Category Archives: Animal Rights News

Animal models are essential to biological research: issues and perspectives

The following article by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Xavier Montagutelli was published on 31 July 2015 in the journal Future Science OA, and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi leads the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Division at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008 for her role in the discovery of HIV, and Xavier Montagutelli is head of the Central Animal Facility of the Institut Pasteur. This article follows the recent decision by the European Commission to reject the Stop Vivisection Initiative that sought to repeal European Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and ban animal research in the EU.

Animal models are essential to biological research: issues and perspectives

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (1) & Xavier Montagutelli*,(2)

The use of animals for scientific purposes is both a longstanding practice in biological research and medicine, and a frequent matter of debate in our societies. The remarkable anatomical and physiological similarities between humans and animals, particularly mammals, have prompted researchers to investigate a large range of mechanisms and assess novel therapies in animal models before applying their discoveries to humans. However, not all results obtained on animals can be directly translated to humans, and this observation is emphasized by those who refute any value to animal research. At the same time, the place of the animals in our modern societies is often debated, particularly the right to use animals to benefit human purposes, with the possibility that animals are harmed. These two aspects are often mixed in confusing arguments, which does not help citizens and politicians to get a clear picture of the issues. This has been the case in particular during the evaluation of the European Citizen Initiative (ECI) ‘Stop Vivisection’ recently presented to the European Commission [1].

European-Parliament

Humans and other mammals are very complex organisms in which organs achieve distinct physiological functions in a highly integrated and regulated fashion. Relationships involve a complex network of hormones, circulating factors and cells and cross-talk between cells in all the compartments. Biologists interrogate organisms at multiple levels: molecules, cells, organs and physiological functions, in healthy or diseased conditions. All levels of investigations are required to get a full description and understanding of the mechanisms. The first two, and in some instances three, levels of organization can be studied using in vitro approaches (e.g., cell culture). These techniques have become very sophisticated to mimic the 3D and complex structures of tissues. They represent major scientific advances and they have replaced the use of animals. On the other hand, the exploration of physiological functions and systemic interactions between organs requires a whole organism. It is, for example, the case for most hormonal regulations, for the dissemination of microorganisms during infectious diseases or for the influence of the intestinal microorganisms on immune defense or on the development of brain functions. In these many cases, no in vitro model is currently available to fully recapitulate these interactions, and investigations on humans and animals are still necessary. Hypotheses and models can emerge from in vitro studies but they must be tested and validated in a whole organism, otherwise they remain speculative. Scientists are very far from being able to predict the functioning of a complex organism from the study of separate cells, tissues and organs. Therefore, despite arguments put forward by the promotors of the ECI, studies on animals cannot be fully replaced by in vitro methods, and it is still a long way before they can.

Animal models have been used to address a variety of scientific questions, from basic science to the development and assessment of novel vaccines, or therapies. The use of animals is not only based on the vast commonalities in the biology of most mammals, but also on the fact that human diseases often affect other animal species. It is particularly the case for most infectious diseases but also for very common conditions such as Type I diabetes, hypertension, allergies, cancer, epilepsy, myopathies and so on. Not only are these diseases shared but the mechanisms are often also so similar that 90% of the veterinary drugs used to treat animals are identical or very similar to those used to treat humans. A number of major breakthroughs in basic science and medical research have been possible because of observations and testing on animal models. Most vaccines, which save millions of human and animal lives every year, have been successfully developed using animal models. The treatment of Type I diabetes by insulin was first established in the dog by Banting and McLeod who received the Nobel Prize in 1921 [2]. Cellular therapies for tissue regeneration using stem cells have been engineered and tested in animals [3]. Many surgical techniques have been designed and improved in various animal species before being applied to humans. The discoveries in which animal models played a critical role are indeed numerous and led to many Nobel Prizes.

It is, however, noticeable that the results obtained on animals are not necessarily confirmed in further human studies. Various reasons can be evoked. First, despite large similarities, there are differences between a given animal species and humans. For example, over 95% of the genes are homologous between mice and humans but there are also differences for example in the members of genes families, in gene redundancies and in the fine regulation of gene-expression level. These genetic differences translate into physiological differences which are increasingly better described and understood. While some people like the ECI promotors use these differences to refute the value of animal models, many including ourselves strongly advocate for further improving our knowledge and understanding of these differences and for taking them into account in experimental designs and interpretation of observations [4]. Moreover, these differences may provide opportunities to unravel novel mechanisms and imagine innovative therapies.

