Author Archives: Speaking of Research

Canada Releases 2012 Animal Use Statistics

Earlier this month the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) released its report on the number of animals used in Canada for scientific purposes. The CCAC is an independent oversight body that oversees the ethical use of animals in research. They also develop guidelines and promote training programs to ensure that all individuals involved in animal research or welfare are properly trained before being allowed to work with the animals. The CCAC reports that in 2012, 2,889,009 animals were used for research, teaching and testing in Canada. This is down 444,680 animals, from 3,333,689 animals that were used in 2011. These numbers include all vertebrates and Cephalapods, but do not include invertebrates like fruit flies or nematode worms. Animals can be used in more than one protocol provided these additional protocols do not result in pain.

2012 Canadian Animal research and testing Graph

Mice (43.2%), fish (28.8%), rats (7.8%) and birds (6.6%) were the most common species, together accounting for 86% of animals used. These numbers represent a shift in the type of animal used, as fish have been the animal most frequently used by Canadian institutions for the past three years. The majority of animals (61%) were used in studies of a fundamental nature/basic research, representing 1,815,083 animals. There has been significant changes to the reporting methodology utilized to analyze the current data and the CCAC made the following statement with respect to the 2012, report:

“Due to these differences in data management and reporting, it is not possible to make accurate comparisons with CCAC PAU and CI data from previous years.”

2012 Canadian Research and Testing Table

More information about animal research in Canada can be found within the Speaking of Research Media Briefing Notes for Canada.


5 Minutes with an Animal Care Facility Coordinator

Richard Marble, an Animal Care Facility Coordinator at Ferris State University, is a dedicated and experienced Animal Technologist who takes his responsibility of caring for the animals in his care seriously.  Following a guest post (It’s All About the Animals) in which Richard wrote giving insight into what is it like being an animal facility manager, he agreed to do an interview with Speaking of Research member, Jazzminn Hembree.

Richard opened up about his responsibilities in caring for animal welfare, and how he oversees all activities taking place within the facility as he seeks to improve animal welfare.  Many improvements have occurred during his time in the field, such as changes in housing and environmental enrichment. Richard explains

Research is like an enigma. Even those of us in the field do not like utilizing animals for research, but until such time as they are no longer necessary- the passionate people in this field are going to go out of their way to give them the best life they can.

Watch the video as he discusses:

  • How he is responsible for Animal Welfare?
  • What improvements he has seen in animal welfare over the past 15 years?
  • How he factors the 3R’s (Reduce, Refine, Replace) into his daily activities?
  • How he thinks animal welfare will improve in the future?

Why People Are Wrong to Oppose the New UK Beagle Breeding Facility

This post was originally posted on Huffington Post UK’s website. It is reprinted with permission from both the author and the Huffington Post. The original hyperlinks which were stripped out of the HP article have been returned.

Where do medicines come from?

It’s not a question most of us bother with when we take advantage of the huge array of medical treatments available to us.

All modern medicine is built on the ‘basic research’ which allows us to understand our physiology, and the diseases we suffer. Much of this research has been done, and continues to be done, in animals. Had Mering and Minkowski not shown the causal link between the pancreas and diabetes in dogs, we might never have discovered insulin (much more work was conducted in dogs by Banting and Best who later won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin). Had Pasteur not shown how dogs could be vaccinated using weakened samples of the virus (made from rabbits), we would not have both the veterinary and human rabies vaccines.

Animals are also used to develop and refine medical techniques. Dogs played a key role in perfecting artery to vein blood transfusions, as well as showing that citrated blood could be safely transplanted (thus preventing the blood from clotting). More recently, 23 pet dogs with paralysing spinal injuries were able to regain some use of their rear legs thanks to a novel stem cell transplant treatment. This research had originally been done in rats, and last year was used to successfully treat a paralysed man in what could prove to be one of the biggest medical advances of the decade.

