Tag Archives: non-human primates

Germany sees 7% rise in animal research procedures in 2016

This article first appeared in Speaking of Research 06/02/18

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft) has produced its 2016 annual statistics on animal research procedures for Germany. These statistics have seen some big changes from previous years and we will attempt to show comparisons according to the different methodologies used. Germany produces two sets of data as part of the Animal Protection Act.

  • 7(2) – procedures on animals
  • 4(3) – animals killed solely for tissues or organs without any prior procedures

A mouse procedure

Historically, Germany has used data from animals used under both §7(2) and §4(3) of the Animal Protection Act to create a dataset of animals used in research. This dataset was broken down by varying categories including use, severity, genetic status and more. This year, while the old totals can be seen, the main datasets are numbers of procedures on animals, excluding animals killed for tissues or organs (under §4(3)). This newer methodology puts Germany in line with the EU reporting requirements for animals in research – allowing for easier comparisons between countries.

 

In 2016, Germany reported 2,189,261 procedures on animals, up 7.1% from 2015. The number of animals is slightly lower at 2,131,448 (due to some animals being used in more than one procedure during 2016).

There was a large rise in the use of fish (266,502 +72%) and birds (47,256 +20%), while rabbit use dropped (98,339 -11%). There were falls in the use of dogs (3,976 -11%), cats (766 -31%) and primates (2,418 -22%), which together accounted for less than 0.4% of all procedures.

The number of animals used, including those used for harvesting tissues and organs (but not used in any procedure), rose 1.6% to 2,796,773 animals. The fact this rise was smaller than the rise in procedures was because the number of animals used for harvesting tissues/organs dropped 12% from 754,997 (2015) to 665,325 (2016). This may reflect more effective efforts to share tissues/organs to ensure the most use can be made of any single animal killed for this purpose.

Mice are disproportionally used for harvesting tissues/organs, while cats were not used at all for this purpose, dogs only used once, and primates only 44 times.

Mice, fish and rats together accounted for around 90% of all animal procedures in Germany in 2016. Germany remains one of the few European countries where rabbits are the fourth most commonly used species in 2016. Dogs, cats and primates accounted for 0.32% of all animals, despite a doubling in the number of animals used for these species.

In previous years, Germany conducted its retrospective assessment and reporting on severity using numbers of animals. This year, in line with EU reporting requirements, they are done by procedure. This means comparisons to 2015 are meaningless as a large chunk of “non-recovery” procedures (all those where animals are killed for harvesting tissues without any procedure prior) are removed. Overall 71.7% were Non-recovery (234,679) or Mild (1,334,894), 23.1% were Moderate (504,864) and (114,824) were Severe.

Other interesting information provided by the annual statistical release includes:

  •     99% of animals used were bred within the EU [Table 3]
  •     The main purpose of research procedures was “Basic Research” (53.7%), followed by “Regulatory use and Routine production” (25.4%), and “Translational and Applied Research” (14.2%) [Table 9]
  •     Two-thirds (64.9%) of the total dogs, cats and primate procedures were used for Regulatory testing. A quarter (23.6%) were used for Translational and Applied Research [Table 9]
  •     42.4% of animals were genetically altered, compared with 63.6% which were not. Over 97% of the genetically altered animals were mice or zebrafish [Table 20]

Source of German Statistics: https://www.bmel.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/Tier/Tierschutz/Versuchstierdaten2016.pdf?__blob=publicationFile

See previous years’ reports:

  2015
    2014
  2013

END

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

 

Hundreds of scientists sign letter supporting primates in neuroscience

Over 400 primate and neuroscience researchers signed a letter supporting the use of non-human primates in neuroscience, which was published in the Guardian today. Coordinated by Understanding Animal Research (UAR), the letter emphasises the key role that primate research has played and continues to play in vital neuroscience research. EARA signed the letter alongside 20 other institutions, as well as reaching out to our networks in Europe to gain further support. The letter can still be signed via this link.

The letter is a timely response to mounting pressure by animal rights groups against the use of non-human primates in biomedical research. Last week, the Independent published a letter coordinated by Cruelty Free International denouncing primate research, and earlier this year, the Australian Senate rejected a proposed ban on importing non-human primates for scientific research. The UAR letter is the latest in a series of efforts from the scientific community to underline the importance of this type of research, including the Foundation of Biomedical Research’s White Paper on primate research and the National Institutes of Health workshop held last week.

Kirk Leech, EARA’s Executive Director, said:

“NHP research continues to underpin our understanding of brain processes and debilitating brain conditions and allows assessing the efficiency and safety of a candidate drug. Animal research, in particular with regard to primates, is highly regulated on legal and ethical grounds as enshrined in European Directive 2010/63.