Research in mice has led to many medical advances - most recently the development of PD-1 inhibitors for treating cancers http://speakingofresearch.com/2015/05/30/immunotherapy-lung-cancer-pd-1-knockout-mice/

Research in mice has led to many medical advances – most recently the development of PD-1 inhibitors for treating cancers http://speakingofresearch.com/2015/05/30/immunotherapy-lung-cancer-pd-1-knockout-mice/

The second reason is due to genetic and physiological variations within each species or between closely related species. Laboratory mice have been developed as inbred strains which have highly homogeneous genetic composition to increase the reproducibility of results and the statistical power of experiments. Reports on animal models of human conditions often speak of ‘the mouse model of…’, referring in fact to observations made in a given genetic background. However, the clinical presentation often varies if another mouse strain is considered. A striking example is provided by a study published in November 2014 in Science by a team who reported that some mouse strains are fully resistant to Ebola virus, others die without specific symptoms and others develop fatal hemorrhagic fever [5]. Another example is the difference of responses to SIV, the monkey homolog to human HIV, between Rhesus macaques which develop simian AIDS and sooty mangabeys which do not develop symptoms despite high levels of circulating virus [6]. This range of responses reflects in fact the variety of clinical observations among human patients. These examples illustrate how animal models must be considered: no single animal model is able to mimic a given human disease which is itself polymorphic between patients, but the differences between strains or species provide unmatched opportunity to understand disease development and differential host response, and to eventually find new cures.

The second issue regarding the use of animals for scientific purposes is animal protection and welfare. This is the scope of the European Directive 2010/63/EU, which has set the regulatory framework for all animal research. Scientists have recognized for decades the importance of giving full consideration to three fundamental principles [7], which have become the backbone of the European Directive. First, animals must not be used whenever other, non-animal-based, experimental approaches are available, with similar relevance and reliability. Second, the number of animals used must be adjusted to the minimum needed to reach a conclusion. Third, all provisions must be taken throughout the procedures to minimize any harm inflicted to the animals. These principles, known as ‘the three Rs rules’, for replacement, reduction and refinement, have become the standard to which every project involving the use of animals is evaluated.

Animal research is conducted in compliance with regulatory provisions which cover the inspection and licensing of animal premises, the training and competence of all personal designing projects, performing animal procedures and taking care of animals and the mandatory authorization of every project by a competent authority upon ethical evaluation by an Animal Ethics Committee. The criteria for evaluation are based on the 3Rs rules and a cost–benefit analysis to evaluate if the potential harm to the animals, which must be reduced to the lowest possible level, is outweighed by significant progress in terms of knowledge on human or animal health. Regulation imposes that ethics committees include members concerned by animal protection and not involved in animal research. In response to the ECI, the European Commission has underlined, in a statement issued on 3 June 2015 [8], that animal experimentation remains important for improving human and animal health. At the same time, it is committed to promoting the development and validation of non-animal-based approaches, and to enforcing the application of the 3Rs rules by all players, including the research community. Europe has therefore implemented one of the strictest regulatory frameworks for the protection of animals used in research.

21st century medical research is highly interdisciplinary, a fact that is reflected in the design of new research institutions such as the Francis Crick Institute in London

21st century medical research is highly interdisciplinary, a fact that is reflected in the design of new research institutions such as the Francis Crick Institute in London

The greatest challenges faced by modern biomedical research concern complex, multifactorial, diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, pathological consequences of aging among others, for which all experimental approaches are indispensable because of their complementarity: biochemistry, genomics, cell culture, computer modeling, animal model and clinical studies. Research on relevant, carefully designed, well-characterized and controlled animal models will remain for a long time an essential step for fundamental discoveries, for testing hypotheses at the organism level and for the validation of human data. Animal models must be constantly improved to be more reliable and informative. Likewise, animal protection requires permanent consideration. These two objectives, far from being antagonistic, must be anchored in high-quality science.

References:

1. The European Citizens ‘Initiative – Stop vivisection. http://ec.europa.eu
2. Nobelprize.Org – The discovery of insulin. www.nobelprize.org
3. Klug MG, Soonpaa MH, Koh GY, Field LJ. Genetically selected cardiomyocytes from differentiating embronic stem cells form stable intracardiac grafts. J. Clin. Invest. 98(1), 216–224 (1996). [CrossRef] [Medline] [CAS]
4. Ergorul C, Levin LA. An example on glaucoma research: solving the lost in translation problem: improving the effectiveness of translational research. Curr. Opin. Pharmacol. 13(1), 108–114 (2013). [CrossRef] [Medline] [CAS]
5. Rasmussen AL, Okumura A, Ferris MT et al. Host genetic diversity enables ebola hemorrhagic fever pathogenesis and resistance. Science 346(6212), 987–991 (2014). [CrossRef] [Medline] [CAS]
6. Liovat AS, Jacquelin B, Ploquin MJ, Barre-Sinoussi F, Muller-Trutwin MC. African non human primates infected by SIV – why don’t they get sick? Lessons from studies on the early phase of non-pathogenic siv infection. Curr. HIV Res. 7(1), 39–50 (2009). [CrossRef] [Medline] [CAS]
7. Russell WMS, Burch RL. The Principles of Human Experimental Technique. Methuen, London, UK (1959).
8. European Commission – Annex to the communication from the commission on the European Citizen’s Initiative, ‘Stop Vivisection’. http://ec.europa.eu

Affiliations:

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
1. INSERM & Unité de Régulation des Infections Rétrovirales, Institut Pasteur, 75724 Paris, France
Xavier Montagutelli
2. Animalerie Centrale, Institut Pasteur, 75724 Paris, France