By law, animals must also be used to test the toxicity and safety of new drug compounds before they can be given to human volunteers. A pharmaceutical company will have used the findings of basic research studies to identify types of drugs which might be effective against certain diseases. They will then use a variety of non-animal tests – computer modelling, cell cultures and more – to identify the most promising drug candidates. Those compounds will then be tested in animals. If they are deemed safe enough, they may then be moved forward to human trials. It is testament to the effectiveness of animal safety tests that nobody has died in Phase I clinical trials in the UK for over 30 years (with only one badly conducted clinical trial causing severe harm in recent times).

Given public misconceptions on the issue, it is worth being clear and saying that in the UK, and across the rest of the EU, it is illegal to use animals to test cosmetic products or their ingredients. The UK ban came into force in 1998, one year after a ban on tobacco research using animals. The Government has also announced a ban on using animals for testing household products.

Graph - Milestones in Animal Research

So what about dogs?

Laboratory DogsDespite the examples used in this article, dogs are not used that much in research in the UK. They account for less than 0.1% of all animals used in the UK each year. This compares to the 98% of procedures which are conducted on mice, rats, fish or birds. In 2013 there were 3,554 dogs used in 4,779 procedures (down 30% from a decade ago). Due to special protections that exist for dogs, cats, primates and horses, researchers must justify to the Home Office why another species, such as a mouse, fish or sheep, cannot be used instead of a dog. The research must be approved by an ethical review board, who will work to ensure the implementation of the 3Rs (Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research). The researcher, the institution and the individual procedure must each be licensed by the Home Office. The video below, produced by Understanding Animal Research, shows dogs in a typical pharmaceutical laboratory in the UK.

So why a breeding facility?

Currently, around 20% of the dogs used in research in the UK are imported from abroad (those involved in 956 of the 4,779 procedures in 2013). This is because the UK breeding facilities cannot provide all the dogs used in the UK. These dogs have to endure long and potentially stressful flights from other countries. Surely it is better to breed them here in the UK, where we have some of the highest standards of laboratory animal welfare in the world and where our facilities can be easily monitored by the Animals in Science Regulation Unit inspectors? The new breeding facility offers animal welfare standards above and beyond those demanded by the Government. Dogs will be kept in socially housed groups in multi-level pens which can be joined together to create larger runs for the animals. All the animals will have toys and enrichment in their enclosures, and will interact with trained laboratory technicians every day. It is this sort of investment in animal welfare we, as an animal-loving nation, should embrace.

Petitioning the Government to reverse their decision on approving the beagle facility in Hull is misguided. It will not reverse our need to use animals in research, or even change the number of dogs used in the UK. What it will do is force another generation of puppies to take long flights from other countries, having been bred in older breeding facilities away from the UK inspectorate.

Animal research may not be something we want to think about when we take our medicines – but it is something necessary for those medicines to exist. Instead of trying to ban animal research, let’s instead make sure that if we do it, we do it to world-class standards.

Tom Holder

Director of Speaking of Research

Ireland releases 2014 animal research statistics

In our effort to build a comprehensive picture of animal research statistics worldwide, our latest post is on the recently released (permanent link) statistics for Ireland. These are compiled by the Health Products Regulatory Authority of Ireland (HPRA). These statistics are produced in accordance with EU Directive 2010/63 which regulates animal research across EU countries.

The restrictions and standards set by the Directive are expected to enhance animal welfare and ensure that animals are used in studies only when their use is  strongly justified and following independent assessment. The Directive firmly anchors in EU Legislation the 3Rs,  i.e. Replacement, Reduction and Refinement.

The total number of animals used for the first time was 224,249 in 2014,  down almost 20% from 2013. The total number of procedures was slightly higher at 226,684. These numbers include all vertebrates and Cephalapods, but do not include invertebrates like fruit flies or nematode worms.

Unlike countries, like the UK and US, basic research is a much smaller portion of overall research (15%) in Ireland whereas ‘Toxicity and other safety testing’ is larger, accounting for over 61% of all Irish procedures on animals.

Animal Research in Ireland in 2014

95% of animals used in research were rodents (mainly mice). Dogs and cats, combined, accounted for only 0.05% of the total number of animals, and no primates were used at all.

