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University of Munster launches Principles document on the ethical treatment of animals in testing.

The University of Münster, in Germany, has launched its Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Scientific Research and Teaching, as part of the institution’s approach to greater transparency on the issue of animal research.

Part of this initiative has been to invite journalists to visit the university’s European Institute for Molecular Imaging (EIMI) and the Central Institute for Animal Experiments (ZTE), which houses rats, pigs, zebra fish and 14 white rabbits for courses on animal testing. this article is reproduced from the university’s website.

Dr. Sonja Schelhaas, who works at the European Institute for Molecular Imaging at Münster University, answers questions from ZEIT editor Fritz Habekuß during the journalists’ visit.

BEHIND THE SCENES: JOURNALISTS VISIT THE ANIMAL TESTING LAB
AT MUNSTER UNIVERSITY

“The white mouse has been anaesthetized. Its little legs have been fixed to a heating plate by means of adhesive strips, and a large amount of gel has been spread over its clean-shaven breast. An ultrasound probe is positioned overhead, and Richard Holtmeier, a member of the team at the European Institute for Molecular Imaging (EIMI) at the University of Münster is using this to study how the mouse copes with a plastic catheter which has been inserted into its carotid artery. Sources of infection inside the body can be seen on the screen of the ultrasound device.

“We can’t see inflammations without using optical imaging,” says Prof. Michael Schäfers, the Director of EIMI. The researchers use this experiment to try and find out why bacteria collect on artificial implants such as hips or knees. The experiment lasts ten minutes, and afterwards Richard Holtmeier carefully puts the mouse in the storage box. “We need animal testing because we can’t carry out the experiments on humans,” Schäfer explains. “It takes a very long time before our findings can be used for the benefit of patients.” During any series of experiments a mouse is used, on average, two and a half times. After this, the animal is killed and tissue is removed from it for further research.

In the lab there are seven journalists from newspapers and a news agency who have been invited here by the Münster University Press Office. Full of curiosity, they watch the EIMI staff at work. A hubbub of voices fills the cramped room. Everyone is wearing a white coat, everyone has to watch out for the others in the room. While the researchers around Michael Schäfers describe their daily work and demonstrate three experiments involving imaging, the journalists go about their own work: asking questions, making plenty of notes. The reason for the journalists’ visit is the unanimous vote by the University Senate in October to adopt the six-page “Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Scientific Research and Teaching”.

Call for greater transparency
Seeing journalists in an animal testing laboratory at the University of Münster is something that would have been unimaginable until just recently. Over the past few years, though, there have been ever louder demands – from both inside and outside the University – for greater transparency. Calls for a debate came not only from among students, but also from scientists and researchers who advocated more openness. The idea of drawing up a set of principles was born and was supported by the Rectorate. On the “Coordination Committee for Animal Testing”, whose members came from a variety of disciplines, there then followed some lengthy, painstaking wrangling to reach agreement on content and wording.

The Principles were to be presented to the Senate in 2016. The Committee informed the University Press Office. One thing was clear: publicly, the Principles should be made as widely known as possible. But it was also clear that it would be difficult to persuade external journalists to come to Münster for a press briefing just to hear about these Principles. For journalists, it is incomparably more interesting to see and experience what the issue is all about. Thus it was that the idea was born of combining a press briefing with discussions and a look inside an animal testing laboratory. The Press Office had already worked out the plans with the researchers involved when the preparations had to be halted. The reason was that the Senate asked for a public hearing to be held before the Principles were adopted. And so the thought of any PR work was put on hold until then.

Two standpoints, one set of principles
The public hearing followed in 2017. In October the Senate voted for the Principles to be adopted – without any objections or votes against. The Press Office and the researchers now resumed their plans for a press event. The result can be seen today, on this day in November, with the seven journalists who have come to visit EIMI. Before everyone can take a look inside the lab, there is first a press briefing. After a look inside the lab, the next step will be a visit to the Central Institute for Animal Experiments at the Faculty of Medicine.

It is clear even before the Principles are presented that animal experiments are a controversial issue. Biophysician Prof. Stefan Schlatt is the spokesperson for the Coordination Committee for Animal Testing. He also uses monkeys in his research work – and does so because he wants to help people. In contrast to Stefan Schlatt, Committee member Dr. Johann Ach – a philosopher undertaking research into ethical problems in modern medicine and into animal ethics – considers most animal experiments to be “ethically unacceptable”. Two opposing opinions which are taken up and included in the journalists’ reports.