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

ALF Claims Responsibility for Arson in Mississauga, Canada

In an anonymous communique the ALF claimed responsibility (ALF site) for the destruction of two trucks owned by Harlan Laboratories. In the early morning of June 7, 2015, incendiary devices were ignited and the trucks were destroyed. Thankfully no one was injured and the fire was quickly contained by first responders. Harlan was targeted because of its corporate focus to provide laboratory customers with animals, products and services that optimize the discovery and safety of new medicines and compounds. Harlan significantly contributes to research endeavours in Canada and was recently acquired by Huntingdon Life Sciences, who has been the target of several animal rights campaigns. Ultimately this type of illegal activity is counterproductive as is evident with the ending of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign and the convictions of numerous perpetrators of violence and harassment in the US and UK.

Fire Canada

It is unclear if those involved in this incident are the same as the people who released 1600 mink in St. Mary’s Ontario on May 30, 2015, or vandalized the CALAS national office in July 2014. What is clear is that this type of illegal activity is unacceptable and undermines informed discussions surround this important issue. The majority of Canadians support the ethical use of animals in science. Canadian scientists, laboratory animal professionals, institutions and companies need to resist the temptation to “circle the wagons” and shut the public out. That strategy is also counterproductive in the long term. We can use this as an opportunity to expand public outreach programs. Once presented with accurate and transparent information the public can make informed opinions. Knowledge is power and sharing that knowledge empowers the public to understand animal research.

Michael Brunt

The antivivisection movement and how to stand up to it

Tom Holder at the Pro-Test for Science RallyIn April 2014 Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, published a paper in EMBO reports looking at the structure and motivations of antivivisection groups and organizations, as well as how he got involved in defending animal research. Now, a year after its publication, this article is free-to-view online, or as a pdf. We are reproducing it below with the permission of EMBO reports (long form links have been converted into hyperlinks for the sake of the web format).

Standing up for Science

The antivivisection movement and how to stand up to it

Animal research has been and remains crucial to the development of modern medicine. The reasons for ongoing research are manifold from finding ways to treat cancer to understanding the mechanisms behind neurodegeneration to developing new vaccines against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Nearly all of us benefit from medical treatments made possible through animal research, and with so much at stake, it is important that scientists make the case for the importance of using animals in research. With animal rights extremism at an all‐time low, there has never been a better time for scientists to overcome their reluctance to talk about the benefits of their work.

Sadly, polls show that opposition to animal research among young people, for example in the UK and USA, is significantly higher than among those aged over 65 [1], [2]. In my view, this is in part because of the large amount of misinformation propagated across the Internet by opponents of animal research—the “antivivisection” (AV) movement. Moreover, the past decades have seen bouts of intense activism—including harassment, threats and violence directed towards scientists—aimed at shutting down animal research. During the same period, the scientific community have worked diligently to replace, refine and reduce the use of animals in research, making much progress; however, these efforts have not been sufficient to satisfy the passions of some activists.

Part of the problem is that scientists rarely engage with those who are opposed to animal research, which can leave them detached from the need to justify or explain their work. This lack of communication also creates an information vacuum in the public sphere about the need to use animals. In a recent poll in the UK, only 31% of respondents felt “fairly well informed […] about science and scientific research/development” [2].

“With animal rights extremism at an all‐time low, there has never been a better time for scientists to overcome their reluctance to talk about the benefits of their work.”

Ignoring the animal rights community has not worked. Wherever there has been a vacuum of understanding about research, they have filled it with disinformation based on rare instances of negligence and shocking examples of seemingly barbaric experiments, accompanied by stories describing animal research as unnecessary and out‐dated. Some animal rights groups mask their aim to ban animal research behind the noble banner of animal welfare—legitimately criticising incidents involving substandard animal care but then implying that these represent not the exception, but the rule. Yet, the huge improvements in laboratory animal welfare will never satisfy those animal rights groups that have a fundamental ideological opposition to such experiments. Instead, AV groups often buttress their position with unfounded assertions that such methods can be entirely replaced or cannot provide useful results. As activists build a seemingly stronger—even if bogus—case against the value of using animals in research, the public support for, or indifference to, some illegal activities rises.

I actually dislike the term “antivivisection.” It is scientifically inaccurate, as much animal research is non‐invasive and does not involve cutting live animals (vivisection). Nonetheless, those opposed to animal research, particularly in the UK, have taken the word to describe their movement and it is a useful term for their subsection of the wider animal rights movement.

Sidebar A:  Activism and extremism
It is useful to make a distinction between activism and extremism. Activism is the use of legal campaigning techniques to bring about a change. Such activities include letter‐writing campaigns, producing leaflets and peaceful demonstrations—all hallmarks of an open democracy. Extremism is where activism moves beyond the law. This can include vandalism, harassment, breaking into research facilities, and even arson and physical violence.