The full Irish statistical document provides information on the source of the animals, the different types of research (broken down in different ways, such as by body system) and the severity – providing a good picture of what research goes on in Ireland.

While the number of animals used is down from the previous year, the HPRA warn about jumping to conclusions on any trend:

The HPRA also advises that in respect of the HPRA’s 2013 data, it would be unsound to directly compare this data as it is only the second year of a new reporting structure to which reporters are getting better acquainted to the changed reporting requirements and provisions required. Extreme caution should be applied therefore in any attempt to draw comparisons to previous years’ figures.

We look forward to seeing another high quality statistical release next year.

Speaking of Research

German Outreach Done Right

The German Primate Center (DPZ) have been producing some excellent resources to show how their primates are housed. This sort of outreach goes a long way to helping understand the lengths that institutions will go to ensure that high standards of animal welfare are maintained for their primates.

The first resource is an interactive tour of the DPZ facility. The website allows users to se pictures of the facility, and discover key information about the site. There are approximately 1300 primates currently kept at the facility, 75% of which are either rhesus macaques or common marmosets – both common research animals.

It isn’t just information about the animals which is provided. The tour explains why staff and visitors must change their shoes as they walk around the facility, and how clothes are decontaminated between areas. While such practices are very normal for researchers and animal care staff, they can seem quite alien, and even intimidating, for those who are less used to the laboratory environment. The tour answers questions about how often cages are cleaned (daily), how sunlight is regulated, what sort of enrichment exists, and much more.

Animal research facility at DPZ

The breakout boxes provide more information about aspects of animal welfare, facility management and the animals themselves.

How does the environment influence animal behaviour

The captive environment should allow and encourage natural behavior as shown by the species in the wild. This can be behaviors and postures like leaping, climbing, hanging upside-down, and running as well as clinging or jumping. The artificial environment should also allow all social behaviors like grooming, playing, huddling or the display of dominance, which is very important to all primate societies.

DPZ have also produced a video (in English) showing the work being done at their Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. The video looks at research which aims to understand the filtering process (selective attention) in brain processing – “what are its consequences, what is its neural basis, and what happens if there is a malfunction in that system”. It includes both the human and primate research.

The video is fantastic, showing how the primates are treated in studies at DPZ. This sort of outreach is important to help the public understand what primate research actually looks like.

Speaking of Research congratulate DPZ for these fantastic outreach tools.

USDA publishes 2014 Animal Research Statistics

Congratulations to the USDA/APHIS for getting ahead of the curve and making the US the first country to publish its 2014 animal research statistics. Overall, the number of animals (covered by the Animal Welfare Act) used in research fell 6.4% from 891,161 (2013) to 834,453 (2014).

These statistics do not include all animals as most mice, rats, and fish are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act – though they are still covered by other regulations that protect animal welfare. We also have not included the 166,274 animals which were kept in research facilities in 2014 but were not involved in any research studies.

Types of Animals used in research and testing 2014Statistics from previous years show that most of the “All other animals” species are rodents (but not mice or rats). 53% of research is on guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits, while 10% is on dogs or cats and 7% on non-human primates. In the UK, where mice, rats, fish and birds are counted in the annual statistics, over 97% of research is on rodents, birds and fish. Across the EU, which measures animal use slightly differently, 93% of research is on species not counted under the Animal Welfare Act. We would expect similar patterns to be true in the US – although there are no statistics to confirm this.

Changes in number of animals used in research from 2013 to 2014 - Click to Enlarge

Changes in number of animals used in research from 2013 to 2014 – Click to Enlarge

If we look at the changes between the 2013 and 2014 statistics we can see a drop in the number of animals of most species , with only the “all other animals” category showing a rise. This is the second year in which the number of many species has fallen. For example, the number of rabbits used in 2014 fell 11.4% from 2013, following a 9.2% fall from 2012.

