be considered to have prominent mentions of animal research – such as recognisable statements within three clicks of the homepage.

A total of 1,219 institutional websiteswithin the EU[1] were assessed and the findings from the EARA Study of EU-based websites 2018have now been presented to the EU Commission, which is currently examining the findings.

In comparison to Germany, the percentage of institutions that displayed a statement on the use of animals in research in other countries was – France 32%, Italy 39%, Spain 84% and UK 95%.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “We believe the sector in Germany needs to make greater use of all opportunities to be more accessible and to be more transparent with the public. Whilst progress has been made by many institutions, much more could be done.

“Our view is that the websites of the institutions that we assessed will play an increasingly important role in informing members of the public, media, decision-makers and regulators about the use of animals in research, their welfare and the benefits of biomedical science for humans and animals”

The website study has helped EARA identify areas of good practice on communications and openness in the life sciences sector and areas where improvement is needed. It will also help EARA provide guidance on best practice to all its member organisations and the sector as a whole across Europe and build on the advice already given to EARA members in the EARA Communications Handbook.

The study is therefore a tool that can then be used to encourage greater transparency in line with the recommendations made in Section 3 of the Review of Directive 2010/63/EU in November 2017.

Using the documentation and techniques developed in the course of this study, EARA intends in future years to revisit the websites involved and chart the improvement (or otherwise) of the institutional openness of the sector as a whole.

For further information contact EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, btolliday@eara.eu on +44 (0)20 3675 1245 or +44 (0)7970 132801

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[1] A further 100 websites from non-EU countries were assessed.

Chancellor Merkel backs new German research centre

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.

Speakers announced for free EARA event in Plön, Germany

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

Max Planck Institute, in Plön, 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.

Improving openness in animal research in Germany – watch the videos

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

Germany statistics on 2017 animal use released

The total number of animals used in research in 2017 in Germany was 2.8 million, a similar level to 2015 and 2016, the latest figures reveal.

Germany is second only to the UK in its use of animals – in 2014, the total used was 3.3 million.

The figures, sent to the European Commission, show the vast majority of animals involved in the tests were rodents – 1.37 million mice and 255,000 rats.

Among other figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, 3,300 dogs and 718 cats were also used. 

German media focused (and in German) also on the rise in experiments using monkeys – up to 3,472 from 2,462 in the previous year.

Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner, was quoted as saying: “I want the number of experiments on animals to be continuously reduced. Animals are fellow creatures and they deserve our sympathy.”

Basic research: ‘as necessary as human curiosity’ says brain scientist

A leading brain scientist has made a passionate argument for basic research at a packed event, hosted by EARA, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, this week (17 December 2018).

Prof. Dr. Gilles Laurent, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (MPI), said: “I do research to find out how the brain works. It’s part of human activity and curiosity and it’s a motivation to conduct science that I believe holds on its own.”

Reflecting on his own work with reptiles, rodents and cephalopods, Laurent compared current extent of human knowledge of the brain to an ant’s grasp of chemistry.

The Professor’s talk (pictured) was the third event in EARA’s Improving Openness in Animal Research in Germany series, supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).


Prof Dr. Gilles Laurent, of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt

Opening the event, EARA Executive Director Kirk Leech, explained how the tactics and actions of activists in Germany had drastically altered in the last 10 years. Continue reading

Speakers announced for free EARA event in Frankfurt

A full list of speakers is now available for the next in a series of science communications events to be held at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, in Frankfurt am Main, on 17 December..

The free event (register here) will discuss improving openness and communications with the general public, political decision makers and opinion formers. Continue reading

Remaining silent about the use of animals in research is a greater risk than speaking out, German audience is told

An event on communication in animal research in Germany this week has called on more scientists to step forward and raise awareness.

Attended by more than 80 members of the biomedical community, a panel of experts from research, animal welfare and the science media came together to discuss the topic, Improving Openness in Animal Research in Germany, at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), in Tübingen. The event was supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).

Setting the scene, EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said that while progress had been made in Germany on communication there is still a significant reluctance within many academic institutions, and amongst scientists, towards conducting a more open and consistent dialogue with the public.

‘If you are in public research you have to expect that the general public will take an interest in what you do,’ he added.

Expanding on the theme, Nancy Erickson (pictured), qualified vet and animal welfare officer at, Freie Universität Berlin, and a member of animal research awareness group Pro-Test Germany, reminded the audience that: ‘By remaining silent we do create a space for misconceptions about animal research.

‘If you are only communicating in a defensive mode then you are in a difficult situation. When you are proactive you can use the quiet times to build trust with the public.’ Continue reading

Speakers announced for EARA/FENS communications event in Germany

Improving Openness and Animal Research in Germany – Free satellite event, Thursday, 12 July, FENS/EARA

The list of speakers for the free satellite event at the FENS Forum of Neuroscience has now been confirmed.

The event will discuss improving openness on animal research in communications with the general public, political decision makers and opinion formers in Germany. To attend please register here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/improving-openness-and-animal-research-in-germany-tickets-45287347676

  • Kirk Leech, Executive Director, European Animal Research Association
    Kirk is Executive Director of EARA, th communications and advocacy organisation whose mission is to uphold the interests of biomedical research and healthcare development across Europe. Previously Kirk worked for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and  Understanding Animal Research, the UK’s leading advocacy group on the use of animals in medical research.
  • Dr. Andreas Lengeling, Animal Research & Welfare Officer, Max-Planck-Society
    Andreas, studied Biology at the University of Bielefeld and is the new animal research and animal welfare officer of the Max-Planck Society. He is responsible for the implementation of the society’s recent white paper on animal research. His role involves the support of 30 Max-Planck Institutes in all aspects of animal experimentation, which carry out life sciences in the society.
  • Volker Stollorz, Science Media Center, Germany
    Volker studied biology and philosophy at the University of Cologne and in 2015, became the founding CEO of the Science Media Center, a non-for profit organization that helps journalists find scientific expertise when science hits the headlines.
  • Dr.Thomas Kammertöns, Max-Delbrück-Center, Berlin
    Thomas is a staff scientist at the Institute of Immunology, Charité University Medical Centre, Berlin, and is interested in how the immune system influences the process of carcinogenesis.

Event details  Continue reading