“Out of the 4.14 million procedures completed in the UK in 2015, only 0.16% were performed on primates, which accounts for 3,600 procedures. This number does not even represent the real number of primates used in procedures, since some animals undergo several procedures to reduce the use of animals. Out of this small proportion, only 0.8% were classified as severe. 

“Accurate and contrasted information is necessary to ensure a balanced dialogue that considers all risks and opportunities involved, especially in such a contentious issue as using primates in neuroscience research. We encourage and support the scientific community in the quest to provide timely and truthful information to promote scientific research.”

Full text of the letter:

Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of 50 medical advances from the last 50 years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.

The biological similarities between humans and other primates mean that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than 10 million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over 200,000 Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to deep brain stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980s and 1990s.

Given that primates are intelligent and sensitive animals, such research requires a higher level of ethical justification. The scientific community continues to work together to minimise the suffering of primates wherever possible. We welcome the worldwide effort to replace, refine and reduce the use of primates in research.

We, the undersigned, believe that if we are to effectively combat the scourge of neurodegenerative and other crippling diseases, we will require the careful and considered use of nonhuman primates. Stringent regulations across the developed world exist to ensure that primates are only used where there is no other available model – be that the use of a mouse or a non-animal alternative – and to protect the wellbeing of those animals still required. The use of primates is not undertaken lightly. However, while not all primate research results in a new treatment, it nonetheless plays a role in developing both the basic and applied knowledge that is crucial for medical advances.

For an up-to-date list of the signatories to the letter, see the website of Understanding Animal Research.

Studying the Zika virus in rhesus macaques

The 2016 Olympic Games are due to begin in Rio de Janeiro this weekend. In the lead-up to this year’s Games, the Zika virus has never been far from the headlines. A number of top golfers and basketball players have decided to pull out and other athletes have also expressed their concerns, despite the risk to anyone who is not pregnant being minimal. As it is not currently mosquito season in Brazil, experts say the Olympics will not accelerate the spread of the virus.

It is thought the epidemic has reached its peak in Latin America and will slowly burn out over the next few years. Still, there have been over 60,000 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Brazil since the outbreak began in early 2015 and the virus has reached Europe, with the first baby with Zika-related microcephaly born in Spain. Mosquitoes in Florida have now also been seen to transmit the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US have issued a travel warning for Florida.

Dr Koen Van Rompay, D.V.M. Ph.D., virologist at the California National Primate Research Center

Dr Koen Van Rompay, virologist at the California National Primate Research Center, studies the Zika virus in monkeys

The Zika virus remains a prominent public health concern and a priority for the biosciences. In March, EARA spoke to Dr Koen van Rompay, who helped to develop and test the anti-viral drug tenofovir, which is currently the most frequently used HIV drug in the world. We interviewed him on the day before he and his team at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) infected two female rhesus macaques with Zika virus to understand how the disease progresses. We asked him about his current study on the Zika virus, why he uses primate models in his work and how he responds to critics of animal research. Continue reading

Australian Senate rejects bill to ban the importation of non-human primates

Last week, the Australian Senate released their report in response to a proposed law amendment to ban the importation of non-human primates to Australia for the purposes of scientific research. After receiving submissions opposing the bill from scientific organisations and individuals from around the globe, including EARA, the Senate has decided not to pass the bill. Continue reading

Babies’ sight restored thanks to new surgical technique first tested in animals

Thanks to an innovative new surgery first tested in rabbits and macaques, twelve babies born with cataracts have regained their sight.

The current way of treating cataracts is to surgically remove the clouded-over lenses and to replace them with artificial ones. But Kang Zhang and his colleagues at the Shiley Eye Institute at the University of California in San Diego found that stem cells around the lens can regrow healthy lenses if left undamaged by the surgery.

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Rhesus macaques taught to control wheelchairs by thought alone

From Professor Miguel Nicolelis’ lab at Duke University in North Carolina – the team of researchers behind the exoskeleton which enabled a paraplegic patient to kick off the 2014 football World Cup – now comes news of two rhesus macaques which have been taught to control a wheelchair using thought alone. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday. Continue reading

Australian scientist stands up for primate research

There is currently a bill before the Australian Parliament, introduced by Green Party senator Lee Rhiannon, proposing to ban the importation of non-human primates (NHPs) for research purposes.

Image: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Image: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

In preparation for the hearing of the bill in Parliament in February, the European Animal Research Association helped mobilise the European scientific community to stand up in support of NHP research. Continue reading

The Research Animals That Have Made A Difference

Over the last 40 years, every Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine but one has depended on work using animals. From modern vaccines that protect us against polio, TB and meningitis, to the development of Tamoxifen that has led to a 30% fall in death rates from breast cancer, the role of research animals cannot be underestimated.

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