“Some honesty at last”
Despite their differing standpoints, both Stefan Schlatt and Johann Ach put forward their concerns in a level-headed and constructive manner. Several questions are raised on the practicability of implementing the Principles. After all, the paper can include all sorts of things, but how can it be verified that researchers at the University take seriously the moral responsibility they have towards sentient creatures? The paper provides a framework for guidance, says Johann Ach, and time alone will tell whether it proves itself in practise. The Principles are not something that only research staff and those responsible for animal testing should adhere to – the University’s Rectorate also firmly supports them. “These Principles have the support of the Rectorate, and have been voted for by the Senate, and the University thereby wishes to make it clear where it stands on this issue,” says Prof. Monika Stoll, Vice-Rector for Research, by way of clarification. The journalists seize on this message. In the next few days, the University’s stated intention is reflected in press headlines such as “Principles for Less Suffering” or “Some honesty at last”

Münster University wants a level-headed, public debate – for which PR work is necessary. In 2015 the Press Office had already made a first move towards greater assertiveness and transparency in dealing with the issue of animal testing. The occasion at the time was the opening of a second Animal Protection Centre at the University, which was set up at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences in addition to the existing Centre at the Faculty of Medicine. The Press Office published a two-page article on animal testing in the June issue of the University newspaper “wissen|leben”. The article included a debate between Stefan Schlatt and Johann Ach, in which they each put forward their opposing standpoints.

After the article was published, there followed a waiting game. What would happen now? Might the University’s image be damaged if journalists seized on the issue and reported on animal experiments at the University? And things could have turned nasty: everyone involved had in the back of their minds cases involving other German research institutes, where researchers had been personally attacked by radical animal rights activists. After a few weeks it became clear that … nothing would happen. Some praise here and there for the comprehensive reporting, but otherwise no reaction.

Seeing how animals are kept
Back to the journalists’ visit. After the press briefing and the visit to EIMI, the next topic to be dealt with is how animals are kept – because keeping animals for research purposes in appropriate conditions is also a responsibility that researchers have. The journalists get to see how animals are kept at the University of Münster when they visit the Central Institute for Animal Experiments (ZTE), which houses rats, pigs, zebra fish and 14 white rabbits for courses on animal testing. The rabbits live in small groups and can move around freely in three straw-bedded boxes.

Anyone entering the ZTE is met with a pungent smell of animal. Normally, visitors cannot enter the rooms just like that. The building is well secured – not least because germs must be prevented from entering it. This is why face masks, lab coats, gloves and shoe covers are compulsory for anyone coming into contact with animals. Marmosets and macaques jump around behind the bars of their cages. Before Stefan Schlatt lets the journalists into the room housing the macaques, he asks the group why they think the monkeys are staring at the blue door with the viewing window. There is a simple explanation: the monkeys are watching television, so that they are kept occupied. “Again and again there are discussions on how much TV is healthy in a day. Basically, our animals here are better off than in any standard form of accommodation for animals,” says Schlatt.

An unusual step
The issue of animal testing is controversial and will remain so. But ways of handling the issue are changing in many places. At Münster University, too, the issue is now more visible than in the past. 2017 saw the appointment to the University of Prof. Helene Richter, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Protection. The chair is the only one of its kind in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the things which the University of Münster is doing with its new Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals is to advocate greater transparency towards the public on the issue of animal testing. The visit to the lab at EIMI and the guided tour of the ZTE are a beginning, and one which one journalist described as “an unusual step”.

Christina Heimken and Kathrin Nolte

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.

End

 

Max Planck Society publishes White Paper on animal research

The Max Planck Society (MPS) in Germany has published a White Paper in which it outlines key ethical issues surrounding the use of animals in basic research. The Senate of the MPS has adopted the white paper as a declaration of principle.

White Paper: Animal Research in the Max Planck Society

The White Paper states why animal research is still a vital part of life sciences research, and explains the legal and ethical framework that regulates animal research at the Max Planck Society. Together with the 3Rs, these issues shape the approach to animal research throughout the Society.

Practically, the Max Planck Society has translated the ethical stance on animal research outlined in the White Paper into a number of commitments, including measures to increase animal welfare, encouraging and financing alternatives to the use of animals, and proactive engagement in professionalizing the public discourse on animal ethics.

In an important step the MPS has committed itself to open and proactive communications on the use of animals in research by explaining the research goals, the rationale for the application of certain methods and the outcome of the research projects to the public at large. In this way, the MPS intends to foster an informed dialogue between science and society on the use of animals in biomedical research. Continue reading