Most notably the number of non-human primates has fallen by 9.9%, the number of dogs fell 12.4% and the number of cats fell by 13%. This has shown these species taking up a smaller proportion of the research animals used, as can be seen below:

Trend in number of animals used in research 1973 - 2014 - Click to Enlarge

Trend in number of animals used in research 1973 – 2014 – Click to Enlarge

Clearly there has been a downward trend in the number of animals used since the early 1990s with a 61% drop in numbers between 1992 and 2014. It is also likely that, similar to the UK, a move towards using more genetically altered mice and fish has reduced the numbers of other AWA-covered animals used.

Rises and falls in the number of animals used reflects many factors including the level of biomedical activity in a country, trending areas of research, changes to legislations at home and abroad, outsourcing research to and from other countries, and new technologies (which may either replace animal studies or create reasons for new animal experiments).

It is important to note that the number of animals cannot be tallied across years to get an accurate measure of total number of animals. This is because animals in longitudinal studies are counted each year. Thus, if the same 10 animals are in a research facility for 10 years, they would appear in the stats of each year – adding these numbers would incorrectly create the illusion of 100 animals being used.

Speaking of Research welcomes the open publication of these animal research statistics as offering the public a clear idea of what animal research goes on in their country.

Guest Post: CRPS Animal Models Explained

The following guest post is by Dr Rosie Morland. Dr Morland recently completed a PhD in neuroscience and pain studies at Imperial College, London, and she has a particular interest in how animal models can help increase understanding of complex pain disorders. You can read more from her on her blog. The article was originally published on the Burning Nights website which seeks to raise awareness about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in the UK and Worldwide. It is republished with permission from the original author and Burning Nights website. CRPS, formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is a chronic pain condition which usually affects the limbs and can result in prolonged pain. More information on CRPS can be found in this leaflet.

Developing Animal Models of CRPS/RSD Explained

In the last 20 years, research into Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) has seen huge advances, taking it from a little understood and assumed-rare condition, to the realisation that it is an incredibly complex disorder that may in fact describe a whole group of related pain conditions.

Defining CRPS

CRPS often develops after a seemingly minor injury, which instead of healing normally triggers an over-reaction of pain and inflammation systems in the body.

The Budapest criteria are often used to diagnose CRPS. These look at four main categories of symptoms as shown below:

The Budapest Criteria CRPS

These symptoms are used to identify CRPS according to the following checklist:

  • A: Ongoing pain at an intensity which cannot be explained by the triggering event (e.g. a fall or fracture)
  • B: at least one sign (i.e. measured experience) from two or more of the four categories above
  • C: at least one symptom (i.e. reported experience) from three or more of the four categories above
  • D: A lack of alternative diagnosis

Hypothesis Experiment Results Conclusion

Developing Animal Models of CRPS

This last point highlights the difficulties both doctors and researchers face when trying to develop animals models of CRPS. Animal models can be incredibly informative when trying to understanding how painful conditions develop – they have been used to identify changes that occur at the cellular level in pain, helping to understand the changes that take place when pain changes from acute (useful & teaches us to avoid the dangerous things in life), to chronic (pain that just won’t go away). So far, pain researchers have found that the way the body reacts to pain depends on what caused the pain, and also to some extent on individual factors such as genetics, previous life experience, and lifestyle.

When developing animal models, the researcher must first establish that what they are doing is a valid and accurate representation of the human condition. This applies to both how the model is induced (i.e. what causes the condition), and what signs/symptoms can be detected. For CRPS, this situation is complicated by a lack of understanding of what causes the disease, huge variation in how patients experience the condition, and a reliance on reported symptoms. For researchers trying to develop accurate models, reported symptoms are the greatest challenge.

In CRPS, animal models usually take one of two forms:

  • A: Traumatic – based on traumatic conditions that can trigger CRPS, such as accidents
  • B: Immune – looking at how a dysfunctional immune system can contribute to CRPS

Most models are in this first category, and are based on evidence that CRPS develops following a relatively minor accident, such as a fall resulting in broken skin and/or bones. Such injuries affect the body in a number of different ways, and so are best looked at by breaking them down into elements, such as the effect of a fracture and subsequent bed-rest (‘immobilisation’); how nerves change the way they transmit pain signals when they are crushed by swelling, fractures, or other injuries; and how damage can happen when the blood supply is restored to an injured limb. Together, these models can identify how each different element of an injury contribute to the symptoms experienced.

