Tag Archives: Kirk Leech

Ebola vaccine in use thanks to ‘curiosity-driven’ basic research

There was no known widespread outbreaks of Ebola when the vaccine was developed 15 years ago using animals, says Kirk Leech, EARA Executive Director.

There’s a worrying new Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — the second the country has faced since the largest-ever Ebola virus epidemic swept West Africa from 2014 to 2015.

The World Health Organization (WHO) learned about the new outbreak in early May, but suspects that, since April, a total of 44 people have been infected with Ebola including 23 deaths. Three of the deaths involved health care workers.

The experimental vaccine was created by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2003, the vaccine was shown to be effective in monkeys. However, because of a lack of pharmaceutical company interest before the West Africa outbreak, it literally sat on a shelf until it was licensed to Merck in 2014.

The Ebola vaccine, which it is hoped can stem the new outbreak, was developed when there was no public health emergency, and no known widespread outbreak of Ebola. There had only been 1500 cases registered world-wide in the previous three decades. The research involved, and the animals used, were essentially for curiosity-driven, basic research trying to understand, and not for some immediate clinical application.

Yes, we may now have an Ebola vaccine, but as important as this is, that’s not why the research using animals began. It began with a very human, but much maligned (especially when animals are involved) intellectual pursuit to better understand what keeps humans and animals alive and healthy.

Ebola is a viral disease that is transmitted to people from wild animals. The virus is thought to exist naturally in some fruit bats and can be transmitted to humans through bodily fluids of infected animals or through the consumption of ‘bush meat.’ Once the virus is introduced to the human population it spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people. Symptoms such as fever and bleeding from orifices can be seen after four to ten days, few people survive contact.

 

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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Scientists in Europe must take more responsibility for openness, says EARA executive director

Openness and transparency surrounding the use of animals in research is ‘still an Achilles Heel’ for the biomedical sector, a roundtable hosted by the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) last week has heard.

Speaking at the meeting, EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “The zeitgeist is openness and transparency for the biomedical sector, but this is still an Achilles Heel for many European institutions.”

The meeting in Brussels, brought together high-level representatives from bodies such as the European Brain Council, European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, European Society for Laboratory Animal Veterinarians, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, Federation for Laboratory Animal Science Associations, and Understanding Animal Research, to discuss how to implement EU Directive 2010/63, on the use of animals in scientific research, as effectively as possible.

Kirk Leech identified a number of areas where the implementation of the Directive could be improved to help a better understanding by the general public, including the presentation of annual animal statistics and the quality of the Non-Technical Summaries, provided when seeking a licence to carry out research using animals.

He added: “Scientists play a key role in openness as the general public is more likely to listen to their opinions above those of healthcare bodies or the activists.

“Yes, the message also needs to be communicated by patient groups and charities, but the biomedical sector is in no position to ask these groups to be open when we are not yet fully open ourselves.”

The roundtable, which included Susanna Louhimies, EU Policy Co-ordinator at DG Environment, agreed that the Directive was the best way to bring about the safe and effective use of animals in scientific research and also discussed how to improve education and training for the biomedical sector, the role of national animal welfare bodies and the reproducibility of study results.

FENS Forum to discuss openness and communications on animal research

Details have been released on the session on animal research communications that will take place at this year’s FENS Forum of Neuroscience, in Berlin, 7-11 July.

Featuring EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, the special interest event entitled Communicating Animal Research: Challenges and Opportunities, looks at how neuroscientists can counter opposition to their research work using animals from activist groups.

The biomedical research sector has often been hesitant and defensive in its response and the event will explain how proactive communications, and openness on animal research can encourage public trust.

Also on the programme of speakers at the event, will be Wolf Singer of the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience (an EARA member) and Cristina Marquez, of the Institute of Neuroscience, Alicante, Spain. FENS, is the voice of European neuroscience and represents close to 23,000 European neuroscientists and the Forum will be its major event this year.

Kirk Leech (right) said: “There is a growing understanding in the biomedical research sector that being more open and transparent about the use of animals in research can improve public understanding and acceptance, however the need for a collective commitment, including better information to the media and the general public is also important.

Wolf Singer (right) will talk on the Ethical Implications of Animal Experimentation in Basic Research. He looks at how the acquisition of knowledge has an ethical value in itself despite the difficulty of proving that the expected gain of knowledge will contribute directly to the alleviation of conditions that cause suffering.

In Cristina Marquez’s talk, Neuroscience Outreach for +3 to 99 year-old, she shares her personal experiences of organising outreach activities for all ages, communicating her research in social decision-making in rodents.

The event will take place on Sunday, 8 July, 12:30-13:30.

Join the Webinar on steps to transparency and openness in the U.S.

FREE WEBINAR
Tuesday, 6 February, 11am (U.S.Eastern)
Topic: How to advance public acceptance of research with animals in the U.S. through greater transparency and openness.
Joining details
The National Primate Research Centers is hosting this webinar as a precursor to more detailed discussions at the 5th International Basel Declaration Society Conference in San Francisco, February 14-15.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, will open the webinar with a brief presentation about the European approach followed by a moderated a discussion on ways the scientific community can improve public support in the U.S. for animal research.

There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest those who conduct research with animals are failing to improve public acceptability of animal research in the United States. Recent polling also suggests that when animal research is put into context, such as highlighting the specific disease areas and potential advances being investigated using animal models, support rises substantially. Thus, the need for the scientific community to more consistently communicate the continuing need for animal research to the public is apparent.
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