Category Archives: Animal Rights News

Voice Your Support for Animal Transport

Quick Summary. FBR have a petition to support Air France who continue to be one of the few airlines willing to transport primates for research. Please support them by signing the petition.

For several years animal rights activists have targeted the airlines which transport animals for medical, veterinary and scientific research. They have had a lot of success, with few companies willing to transport animals. In the words of Nature:

The pressures on primate researchers have taken many forms. In the United States, for example, commercial airlines have effectively ceased all primate shipments by air within the country, making it difficult for researchers to transport animals. Many airlines in Europe have taken similar steps, but Air France continues to provide service.

In March, China Southern Airlines announced it would cease transporting primates. This leaves Air France as one of the few international airlines that continue to transport animals.

Air France have a strong statement to this effect:

Air France Cargo ensures that all biomedical research involving the use of animals in laboratories with which the airline works is fully in line with current legislation and the regulations drawn up by scientific organizations specializing in animal welfare:
[...]
Air France Cargo refuses transportation if the testing protocols do not conform to these regulations and visits all customers to make sure this is the case. Air France Cargo also monitors the supplier, who must comply with the breeding rules in force.
[...]
The European Directive 86/609 from 8 September 2010 states that “the use of live animals remains necessary to protect human and animal health and the environment.” In particular, “the use of nonhuman primates in scientific procedures is necessary for biomedical research”.

Nonetheless, the Airline continue to suffer protests and illegal activity from animal rights activists.The Biteback website, which details illegal activities by the ALF, mentions several offices vandalised in March 2014 and December 2013.

Attack on Air France Offices, December 2013

Attack on Air France Offices, December 2013

The Foundation for Biomedical Research has produced a petition to support Air France. The petition reads as follows.

I am signing this petition to commend Air France for its valiant commitment to transporting laboratory animals for biomedical research. While many airlines have acquiesced to animal rights groups’ demands to end the shipment of lab animals, Air France has remained steadfast in its support of the scientific community.

Scientific and medical research with animal models is essential for the discovery of cures, treatments and therapies for diseases affecting both people and animals. While the majority of this research is conducted with rodents that are bred specifically for research, other animal models are essential to study specific diseases because of their biological and physiological makeup.

Because of the genetic similarities they share with people, nonhuman primates play an invaluable role in the study of devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV/AIDS and malaria, which affects 26 million, 7.4 million, 34 million and 216 million people respectively worldwide. In the study of these four diseases alone, 283 million people’s lives depend on the lifesaving research that scientists are currently conducting with the help of nonhuman primates.

Ending the commercial shipment of nonhuman primates will stall vital biomedical research projects that are currently underway and increase costs for scientists and institutions that are conducting this time-sensitive research.  Funds that could be invested in lifesaving research projects will be diverted to charter private flights for these animals.

Safe, reliable air transportation is an essential element of medical and scientific advancements across the globe. When research animals are not available to research centers, R&D projects are suspended or discontinued, leading to significant delays in the development of new treatments to improve human health.

I am most grateful that Air France has stood firm in its commitment to continue the shipment of lab animals and for standing with the biomedical research community in the fight against disease. Thank you for standing up for research and saving human and animal lives.

FBR note that due to the high traffic of the petition, some people are receiving error messages, but they should be assured that their responses have been received.

So please sign the petition today and show your support for Air France as they bravely stand against animal rights extremism.

Speaking of Research

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Pictures in need of accurate words: University of Florida animal photos

Pictures of a cat spay clinic misrepresented as a laboratory horror shop circulated the internet recently to support appeals to “end animal testing.” Speaking of Research wrote about it here “Fact into fiction: Why context matters with animal images,” noting the importance of understanding the facts and context for photographs.

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

In the cat spay clinic case, the photos were from a newspaper article. We have written previously about images of laboratory animals that have made their way to the internet via leaks, undercover operations, and open records release. In all cases, several points remain true. Images are powerful. Providing accurate information about the images is important. It is also true that there are important differences between the sources and ways that images are obtained. Those obtained via infiltrations and undercover operations may be from manipulated situations, or  small fractions of hours of recording, in both cases providing a deliberately misrepresentative view. Photos obtained from institutions via open records release can also be used to misrepresent laboratory animals’ care and treatment and can be the centerpiece in “shock” campaigns. Their value is obvious from even a quick survey of high profile attacks on research, as we’ve written about previously (here, here, here). As in the case of the spay clinic images, conflating veterinary and clinical care with scientific research is also common and further serves to confuse the issues.

Can the laboratory animal research community do a better job of providing context for images of animals?  Yes.

Knowing what the images show and why matters, particularly to people who would like to engage in serious and thoughtful consideration to inform their point of view and judgments. In absence of context and facts, the audience is left without key knowledge and an opportunity to educate is missed. Yet all too often the opportunity is missed and the images remain in public view without comment or context from those who could provide a better understanding of what the photographs show.

In reviewing laboratory animal photographs that appear on animal rights sites, it is obvious that there are generally two types: those from activities directly related to the scientific project and those related to veterinary care or housing and husbandry. In terms of providing context and information, the two differ with respect to their source and which personnel may best explain the content of the photographs.