I first became interested in the issue of animal research and animal rights as a student at Oxford University in the UK in 2005. Studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics, I was probably more qualified to become a politician than I was to discuss animal research, but as I returned to my second year at Oxford, the hot topic was that AV extremists had burned down our student boathouses in protest against the new animal research facility the university was building. I became interested in the subject and spent some time researching AV websites. I was surprised to discover claims that animal research does not work and that it has held back science by many decades. The “33 facts of vivisection”, for example, references 33 claims (sometimes this list is expanded or reduced) as to why animal research does not work. What I found most concerning at the time was that the claims seemed to me to be the result of purposeful misrepresentation.

In early January 2005, it became apparent that a number of Oxford students felt the same way. The (now defunct) Oxford Gossip Internet forum was full of heated debates about animal research, and pro‐research/anti‐AV groups were gathering support on Facebook. At the same time, animal rights groups were posting calls to action to harass students, professors and partners of the university. On 22 January 2006, a communiqué from the Animal Liberation Front read: “This ALF team is calling out to the movement to unite and fight against the University on a maximum impact scale, we must stand up, DO WHATEVER IT TAKES and blow these fucking monsters off the face of the planet. Information, tools and resources are out there for everyone to take part in smashing the University of Oxford, all you need do is find them! All that stands between the animals and victory is our fear, GET OVER IT! Fear is their most valued weapon and the animals cannot afford for us to work within their boundaries. We must target their construction companies and the University’s current and future building projects. We must target professors, teachers, heads, students, investors, partners, supporters and ANYONE that dares to deal in any part of the University in any way. There is no time for debate and there is no time for protest, this is make or break time and from now on, ANYTHING GOES. We cannot fail these animals that will end up in those death chambers.”. This climate of hostility and fear understandably deterred many scientists from speaking up for research, which left the animal rights movement free reign to control the arguments presented in the media.

Ultimately, the galvanisation of the animal research advocacy movement fell to Laurie Pycroft, a then 16‐year old boy of whom British professor Sir Robert Winston described as having: “put the medical and scientific establishment, drug companies and universities to shame”. On 28 January 2006, while visiting his girlfriend, Laurie came across an animal rights demonstration protesting against the construction of the new Oxford Biomedical Research Facility. Frustrated with what he saw, he entered a shop, bought a large piece of card and marker pen and made a placard saying “Support Progress—Build the Oxford Lab!” He stood near the animal rights protest and held up his sign, despite the abuse hurled at him by AV activists.

Laurie wrote a blog entry about his day, announcing that he would hold a pro‐research rally in Oxford on February 25 to coincide with a national animal rights march through Oxford (a “pro‐test,” one of his blog followers wryly noted). In response, a handful of Oxford students approached Laurie and the “Pro‐Test” committee was born. The committee came to the decision that if we wanted people to follow us, we would have to shed our anonymity and come out publicly. To date, none of the committee has received anything nastier than a few vitriolic emails.

The Pro‐Test rally was hugely successful and the headline in the Guardian said it all: “The silent majority finds a voice”. Outnumbering the AV rally more than five‐to‐one, 850 students, scientists and members of the public marched through the streets of Oxford. From this point on, the pro‐research movement expanded rapidly, engaging in school, university, radio and TV debates up and down the country. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister at the time, signed the Coalition for Medical Progress’s “People’s Petition,” which accumulated more than 20,000 signatures in support of animal research. Moreover, Blair wrote an open letter to the Telegraph newspaper stating his support for animal research and the Pro‐Test movement. In June 2006, Pro‐Test held a second rally, once again bringing hundreds of people to the streets of Oxford.

Oxford University opened its new Biomedical Sciences Building in October 2008, offering state of the art equipment and a “gold standard” in animal care. Perhaps Pro‐Test’s biggest contribution was breaking the taboo that said that those who supported animal research should not say so openly. It is a taboo that must continue to be broken.

In March 2008, I became a fellow in public outreach at Americans for Medical Progress (AMP, USA) and founded Speaking of Research (SR), which aimed to provide accurate information about animal research and help mobilise students and staff to defend it. Over the next year, a committee of researchers, advocates technicians and science communicators came together to help run SR, giving talks, writing articles and reaching out to those affected by AV extremism.

The USA presented different challenges to the UK. National coverage is much harder to come by: incidents in one state are often not reported in the next, causing institutions to believe that tackling activism is “someone else’s problem.” I spent much time touring facilities and it was easy to see stark differences in approach. Those who had been targeted by animal rights protesters in the past had opened up their facilities for local journalists and residents to see. In this way, their local communities could assess for themselves the veracity of animal rights accusations. Those universities that were less open sometimes found themselves on the end of a protracted animal rights campaign. Scientists at UCLA, for example, had their houses flooded and were sent bombs and razor blades by mail. It was beginning to look like Oxford all over again.

In 2009, several weeks after David Jentsch, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry & Behavioural Sciences at UCLA, had his car firebombed by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), he and a small committee, myself included, organised a rally to stand up against this extremism. UCLA Pro‐Test was born; it was later renamed Pro‐Test for Science.