Background concept illustration Immune system health medical word cloud wordcloud

Background concept illustration Immune system health medical word cloud wordcloud

As the immune system is incredibly complex, and it has been difficult to identify a unique “signature” for the immune response in CRPS, there are fewer researchers looking at the immune aspects of CRPS. However, a recent study found that disrupting the activity of a certain type of immune cell (B cells) in mice decreases CRPS-like behaviours such as pain and negative vascular changes following a fracture. This suggests that being able to control the immune reaction could decrease the chances of developing CRPS following an injury. Other studies have looked at the effect of nerve inflammation, as present following a minor injury, and what factors are responsible for the transition from normal immune response to injury, and the uncontrolled response immune seen in CRPS.

Another recent study looked at the role of the immune system from a different angle, by injecting serum from CRPS patients into mice. Samples from CRPS patients have been shown to have high levels of inflammation, and when this was injected into mice, they showed CRPS-like symptoms that not seen in mice injected with serum from healthy volunteers. This suggests there is something different in the serum of CRPS patients that could explain the different reaction to injury. However, in this study, the patient group was selected to be similar, and as CRPS can present in a wide variety of ways, these results are only relevant to that specific patient group. Studies are already in progress to try and link what is seen in serum to specific symptoms experienced, so in the years to come, we can expect a lot more work like this.

Measuring Symptoms in Animal Models

Once a model has been made, the researcher must then find ways of testing for the signs/symptoms reported by patients. Not all of these are easy to detect in animals, pain being one of the most difficult. Most methods of measuring pain in animals look only at hypersensitivity. Hypersensitivity, or the perception of pain greater than would be expected, can be measured in animals by looking at how different models change responses to increasing temperature (up to 48°C), and increasing force (using a hair-like instrument – von Frey Hairs). However, pain is not just a sensory experience, and is always associated with emotional symptoms, which are just as damaging to the sufferer, and much more difficult to measure in animals. To study this aspect of pain, researchers look at changes in the natural behaviour of the animal, such as how readily they explore a new space (theory: pain decreases the perceived risk of exploration), and also how they react to other animals (theory: animals in pain behave differently around other animals based on whether they are familiar or a risk). It is very important when studying pain to ensure that any treatments developed tackle both the sensory and emotional aspects of pain.

As discussed, most models used to study CRPS are limited in their application, as they focus on a very specific set of conditions, such as bone fracture models only being applicable to CRPS patients who developed the condition via fractures, or the immune serum study only applying to patients which fit the same profile.

By looking at a range of different symptoms of CRPS, and how they compare across different models, researchers should be able to build up a detailed picture of what factors contribute to each symptom and how they can be combatted.

It is important to recognise that advances in CRPS research are reliant on identifying the biological changes responsible for the symptoms of CRPS, and without a definitive cause the only way to do this is to look at a range of different models. As we learn more about the processes happening in the body that are responsible for each symptom, and how they change during disease progression, we get closer to developing useful treatments that take into account all the different ways CRPS patients experience the condition. The personal nature of the pain experience, combined with the variation in symptoms experienced in CRPS mean there is never, alas, going to be a one-size-fits-all treatment, but with greater understanding, diagnoses could become more accurate, and appropriate treatments, based on the unique symptom profile of the patient could become a reality.

Some interesting open access articles on models of CRPS:

Linnman, C et al. (2013) ‘Inflaming the brain: CRPS a model disease to understand neuroimmune interactions in chronic pain,’ Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology & NCBI NIH. June 2013. Vol 8 (3) pp 547-563. Available from: <> doi: 10.1007/s11481-012-9422-8

Cooper, M.S., Clark, V.P. (2013) ‘Neuroinflammation, neuroautoimmunity, and the co-morbidities of complex regional pain syndrome,’ Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology & NCBI NIH. June 2013. Vol 8 (3), pp 452-469. Available from: <; doi: 10.1007/s11481-012-9392-x

Dr Rosie Morland