What does the image depictSome images may be of actual scientific research activities. These may be of animals engaging in an activity directly related to the science question under study. For example, the images may illustrate how animals perform a cognitive or memory task, how they navigate a maze, or how a particular measurement is obtained. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics website provides an example of this, with description and photographs of rhesus monkeys and cognitive neuroscience research. Another type of image directly related to the scientific project may be of a surgery or procedure. An example of this is found in pictures of a surgery involved in cat sound localization research (photos here, video here). In each case, it is not particularly challenging to provide additional information and context because the activities are typically also explained in the protocols, grants, and scientific papers about the study.

Images of clinical veterinary care, husbandry, and housing appear frequently in activist campaigns and public view. For example, pictures of routine physical examinations, health tests, unexpected injuries unrelated to scientific procedures, or photos of animals in their normal housing, have all appeared via various sources. Many times– perhaps more often than not– the activity depicted in the images would not be obvious to a lay audience because it remains unexplained.

A common image – tuberculosis skin test

One of the best examples of misunderstood images is found in pictures of an anesthetized macaque monkey with a needle injecting something in its eyelid. The picture circulates the internet with various captions opposing “animal testing.”   What does this picture show?

tb imageIt is a skin test, commonly used in human and nonhuman primates, for early detection of tuberculosis. A small amount of tuberculin (non-harmful) is injected just under the skin. In almost all cases, the primate does not have tuberculosis and the skin remains normal. If the primate—human or not—does have a reaction to the test, indicated by redness and some swelling, it provides evidence of possible tuberculosis infection. That person, or monkey, then receives additional testing and preventive measures for treatment and to avoid infecting and harming others.

Tuberculosis testing is routinely performed as a health procedure in humans who work in hospitals, schools, with children and with others who may be vulnerable. In settings where nonhuman primates are housed, tuberculosis testing is often routinely performed with all human personnel and with the other animals. Why? Because tuberculosis is a rare disease, but one that can be a threat to the animals’ health and thus, precautions are necessary to ensure their health. The difference between human and monkey tb testing is that for humans, the injection is given without pain relief or anesthesia, via a needle inserted into the forearm.

Aside from the momentary discomfort of the injection, the test is painless and without irritating after-effects. In monkeys, the injection is typically given while the animal is anesthetized and is placed just under the skin of the upper eyelid. Why the difference? It is a simple reason—the key to the test is looking for redness or slight swelling. In monkeys, the forearm is fur-covered and it would be very difficult to detect a reaction in an unobtrusive way.

University of Florida monkey pictures

Not surprisingly, the monkey tb test photo is one that seems to appear in an ongoing campaign against the University of Florida. In response to several years of attacks on their animal research programs, public universities in Florida are pursuing new action to shield personal information about their personnel from public disclosure.   We’ve written previously about an ongoing campaign of violent threats, harassment, and protest by local activists (here, here, here).

In parallel to other campaigns, photographs are a centerpiece of the current attacks on animal research. As reported by Beatrice Dupuy in the Independent Alligator:

“Disturbing pictures of primates being examined by researchers are featured on the organization’s website along with posters with quotes like “stop the holocaust inside UF, free the monkeys.” After a three year lawsuit, the organization, formerly named Negotiation is Over, obtained UF’s public veterinary records last April. The researchers named in public records were the first ones to be targeted by animal rights activists, said Janine Sikes, a UF spokeswoman.”

What are these “disturbing pictures of primates being examined by researchers”?

The photographs <warning: link to AR site> are of macaque monkeys that appear to be receiving routine veterinary care or are simply in fairly standard housing. While the activists claim these photos are evidence of maltreatment at the hands of researchers, they likely are mostly of routine veterinary procedures. For example, two appear to be of an anesthetized macaque monkey receiving a tattoo, another two of an anesthetized monkey receiving a tuberculosis test, while others show the reddened skin that rhesus macaques exhibit normally in the wild and captivity. One photo depicts what looks like a stillborn infant macaque. Without context or confirmation, it isn’t surprising that the photographs can be interpreted in many ways.

UF’s spokesperson says: “The university wants to be very open and honest about its research,” … “It wants to stop these personal attacks against our researchers.”

One place to begin is to provide straightforward and accurate context for the images of laboratory animals that have been released. While those with experience in laboratory care of nonhuman primates can view the images and be reasonably certain that they are mostly of clinical veterinary care, it is only the UF veterinary, animal care program, and scientific personnel that can provide accurate information. Other universities have done exactly that when faced with the same situation. In “An Open Letter to the Laboratory Animal Veterinary Community and Research Institution Administration”   we wrote:

“While scientists can address questions about the scientific side of animal research, we need the laboratory animal care and veterinary staff to provide their expertise in service of addressing public questions about clinical care and husbandry.  If they do not, it will be no surprise if the public view of animal research is disproportionately colored by the relatively rare adverse events and the misrepresentations of animal rights activists. Many believe that it is possible—and perhaps acceptable—to ignore this part of reality in order to focus on more immediate demands for time, energy, and resources. Consider, however, that a fundamental part of the AWA, accreditation, regulation, and professional obligation is actually to ensure communication with the public that supports animal research.  Thus, it is our entire community who share a primary obligation to engage in the dialogue that surrounds us.”

We have consistently condemned the extremists who have targeted UF scientists and others with outrageous harassment. Tactics designed to elicit fear and terror do not have a place in democratic society and do nothing to promote fair and civil dialogue about complex issues.