On 22 April 2009, 40 animal rights activists gathered for World Week for Animals in Laboratories. Across the road, approximately 800 scientists, animal technicians and other members of UCLA marched in support of science and in opposition to animal rights extremism. The rally gave scientists an opportunity to explain the importance of animal research to journalists and members of the UCLA community. The Pro‐Test petition launched at the event garnered more than 11,000 signatures and was handed to representatives of the NIH at a second pro‐research rally 1 year later.

As SR marks its sixth birthday, I have learnt the importance of scientists supporting one another. Many researchers have felt isolated by their institution’s leadership, some of whom would rather end controversial research than stand up to activists. SR has always aimed to reach out to those researchers who have been targeted, giving them an outlet to discuss their research when their institution will not.

During 8 years of involvement, I have seen many different approaches to communicating the role of animals in research—everything from open discussion to a complete unwillingness to even acknowledge such research is conducted at an institution. I have also had many opportunities to interact and discuss with those opposed to animal research. This has allowed me to build a picture of how I believe the AV movement functions, how it is structured and the factors affecting its size and strength.

“Many researchers have felt isolated by their institution’s leadership, some of whom would rather end controversial research than stand up to activists”

AV groups and organisations vary in size and structure. Some can count their members on the one hand, while others, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA, USA), claim their membership in millions. Many of the larger animal rights organisations deal with a variety of related issues including animals for food, fur farming, pet ownership and hunting, while smaller groups often focus on just one issue.

Activists are those employed, either professionally or as volunteers, by AV groups (AVGs) and AV organisations (AVOs). While the line between AVGs and AVOs is not clear‐cut, AVOs are usually formal organisations that employ staff and tend to have a much larger turnover and greater assets. Examples of AVOs would include the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV; UK), Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM; USA) and PETA. Conversely, AVGs tend to be smaller, usually less established groups that do not salary their members, but may remunerate them for work done. Examples include Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC; UK), SPEAK (UK), Negotiation is Over (NIO; USA) and Fermare Green Hill (Stop Green Hill; Italy). AVGs may grow into AVOs; both PETA and SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, USA) grew from being groups of like‐minded people into tax‐registered non‐profits. However, many AVGs appear to prefer the flexibility associated with their informality and small size.

To study the AV movement, it is important to keep in mind that animal rights activism has become a profession for many of those involved. While many sociologists originally believed that social movements were simply forms of collective action by individuals with common grievances, the view was later criticised as incomplete since many such grievances exist without associated social movements. The development of Resource Mobilisation Theory (RMT) noted that individuals require sufficient resources to be available to form a movement and that this has a significant impact on the potential success of a movement [3]. Figure 1 uses RMT to illustrate the movement of people and resources in the AV movement. Key resources include money, communication tools, influential networks and the activists themselves.

Image Credit Tom Holder, Originally Published in EMBO Reports DOI: 10.1002/embr.201438837

Click to Enlarge

Figure 1. A model of the antivivisection movement
The blue dashed arrows indicate the movement of people within the antivivisection movement: a person might read the website of an AVG and decide to change from non‐supporter (either someone who disagrees with the AV views or has not formed an opinion either way) to a supporter, donating money or spending their time and effort signing petitions. The green arrows denote the movement of resources (e.g. time and money), though it should be noted that these are not exhaustive lists of resources. In return for their time and effort, that person might get a “feel‐good buzz” about helping animals, or from the acceptance of their peers. Later, they might decide to get more involved. This change is the movement from supporter to activist (though the divisions are not clear‐cut). The activist still feels good about what he or she is doing—possibly with a greater social acceptance from their newfound colleagues—and might also find himself or herself remunerated. Note that by giving time or money to any one AVG/AVO, they are choosing not to give those resources to another, so there is a natural competition between these AVGs/AVOs. Years later, the person might find they have less time and will drop back to supporter status, or might find that the massive publicity surrounding an associated movement draws their time and effort (turquoise dashed arrows), such that they stop their involvement with the original AV movement. Such associated movements need not have any relation to animal rights, but the more similar they are to the AV movement, the more competition there will be. Legitimacy is an important resource that both supporters and activists provide. An animal rights group that can only muster 20 supporters at important demonstrations will eventually find its supporters moving to competing AVG/AVOs. When the entire antivivisection movement comes under negative media spotlight, or as laws or police activities make certain activities more difficult, many supporters may move to other associated movements, and many activists may choose to put their expertise into other areas.

The amount of money provided by supporters is not small. In the USA, PETA had an income of US$35.3 million in 2013, while the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) received US$180 million in 2012 from its 11 million supporters. The combined income of the three largest AV organisations in the UK exceeds £5 million. Even non‐registered groups can accrue large sums of money. SHAC activists amassed “around £1 million in donations to SHAC’s collection buckets and bank account”.

Given these sums, it is not surprising to see a certain level of competition for supporters and funding between organisations. The AVOs work hard to break the biggest stories, for example through undercover filming or by trawling through research papers or reports for sensational and often groundless claims about animal abuse. Between 2007 and 2011, for example, SAEN made more than six complaints per year to the USDA, often following up on rejected complaints with accusations that the USDA was failing in its role of regulator (e.g. here). In 2012, PETA alleged animal cruelty relating to sound localisation experiments on cats at the University of Wisconsin‐Madison. Both the USDA and the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal cleared the university and found the allegations baseless.