At the same time, we believe and have written often, that the scientific and laboratory animal community, including scientists, veterinarians, and institutional officials should consider that better education and explanation are key to building public dialogue and understanding of research. Furthermore, as highlighted in this case and others, releasing photographs, records, and other materials without providing context serves no one well. Providing straightforward explanation of the veterinary practices, housing, husbandry, and care of laboratory animals not only gives context to photographs, but also should not be that hard to do.

Allyson J. Bennett

More information and resources:

Raising the bar: What makes an effective public response in the face of animal rights campaigns:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/02/20/raising-the-bar-what-makes-an-effective-public-response-in-the-face-of-animal-rights-campaigns/

Time for a change in strategies? http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/06/24/time-for-a-change/

A detailed response to a PETA video accusing a primate lab of mistreatment:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2008/07/04/peta-out-with-the-new-in-with-the-old/

Speaking of Research media briefing (pdf):  Background Briefing on Animal Research in the US

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

What do Aliens, ADRs and Animal Tests have in common?

I have a childhood friend called Jenny and Jenny is susceptible to believing conspiracy theories. Jenny thinks that the Rothschilds control the government and were something to do with 9/11. She also believes that contrails following aircraft are a government mind-control drug emanating from the wings rather than water vapour. She thinks an alien baby was found in the Atacama Desert (subsequent tests showed it was a deformed human). She’s sure GM food causes cancers. She won’t vaccinate her kids.

But has it had its vaccinations?

But has it had its vaccinations?

Naturally, Jenny is wrong about all of these things, but is strangely resistant to the explanations when they are presented to her. Vaccines? They’re all for profit. They’re not just ineffective but harmful to human health, and the only reason scientists synthesise them is to make money. Profit is also the motive for lots of other things in Jenny’s head, although the issues she attributes this motive to are mostly scientific in nature. Disney’s not profit-motivated apparently, nor the tobacco company whose product fills her cigarettes. Vodka manufacturers must be motivated by the joy of spreading a rosy-cheeked sense of self-knowledge, rather than profit margins.

Similar arguments are deployed by the animal rights movement to criticise research. Researchers, we are told, are simply protecting their fat research grants by undertaking unnecessary animal experiments when they could be utilising “modern alternatives“ such as cell cultures. Animal experiments, they say, aren’t just ineffective but actually harmful to humans! Just like the vaccines! Did you know that 9 out of 10 drugs that pass animal tests fail in humans?!

The animal rights worldview is achieved in essentially the same way as Jenny explains what she calls “chemtrails” emanating from airplanes: imagined associations between apparent phenomena and selective picking of the facts. To give an example, the typical elements of animal rights argument are well summed up by protester Deborah Minns:

“This is not just about animal cruelty, this is about cruelty to people by the wealthy vivisection community who falsely claim the benefits of animal research in medical research.”

And

“It’s as if the vivisection industries are trying to convince us our money will get us to the moon on a bike, when just down the road we have rockets hidden away.”

In her eyes, the experiments are:

  • Cruel
  • Unnecessary
  • Harmful to humans
  • Motivated by money

The idea that an egoistic love of narrative is the driving force behind some protesters’ concerns also helps to explain why activists might be anti-GM, but believers in climate change. The level of scientific consensus is similar in the cases of GM, climate and animal research, with enough genuine unknowns and doubts for those who wish to flat-out oppose to build a cherry-picked counter-case. In this way, activists’ support or otherwise for a scientific theory seems to depend more upon the inclusion of the bullet-pointed aspects above.

Let’s examine Ms Minns claims more closely. “Cruelty” means “the intentional infliction of pain”. Synonyms of “intention“ are aim, purpose, intent, objective, object, goal, and target. So, are researchers “cruel”? Usually not. If one is a pain researcher, this “cruelty” could be technically true, though in reality pain is kept to an absolute minimum by allowing the animal to avoid the pain stimulus (this avoidance itself being used to measure sensitivity to the stimulus), but generally speaking causing pain isn’t the aim, purpose, intent, objective, object, goal or target of a piece of research, so cruel it isn’t.

Is suffering the #object' of research?

Is suffering the ‘object’ of research?

Is it unnecessary? This depends upon what you deem necessary. If you deem scientific knowledge necessary, for its own sake or to understand or treat human and animal diseases, then yes it’s necessary. If you think it’s important to understand environmental processes and threats then yes it’s necessary. In the country she is referring to, the UK, it is illegal to use an animal if there is an alternative so it really does boil down to what an individual values. If you value human and animal life, there’s really no way one can be opposed to medical and veterinary research.

Is it harmful to humans? Quite the contrary. Nor is it “cruel” to them. We have to assume that the sort of “harms” we’d be talking about are animals failing to pick up the “toxic” effects of a drug (although toxicity is essentially about dose – in the right dose everything’s toxic) or adverse reactions (ADRs). The thing about ADRs is that they are overwhelmingly caused by overdoses or underdoses by the patient or (worryingly) medical professionals. Of the remaining incidence, we have reactions to other drugs in the system and, very occasionally, a reaction to an individual’s physiology which could not have been predicted using any currently available means.

This ADR gambit is identical to the one deployed by anti-vaxxers, perceiving very rare, entirely unpredictable events as more common, likely and severe than they are. All drugs are tested in humans before being prescribed to other humans, so ADRs that are one in several thousand are very unlikely to be screened out in trials involving thousands.

I have another friend that I met more recently who’s an authority on the psychology of conspiracy theorists. He gets enough hate mail accusing him of being an alien lizard in a man-suit so I’ll leave his name out of this piece. I think that he’d recognize such narrative constructions, where the “science part” is applied to support the claims. It could be a freeze-framed shot of the twin towers collapsing being used to claim that they were brought down by Government explosives, since terrorists from Afghanistan, stealing three passenger airliners and crashing two of them into the tallest buildings on Manhattan isn’t fantastical enough. In could be a one-in-a-million ADR used to discourage vaccination for an infection that strikes 80% of the female population. It could also be the misuse of an irrelevant study into outdated practices to claim that animal experiments have a “31% success rate” (©Ray Greek).

In essence, you can retro-fit a sciencey-sounding rationale to pretty much any preconceived notion if you misrepresent it enough and don’t submit it for peer-review. “Why” the protestors ask “would you use animal models if they don’t work?” Well, quite. We wouldn’t. Instead of constructing an elaborate theory about how animals are used when there are “better, cheaper, more humane” options and all the scientists know about it but keep their lips sealed (who even benefits from that scenario? Animal breeders?) except a plucky few (who happen to have a book out), a simpler answer is to realize that animal models can be indispensable in the pursuit of medical, veterinary and environmental science.

So what do aliens, ADRs and animal tests have in common? Well, people have dressed up the science to talk bull**** about all three.

Chris

 

Postscript:

Should any anti-vaxxers find themselves reading this, I am delighted to report that in the case of one vaccine, the combined MMR, money did play a part: it was the motive for Andrew Wakefield’s fraud.

In the years since it was uncovered it has emerged that, not only was he paid to fake his research, he also intended to profit from a vaccine scare. The business plan of Carmel Ltd (named after his wife) in 1999 reads “It is estimated that the initial market for the diagnostic will be litigation driven testing of patients with AE [autistic enterocolitis] from both the UK and the USA,” so, patients suing vaccine manufacturers, and “As a consequence of the public, political and legal pressures brought to bear, the demand for a diagnostic able to discriminate between wild type and vaccine derived measles strains will be enormous.”

In addition, said Wakefield, “There is sufficient anxiety in my own mind for the long term safety of the polyvalent vaccine—that is, the MMR vaccination in combination—that I think it should be suspended in favour of the single vaccines,”. But said his 1998 patent application “The present invention relates to a new vaccine for the elimination of MMR and measles virus…” so, he was to also produce individual vaccines to be sold on the back of generating fear of the combined vaccine.

In all, the company was projected to have a turnover of £72.5 million in the UK and US – that’s about $120 million. You can read about the plot in detail herein a piece from the British Medical Journal.

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

How to help girls with Rett syndrome, and strike a blow against extremism!

Today we have a guest post by Dr Nicoletta Landsberger, Associate Professor at the University of Insubria and Principle Investigator at the San Raffaele Rett Research Center. The San Raffaele Rett Research Center is supported by the Pro Rett Ricerce (proRett), a small but energetic Italian patient organization that funds research in Italy and abroad to find a cure for the neurodevelopmental disorder Rett syndrome, which affects about 1 in 10,000 girls. 

A fortnight ago Dr Landsberger was forced to cancel a fundraising event – which included a raffle – for proRett due to the threat of disruption from animal rights extremists. Our friends in Pro-Test Italia wrote an open letter to Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi about this attack on medical progress, and bought 200 tickets for the raffle (worth 400 Euros).

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the recent increase in animal rights extremism in Italy, but the campaign against a charity that seeks to find effective therapies for a disease that devastates many thousands young lives around the world marks a new low. We need to support our friends in Italy, to support the children who suffer from Rett syndrome, and to send a strong message to animal rights extremists that their intimidation and bullying will not be tolerated. We are not asking you to march in the streets, or to sign a petition, or even to write a letter, we are asking you to do something a lot simpler; we are asking you to make a donation to proRett.

Please take a few minutes to give proRett what you can via their PayPal account, even a small donation will help (The PayPal account is in Italian, but essentially identical to the English language version. United States is Stati Unita in Italian, and United Kingdom is Regno Unito. If you are unsure of anything just use Google Translate).

Imagine Anna, a wonderful eight months girl sitting in her high chair and turning the pages of a book while watching it. Imagine Anna’s mother showing you other pictures of her daughter, smiling to her siblings or grasping objects. Everything seems normal, but then, few months later, the pictures are different. Anna is not smiling anymore, the expression of her face is different, the brightness has disappeared and in many pictures Anna has protruding jaws. Anna’s mother tells me “this is when I realized that something was changing…. At that time Anna’s progress stopped, the ability to hold the book and turn its pages was lost, overcome by continuous stereotyped hand-wringing movements. Rett syndrome and its regression phase were taking Anna away, locking her in her body for good”.

Anna is now 16, she is wheel chair bound, unable to talk and to play; like most girls affected by Rett syndrome she suffers from seizures, hypotonia, constipation, scoliosis, osteopenia, and breathing irregularities. Like most girls affected (over 90%) by typical Rett syndrome she carries a mutation in the X-linked MECP2 gene.

Today, almost 30 years after Rett syndrome was internationally recognized as a unique disorder mainly affecting girls, we know that it is a rare genetic disease, and that because of its prevalence (roughly 1:10.000 born girls) can be considered one of the most frequent causes of intellectual disability in females worldwide.