Despite the competition and some friction between animal rights groups, many appear to be closely intertwined, with activists moving between them. Jerry Vlasak, who is currently a press officer for the Animal Liberation Press Office—the mouthpiece for the ALF—has been involved in SPEAK, the Animal Defence League, Sea Shepherd and PCRM. These fluid movements are reminiscent of the way top businessmen move between the boards of firms as the skills gained within the animal rights movement are easily transferable. Alistair Currie moved from Campaign Director at BUAV to Campaign Coordinator at PETA and finally left the AV movement to become a spokesman for Free Tibet. Just as an experienced marketing consultant may move from a clothes firm to a car manufacturer, so a professional activist moves from movement to movement as the relative tides change. This reflects the professional nature of activism; however, some activists have suggested a “contamination” effect from animal rights activism that can make it harder to move out of the AV movement and into unrelated areas of campaigning.

However, it would seem that some prominent activists have also risen through the ranks, particularly of AVGs, on the back of extreme activities they have carried out under the banner of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an extremist group made up of small autonomous cells. Mel Broughton was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson in 1999 but went on to lead several campaigns, including against Oxford University. Luke Steele was sentenced to 18 months in 2012 for “harassing staff at Harlan laboratories” and now runs several AV organisations including the Anti‐Vivisection Coalition. Those serving prison sentenced gain prestige among parts of the AV community who support them and are quick to welcome them back into the fold upon release.

The tide of resources into the AV movement has ebbed and flowed over time. In 1903, after Stephen Coleridge, head of the National Anti‐Vivisection Society, lost £2,000 (over £200,000 in today’s money) in a libel action brought by the researcher William Bayliss during the Brown Dog Affair [4], the issue of animal research came to the attention of the media. As a result, resources flowed in; NAVS raised £5,735 (over £500,000 in today’s money) in just 4 months. Growing public disquiet about animal research also led to a string of dog protection bills being presented to parliament including the 1906 Dogs Act.

Activism waxed and waned in the following decades. In the 1960s, Ronnie Lee founded Band of Mercy, a direct action hunt saboteur group. Such groups helped to train animal rights activists in direct action methods. In 1975, the Australian philosopher Peter Singer wrote the seminal book, Animal Liberation, which provided the moral case for a new generation of activists [5]. The following year Ronnie Lee founded the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The 1980s saw the founding of the Animal Rights Militia, who sent bombs to politicians and animal researchers. By the early 1990s, AVGs were becoming more active. Extreme groups such as the Justice Department and Animal Rights Militia were abandoning the doctrine of non‐violence. There were dozens of bomb attacks against researchers and organisations.

In 1996–1997, activists Greg Avery and his first wife Heather Nicholson ran a 10‐month campaign that closed the Consort Kennels, a facility that bred dogs for medical research. In 1997, activists began a similar campaign that would eventually close Hillgrove Cat Farm. These campaigns were, on the face of it, legally conducted protests. Nonetheless, as support flowed in, some activists believed they had licence to take more extreme, illegal, actions: the Hillgrove Cat Farm campaign resulted in 21 jail sentences.

In 1999, Avery founded SHAC, whose members harassed and threatened staff at Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), HLS’s clients and HLS’s clients’ other clients over a period of 10 years. These tactics have spread widely: the same were used in Oxford to target the contractors, and the HLS campaign was exported to the USA in 2004 under the leadership of Kevin Kjonaas, who had spent 2 years working with Avery in the UK. John Cook, the author of a Salon article on SHAC, summarises their tactics thus: “SHAC’s modus operandi is simple, elegant and shockingly effective: Publish the names, home addresses and telephone numbers of executives and employees of Huntingdon and any companies it does business with; identify these individuals as ‘targets’” [6].

The approach of seasoned activists is professional: they take on a campaign, complete it and then look for the next one to start. It seems to me that the speed and size of a campaign is often determined by the donations to the previous campaign; in my analysis, each of Greg Avery’s campaigns was bigger than the last. As such, successful campaign leaders become role models and groom supporters to become activists (Fig 1).

Most campaigns have been relatively short. Consort Kennels was closed in 10 months, Stop Primate Experimentation at Cambridge achieved its goals within 1 year and its successor, SPEAK, forced out the first Oxford lab building contractors in less than 6 months. As a campaign drags on, it can become harder to find supporters to volunteer time and money to the cause. This can increase the pressure to take more desperate measures. Perhaps the most drastic was the grave‐robbing of Gladys Hammond’s body by the Animal Rights Militia (ARM) in 2004. As the Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs campaign (SNGP) dragged into its fifth year, ARM extremists stole the remains of the deceased mother‐in‐law of one of the guinea pig farm’s owners. Four members of SNGP were later convicted of using the desecration to blackmail the family into shutting down the farm, which happened the following year.