Rett syndrome is a pediatric neurological disorder with a delayed onset of symptoms and has to be clinically diagnosed relying on specific criteria. Girls affected by typical Rett Syndrome are born apparently healthy after a normal pregnancy and uneventful delivery and appear to develop normally usually throughout the first 6-18 months of life. Then their neurological development appears to arrest and, as the syndrome progresses, a regression phase occurs that leads to a documented loss of early acquired developmental skills, such as purposeful hand use, learned single words/babble and motor skills. During the regression phase, patients develop gait abnormalities and almost continuous stereotypic hand wringing, washing, clapping, and mouthing movements that constitute the hallmark of the disease. Many other severe clinical features are associated with typical Rett syndrome, including breathing abnormalities, seizures, hypotonia and weak posture, scoliosis, weight loss, bruxism, underdeveloped feet, severe constipation and cardiac abnormalities. Rett syndrome patients often live into adulthood, even though a slight increase in the mortality rate is observed, which is often caused by sudden deaths, probably triggered by breathing dysfunctions and cardiac alterations. There are no effective therapies available to slow or stop the disease, only treatments to help manage symptoms.

Genetic analyses show that most cases are caused by a mutation in the X-linked MECP2 gene, and many different missense mutations and deletions have been identified within the MECP2 gene of girls with Rett syndrome that prevent the protein from functioning correctly. The formal genetic proof of the involvement of the MECP2 gene in Rett syndrome is further provided by a number of diverse mouse models carrying different MECP2 alterations, which display the same symptoms observed in human patients (for more information see this recent open-access review by David Katz and colleagues) . These animals that fully recapitulate the disease have permitted us to demonstrate that the neurons have a constellation of minor defects, but that no degeneration is occurring, and that our brain need MECP2 at all times. Whenever the gene gets inactivated the disease appears.

Genetically modified mice have made crucial contributions to our understanding of Rett syndrome. Image courtesy of Understanding Animal Research.

Genetically modified mice have made crucial contributions to our understanding of Rett syndrome. Image courtesy of Understanding Animal Research.

Rett syndrome is mainly a neuronal disease, and obviously the amount of research we can do with the girls’ brains is limited. Because of this a range of mouse models of the disease have been instrumental for the study of the pathology. Furthermore, the same mice have permitted scientists to find the first molecular pathways that appear altered in the disease leading to test some therapeutic molecules in mice. Translational research leads to a clinical trial; and this is the case here, for example a clinical trial of IGF1 therapy is currently under way. Importantly, in 2007, Professor Adrian Bird and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh demonstrated in a mouse model that it is in principle possible to reverse Rett syndrome, and that MECP2-related disorders can be treated even at late stages of disease progression. However, the functional role(s) of MECP2 and their relevance to different aspects of development and neurological function are not fully understood, and different mutations in the MECP2 have varying effects on these roles, which any treatments will have to account for. Research indicates that too much MECP2 expression can be damaging, so scientists will need to find a way to express just the right amount of MECP2, in just the areas it is required. The clinical community has decided that no drug can be given to Rett syndrome girls without having first been tested in two different laboratories and on at least two diverse mice models of the disease. Nevertheless, this research is very promising, and not just for those with Rett syndrome and their families, as the insights gained through developing therapies for Rett syndrome are likely to be applicable to therapeutic strategies for a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders. Studies in mouse models of Rett syndrome have a crucial role to play in this ongoing work.

proRETT is an association founded in 2004 by parents of children born with Rett syndrome, who began their activity by raising funds for the US based Rett Syndrome Research Foundation (now the International Rett Syndrome Foundation). proRett now supports the work of top Rett researchers in Italy, the UK and USA. I am a professor of molecular biology who has worked on MECP2 since I was a post-doctoral fellow in the team of the late Dr Alan P Wolffe at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

In 2005 I met with proRETT to launch a collaboration in order to accelerate the scientific interest in the disease in Italy and abroad, and over the next few years   we worked together to organize two international scientific meetings (e.g. the European Working Group on Rett Syndrome) and attracted the interest of several Italian researcher to the disease. In 2010 proRETT felt the necessity to support more research in Italy and decided to open a laboratory – the San Raffaele Rett Research Center  – at the prestigious San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan. The laboratory, which I lead, employs 2 post-doctoral scientists, 3 PhD students and an undergraduate student. Further a second laboratory employing 8 scientists, supervised by myself and Danish researcher Dr. Charlotte Kilstrup-Nielsen, and fully dedicated to Rett syndrome is located at the University of Insubria in Busto Arsizio. As I outlined earlier, our research, as well as that of many other laboratories in the world, is interested in defining the molecular pathways that get deregulated because of a dysfunctional MECP2.  We are also examining the role of the gene during early development and outside of the brain itself. Eventually we hope to develop some novel protocols of gene therapy that can reverse Rett syndrome.

The Rett syndrome research team at the University of Insubria in Busto Arsizio

The Rett syndrome research team at the University of Insubria in Busto Arsizio

Because one of the two labs supported by proRETT is in Busto Arsizio and in Busto Arsizio there is a strong female volleyball team – Unendo Yamamay – almost one year ago we decided to organize a match of the Yamamay team dedicated to proRETT. The idea was for a female team to support research on a disease that affects girls, with both volleyball and research in the same town. The team were keen to help and the event was scheduled to be held on Saturday 15th March 2014. That evening we would have been the guests of Yamamay, and we were going to hold a raffle to raise money for research.

Unfortunately, once the event was announced last month, the trouble started. It began when the Busto Arsizio branch of the large Italian animal rights group the Lega Anti Vivisesione published decontextualised images of dead mice (seems familiar – SR)not belonging to my lab on their facebook page and claimed that our activities were unscientific  in order to stir up anger amongst their supporters against our lab (you can read more details about this in Italian here). They then tried to start a boycott of Unendo Yamamay and started a mass  e-mailing campaign, writing on social networks and to the proRETT and Unendo Yamamay. At the end of this nightmare, and because the local police headquarters was not confident about keeping the event safe from disruption by violent animal rights extremists, we had to give up. The match went ahead but proRETT were no longer guests, with Unendo Yamamay issuing a statement expressing their extreme regret at the events leading to the cancellation that had “caused serious harm to persons engaged daily in medical research against this terrible disease”.

Organizers had hoped to sell 6 thousand tickets for the lottery in aid of Rett syndrome research

Organizers had hoped to sell 6 thousand tickets for the lottery in aid of Rett syndrome research

The cancellation was felt as a tragedy by the parents, who, obviously, felt themselves even more alone than before. Because of that we decided to hold the raffle in our university in Busto Arsizio on Friday evening the in order to raise some money for proRETT, where we were joined by some parents and girls with Rett syndrome, as well as several journalists, and the president of Pro-Test Italia, who chose to show solidarity by attending. In the end we raised almost 6,000 euros from the raffle, less than we had initially hoped, but enough to show us and the parents of girls with Rett syndrome that there are still good people who are prepared to stand up for vital research.

We need to make sure this never happens in Italy again. This fight goes beyond Rett girls but is in the name of the progress of biomedical science in Italy and in the world; it is in the name of a future with less suffering. We would like the parents of Rett girls  and researchers dedicated to curing this disease to not feel alone, so we ask you to join good people in Italy and across the world to show your support for our girls, and your contempt for animal rights extremism, by making a small donation to proRETT.

Thank you.

Nicoletta Landsberger

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Gary Francione: “I don’t believe in vaccinations”

We previously discussed the anti-vaccination stance of a member of the animal rights group “Progress for Science”.  The fact that this individual prefers oregano oil, ginger, garlic, and other herbs over vaccines did not come as a surprise.  We have already noted the strong similarities between the arguments espoused by the anti-vaccination and animal rights groups.  But you may be asking yourself — just how prevalent is the view among animal rights activists? It turns out the position can be traced all the way up to prominent academics, such a Professor Gary Francione:

Yes, you heard right (play it again if in doubt) — Rutgers Law Professor Gary Francione does not believe in vaccinations. He is not alone.  The exuberant applause he receives comes from animal rights supporters in the audience, and you can easily judge there are no shortage of them.

How could this be? You would think that any reasonable person who looks at the data ought to conclude that childhood vaccinations do in fact work and that, without any shred of doubt whatsoever, they save thousands and thousands of human (and animal) lives each year.

Take a look at the incidence of measles and diphtheria over the last decades, for example, and notice how the numbers drop precipitously as vaccines for these illnesses were introduced. You can find similar graphs for many other common diseases.

vaccines

If Professor Francione had any children he would not vaccinate them.  What about those who have children?  Does he truly understand what would happen if the public were to follow his recommendation?  The data say that millions would die each year.

It is shocking that a respected scholar offers a view that is nothing short of a pubic health hazard. It is mind-boggling that anyone who calls himself compassionate would put the lives of so many children at risk.  What kind of meaningful ethical discussion can one possibly have with those who blatantly reject scientific facts and deny past contributions of the work to human health?

One must also recognize there is something ludicrous about the entire situation.  On one hand, many animal rights activists deny the benefits of animal research.  On the other, they work extremely hard to argue they should be entitled to the benefits of the very same work they oppose.

Thus, we see hear Professor Francione say he does not believe in vaccinations (and other pharmaceuticals?) and but elsewhere he writes —

[…] Those who object to animal use for [animal research], however, have no control as individuals over government regulations or corporate policies concerning animals. To say that they cannot consistently criticize the actions of government or industry while they derive benefits from these actions, over which they have no control, is absurd as a matter of logic. (Francione 1995, 181).

No, it is not absurd. While it is true he may not have control over government actions or policies he does have control over his healthcare and that of his family.  In fact, he exemplified for us how he would exercise that control by not vaccinating his children.

Consider the following analogy. Suppose you are a social activist who forcefully opposes child and forced labor practices.  You discover that a particular US company manufactures its products overseas under deplorable labor conditions. Would you still buy form such a company or boycott its products? Is there any way in which you can say that you morally oppose forced labor but argue you are nevertheless entitled to benefit from the cheap prices the company has to offer? If you were to buy from such a company can you be surprised if someone called you a called a hypocrite?  After all, would be supporting, financing and perpetuating a practice you consider immoral and advocate against.  It makes sense to argue the same applies to animal research.

Many animal rights activists may respond the analogy is not adequate because, in the case of refusing healthcare derived from animal research, the outcome may include death, instead of the more mundane consequence of not purchasing the latest smart phone.  This would be a curious argument coming from those who fail to acknowledge the benefits of the research in the first place. Nevertheless, in objecting in such a way they would be making our case — animal research saves lives.  Herein lies the moral dilemma opponents of research who refuse to confront even when it is their own lives that are saved by the work of biomedical researchers.