Such actions brought widespread public condemnation and the British police were granted new powers to tackle animal rights extremism. The UK Government set up the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) to deal with domestic extremism. The crackdown and subsequent arrests included Mel Broughton (10 years), Greg Avery (9 years) and Kevin Kjonaas (6 years). Suddenly young activists were deprived of experienced mentors and many AV activists moved into other related movements. For example, Amanda King, a British protester who was previously involved in the campaign against Oxford University and the Newchurch guinea pig campaign, was most recently involved in protesting against the UK Government’s proposed badger cull. Alongside her were veteran hunt saboteurs and campaigners who had protested against HLS and Hillgrove Cat Farm, UK.

AV extremism fell steadily from around 2005, which was likely due to a number of factors. NETCU focused heavily on animal rights extremism, with judges handing down harsher sentences. Pro‐research communication was also increasing with the Coalition for Medical Progress and the Science Media Centre both founded in 2002, and the Pro‐Test movement was gaining widespread media and public support. Finally, the public condemnation that followed high profile incidents, such as the grave‐robbing of Gladys Hammond, made animal rights a less attractive issue for young activists.

While extremism in the UK and USA has fallen to an all‐time low, there are signs that activism is on the rise in other countries. In particular, activists from across Europe are targeting Italian pharmaceutical companies, universities and breeders in a sustained campaign that may pose a serious threat to research in Italy. In the past 2 years, activists have broken into a beagle breeding facility at Green Hill, “liberating” dozens of dogs; blockaded a shipment of beagles to the pharmaceutical company Menarini until the dogs were given to activists; and broken into the University of Milan, where they mixed up the animals’ records and seized approximately 100 animals. Fortunately, a vigorous response is already underway, with the newly formed Pro‐Test Italia attracting hundreds of scientists to rallies in Milan and Rome. Nonetheless, such strong responses are few and far between—after a Brazilian research facility recently shut down after activists raided it, taking almost 200 dogs, there was only minimal response from the scientific community.

“In particular, activists from across Europe are targeting Italian pharmaceutical companies, universities and breeders in a sustained campaign”

Back in the UK, online campaigns against universities seem to be increasing in number and magnitude, while a multi‐faceted campaign by many AVGs and AVOs to prevent airlines transporting primates has left only a few willing to do so. In January 2012, the last of the ferry companies transporting laboratory animals across the English Channel stopped its service as a result of pressure from AV groups.

So what should we be doing now? Thanks to the efforts of pro‐advocacy groups and the outreach activities of many research institutions and scientists, there have been positive developments in how we discuss the use of animals in research. Furthermore, as many extremists in the UK and USA are in jail, or are recently released and under control orders that ban them from being involved in AV activism, there is little danger of extremism.

Scientists must spend more time explaining their work to the public, why animals are vital to biomedical research and the measures taken to minimise their suffering in laboratories. Social networks and online outlets, such as university departmental webpages, science blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, all offer ways for scientists to interact with the public—particularly younger audiences. Understanding Animal Research’s (UAR) “Science Action Network” points the scientific community towards articles that misrepresent animal research and posts links to Twitter with the hashtag #ARnonsense. Scientists who search for this hashtag, or who follow @ARnonsenseRT, can then go to these articles and leave comments correcting the misinformation within them. The result is that members of the public who come across these articles can quickly reassess their content.

Younger scientists often find it the hardest to speak up. Nevertheless, their voices are important. Start small; conversations with friends and family play a crucial part in “normalising” the issue of animal research, as well as practising science communication skills. Simple things like sharing animal research stories on Twitter or making mention of animal research on Facebook provide another avenue for discussion. A step further would be to write for a blog, student or local newspaper. Speaking of Research started a series of guest posts entitled “Speaking of Your Research” to provide scientists and animal care staff with a safe environment to discuss why they use animals. With science becoming more popular with the general public, there has never been a better time to discuss this issue (note the 12+ million likes for the “I Fucking Love Science” Facebook page).

“… scientists still go surprisingly quiet about animal research.”

While researchers directly involved in animal research are in the best position to talk about what they do, they are also open to accusations of bias. Therefore, it is important that the rest of the scientific community helps to explain why such research is carried out. All scientists should promote the value of both basic and applied science in all fields. I know plenty of researchers who have defended the Rothamsted Research Institute’s genetically modified wheat trials in the UK in the face of anti‐GM protests in May 2012. Yet, scientists still go surprisingly quiet about animal research.

Institutions must also speak louder. It was reassuring, for instance, that the Bremen University in Germany legally and financially supported researcher Andreas Kreiter against attempts to shut down his research on macaque monkeys. Yet, in my view, too many research institutions, particularly in the USA, lack clear and open statements about the existence and importance of their animal research programmes. This is especially true of those organisations which fund, but do not carry out, animal research, such as medical research charities. The more details provided, along with pictures and videos, the better; otherwise, activists will be happy to supply their own, unrepresentative images. Organisations also need to work with local communities, inviting residents and journalists to tour facilities and sending scientists to schools in the local area. This can help minimise the resources (of local supporters) available to a new AV campaign (Fig 1). Importantly, such actions must happen in the good times, or else risk being perceived as a cheap public relations stunt.