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SpeakingofResearch

The Science and Medicine of “Progress for Science”

The animal rights group “Progress for Science” (P4S) made one more appearance last night to harass a UCLA professor at his home. Don’t let their name fool you.  The consequences of P4S’s advocacy are backwardness and regression.  To advocate for science you must be familiar with it;  to advocate for progress you must understand medical history.  But it does not take much digging to discover just how detached from facts and science their beliefs really are.  Take for example their views on vaccinations:

Amy Nicole

There is absolutely nothing progressive or pro-science about being anti-vaccination. Those who, despite the evidence, continue to advocate against childhood vaccinations are nothing short of a public health hazard who have directly contributed to a rise in avoidable disease and death in our state and elsewhere.  Such groups are not pro-science.  Instead, they have the features of a cult.  

Another commonly held view among animal rights activists is that one’s diet is the source of all maladies and that a vegan diet is an effective remedy to many of them. There is no doubt that science supports the view that eating a good, balanced diet and getting a daily dose of physical exercise are integral components to a healthy life.  But disease, it turns out, can strike at any point in time, in ways you cannot anticipate or prevent.

So what happens when a healthy, young vegan gets sick with… say gallbladder stones?  Do they immediately reach for the oregano oil or yerba santa?  Perhaps ginger or cayenne will do the trick?  Or maybe they will follow the recommendation to use dandelion and milk thistle?

There is no need to ask the hypothetical question, because one can easily discover what P4S member Sarah Jane Hardt did.  Despite her vegan diet, she developed gallbladder stones, and the pain seemed to have been intolerable.  What did she do?  She decided to set aside all her personal beliefs about biomedical research and went to the hospital for surgery —

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I would bet she does not have much knowledge about how cholecystectomies (the surgery she received) were initially developed.  As it happens, it was a naval surgeon named Herlin who first performed the procedure in cats and dogs, leading him to famously conclude:

One can remove the gallbladder without great danger, and this discovery opens the way to a safe approach to stones collected in the gallbladder or impacted in the biliary ducts where they often produce fatal complications”.

In other words, this adamant opponent of the use of animals in research was treated with surgical techniques that were developed as a direct consequence of the work she opposes. Experimental studies on gallbladder surgery are still performed on animals, to this very day, in order to improve the prognosis of individuals that receive the surgery.

So Sarah Jane Hardt can today have a good night.  Thanks to animal research.

Imagine that!

It is doubtful any other member of P4S would act in any other way. They raise no objections when they are the direct beneficiaries of animal research, but they outrageously claim it is compassionate for them to deny the benefits of today’s research to others, including our children and grandchildren.  No, it is not compassionate. Their point of view is nothing short of cruel.

Additional insight into Sarah Jane Hardt’s beliefs are revealed in a view of medical profession that she posted a few days after her surgery regarding the ability of physicians to provide advise on nutrition and diet:

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However, at the same time, she had no trouble at all swallowing the other pills the doctor prescribed:

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Funny…  Topping all this, Ms. Hardt and her friends also had the ethical chutzpah to suggest that UCLA Professor David Jentsch, against who they demonstrate, had firebombed his own car, instead of accepting the claim of responsibility made openly by the Animal Liberation Brigade.  

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Progress for Science has made it clear they cannot find it in themselves to condemn the violence of the animal rights movement.  Carol Glasser, the group’s founder, said:

Whatever we are doing as a movement is not working, it is not saving animal lives. I think it is a waste of our time to demonize people who put their own life, their own  safety, their own health, and their own freedom at risk, because they can’t imagine another way to help the animals.  It is total bullshit of us, to point a finger and demonize them.

Not only do they refuse to condemn those that firebomb cars or homes, but they publicly offer support to convicted animal rights arsonists.  Here is Tyler Lang, another member of the group, offering support for two of them:

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Members of “Progress for Science” masquerade  themselves as peaceful, compassionate, pacifists, and pro-science.

Nothing is further from the truth.

They are scientifically illiterate, cheerleaders of violence, cruel, anti-science and, obviously, dishonest.

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Update: More discussion from David Jentsch here.


To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SpeakingofResearch

Fact into Fiction – Why Context Matters with Animal Images

A curious thing happened recently. The following picture of “animal testing” surfaced on Twitter and was retweeted over five thousand times (and counting) over the course of one week.

It runs with a message “Retweet if you say NO to animal testing. #Animalrights”. The message has been recurring on Twitter for some time, though its latest iteration has seen it tweeted thousands of times in just a few days. Many tweeters added their own messages of disgust.

cat tweets on animal testing

Unfortunately, for the thousands of people who retweeted it, this isn’t an example of “animal testing” at all. The picture is originally appeared in an article by the Gainesville Sun – “Seized cats being readied for adopt-a-thon” with the caption “University of Florida vet school students and veterinarians work to spay and neuter cats as part of Operation Cat Nip on Wednesday.”

cat animal testing image

The story details how Alachua County Animal Services, along with US animal rescue groups, seized 697 cats on June 7 2011 from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary in High Springs, Florida. Owners Steve and Pennie Lefkowitz described the sanctuary as a no-kill facility for unwanted felines. The Humane Society of the United States described it as the largest case of cat hoarding in the nation.

Several cats were sick with feline leukaemia and similar serious diseases and were put down. More than 300 needed to be spayed or neutered, and that is what is happening in this picture. The cats are under anaesthetic and are being operated on as quickly as possible in an emergency situation.

Why the picture, taken in 2011, has resurfaced, no-one knows. It is now watermarked with “Cause animal Nord”. In this picture’s travels across the internet it has been stripped of its original context and stamped with a new one. Somewhere along the line activists have decided this image could be recycled to misleadingly drive support for their cause.

Of course, this case of Telephone (Chinese Whispers) wouldn’t work without the thousands of internet users who have been duped into believing this lie. The irony is that animal lovers have been made to feel angry about an animal rescue, leading them to call for an end to the research that gave us the veterinary medicines the animals needed.

Chris

Update:

We have found that this story has been uncovered before.

The cats were seized on June 7, 2011 from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary in Florida. The owners described the sanctuary as a no-kill facility for unwanted cats, but poor conditions led authorities to remove the cats and put them up for adoption.

Here is another picture of the surgery suite where you can see the clean and professional conditions which veterinarians are working in to spay and neuter these cats.

Cat Not Animal Testing Spay and Neuter

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SpeakingofResearch

An open letter to those who support violence in the name of animal rights


The following is an open letter from a victim of animal rights extremism.  It was sent to a Los Angeles Times journalist in an effort to draw his attention to the problem. The letter was never published. Her family, not connected to animal research, was the mistaken target of the Animal Liberation Front attack on a UCLA scientist (ALF’s claim of responsibility here). Her personal account of the story, written only days after the firebombing, makes it very clear how close animal right extremists came to hurting human beings in their pursuit of their political goals. These is the kind “direct action” celebrated by animal rights fanatics that demonstrate at the homes of UCLA scientists. The truth is, as the writer notes, that this nothing short of terrorism. For fear of retaliation from animal rights extremists, the author wishes to remain anonymous.

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An open letter to those who support violence in the name of animal rights

For those of you who support violence because you are tired of waiting for the rest of us to accept your views, how exactly are your actions going to convince us to care more about the rights of non-human animals?

Three days ago, at 4 o‘clock in the morning, someone poured gasoline over my car (on the gas tank side) and set it on fire. It was parked in the driveway one foot away from my house, under a tree.  We don’t know if this was done in the name of animal rights, but after looking at websites and learning of similar actions taken against researchers and innocent bystanders, it is a reasonable guess.   My family is connected to UCLA, although none of us have anything to do with scientific research, other than having benefitted from life-saving medications and surgeries in the past.

The sound of the exploding burning tire woke my neighbors, two of whom acted quickly to prevent the worst from happening.  My two cars are total losses, my neighbors’ two cars are damaged, and a neighborhood is terrorized.  The ripples of fear and outrage spread far beyond our street, to our families, friends and colleagues at work.

What might have happened? Without quick action by my neighbors, the gas tank in my car could have exploded, killing or maiming my teenage daughter sleeping 15 feet away.  She has been a vegetarian since age 8, as are many of her friends, since they grew up watching “The Simpsons’ and wanted to be like Lisa Simpson who is smart, vegetarian, a saxophone player who challenges authority.   A roommate closer to the driveway would have suffered the same fate.  It was 4 in the morning; we were all sleeping.  This is ‘attempted murder’ not just ‘property damage’. Someone tried to kill us.

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Maybe you don’t care at all about the human side of this story.  You might classify the horrors that could have happened in my family as ‘collateral damage’ the same callous way our government labels civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world.  How does that kind of thinking advance the cause of the animal rights movement? After all, you are trying to influence other human beings to change their ways and care about the rights of animals, correct?  This doesn’t seem the optimal way to win hearts and minds.  Your approach seems more like ‘destroy the village to save it’ as our government practiced in Viet Nam in the 1960s and 70s.

Maybe you care only about animals.  Did the persons who firebombed my car know about my rescued house rabbit, Samsonita, sleeping in my house 25 feet from the car, who lives cage free in her own room?  Did they know about my cat, Ethel, who worked hard every night in the neighborhood to find rats and mice to lovingly bring them inside to share with me in the middle of the night?

Some of the animal rights websites claim that they are part of a proud tradition of liberation movements.  There are quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Frederick Douglass, and claims of being the ‘Underground Railway’ for animals.  But the violent harassment of medical researchers is more like the terror practiced by the Ku Klux Klan, who burned crosses in front of the homes of African Americans who dared to act as if they were free and equal to whites.  These kinds of tactics were used not by civil rights activists but by their opponents, and any claim of a moral relationship to that history by violent animal rights advocates is obscene.

I ask you to reconsider your support for violence in the name of your cause, animal rights.  Please think about other kinds of terrorism we have experienced in recent years.  How did you feel about the events of September 11th? Were you horrified, or did you think that everyone harmed, and all their friends and relatives, deserved what happened?  What about the bus bombing in London, or the nightclub in Bali, the trains in Madrid, the slaughter in Mumbai?  Do you support those actions, because the bombers believed in their cause, as you believe in yours?  Or do you disagree with their approach?

Either way, if you believe it is ok to commit violence in the name of your cause and harm innocent sentient beings, how are you are different from those terrorists?  Around the world, millions of people suffer from violence committed in the name of a cause, by government soldiers or rebels or saboteurs.  How does this make the world a better place?  How are you convincing other human beings to care more about the rights of animals by committing and applauding violence?