“The more details provided, along with pictures and videos, the better; otherwise, activists will be happy to supply their own, unrepresentative images”

While we still have a way to go, the UK continues to provide the best practice in pro‐research advocacy. Newspapers regularly report on interesting or promising research involving animals, thereby normalising the animal research issue. Universities and other institutions have driven this change by mentioning the animals used in research more regularly. Nonetheless, the long wait between initial studies in animals and the launch of new treatments means that the public can often lose sight of the link between the two. Those working on clinical research have a duty to recognise the contribution of animals when discussing new therapies with the press. In 2012, more than 40 institutions and organisations signed the Declaration on Openness, pledging to do more to communicate the important research they carry out. This is a positive step that could be emulated in other countries.

Medical research involving animals is important to all of us, and we all have a duty to provide the accurate information the public needs to make up their mind.

References

  1. Pew Research (2009) Scientific Achievements Less Prominent Than a Decade Ago. Washington, DC: The Pew Research Center. http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/section-5-evolution-climate-change-and-other-issues/
  2. Ipsos Mori (2012) Views on the Use of Animals in Research. London, UK: Ipsos Mori. http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/innovation/docs/I/ipsos-mori-views-on-use-of-animals-in-scientific-research-September-2012
  3. <em>McCarthy JD, Zald Z N (1977) Resource mobilization and social movements: a partial theory. Am J Sociol 82: 12121241 CrossRef
  4. Illman J (2008) Animal Research in Medicine: 100 years of Politics, Protests and Progress. The Story of the Research Defence Society. London: Research Defence Society
  5. Singer P (1985) The Animal Liberation Movement: its Philosophy, its Achievements, and its Future. Nottingham: Russell Press
  6. Cook J (2006) Thugs for puppies. Salon, Feb 7. www.salon.com/2006/02/07/thugs_puppies/

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/embr.201438837

European Commission rejects Stop Vivisection Initiative

Today the European Commission rejected the Stop Vivisection Initiative that sought to repeal European Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and ban animal research in the EU.

Today, there are effective treatments for many infectious diseases, some forms of cancer, and several chronic diseases such as diabetes. These advancements would have been impossible without the insights gained in animal studies.
[…]
However, the Commission does not share the view that scientific principles invalidate the ‘animal model’. Indeed, despite differences with humans, animal models have been the key scientific drivers to develop almost all existing effective and safe medical treatments and prevention measures for human and animal diseases
[…]
The Commission therefore does not intend to submit a proposal to repeal Directive 2010/63/EU and is not intending to propose the adoption of a new legislative framework.

Read the full EU report here.

Dr Paul Browne, Research Editor at Speaking of Research, said:

We welcome the decision by the European Commission to reject the Stop Vivisection Initiative. EU Directive 2010/63 which governs animal experiments has been a step forward for both animal welfare and better science. They put the 3Rs – Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research – at the heart of the rules governing animal experiments.

Animal research continues to play a key part in medical advances. Only last week we learned about a new lung cancer therapy that performed very well in clinical trials, allowing patients with the disease to live longer; this treatment was only possible thanks to studies in transgenic mice. “

The Commission’s decision is not, however, unexpected. Directive 2010/63/EU was adopted by the EU Council and Parliament in September 2010 after more than 5 years of discussion and debate, including consultation exercises in which scientists, patient organizations, animal welfare experts, animal rights organizations and members of the public were given the opportunity to submit evidence. At a time when the EU is facing some of the greatest political and economic challenges of its history it was always very unlikely that the EU commission would repeal Directive 2010/63/EU and start the negotiation process again from scratch.

EU_Commission

If the organizers and supporters of the Stop Vivisection Initiative were going to have any chance of persuading the Commission to repeal directive 2010/63/EU, they needed to make a very strong case to the MEPs who gathered to hear what they had to say at the European Parliament session held on Monday 11 May 2015.

They didn’t. The hearing was something of a flop, with reports noting that the majority of MEPs present were unconvinced by the arguments put forward by the proponents of the Stop Vivisection Initiative. It’s not difficult to see why this was the case. The Stop Vivisection Organizers and their witnesses failed to put forward any significant new evidence that had not been examined back when the Directive 2010/63/EU was originally negotiated, and at one point in the hearing descended into outright conspiracy theory thinking.

By contrast supporters of Directive 2010/63/EU made a stronger case, especially Nobel laureate Professor Francoise Barré – Sinoussi, who put forward a very strong case for the value of animal research in advancing medicine.

While this was happening scientists and supporters of medical progress in the EU were not taking any chances, and let the European Commission know in no uncertain terms how important animal research is to medical science. More than 170 organizations (Speaking of Research among them) representing scientists, major funders of medical research  and many millions of patients across the EU have signed up to a statement in support of Directive 2010/63/EU and sixteen European Nobel laureates published an open letter in UK and German newspapers to rebut the Stop Vivisection campaign. Several excellent letters on the importance of animal research were published in the national press, including a letter in the Times by Steve Ford, Chief executive of Parkinson’s UK, as well as articles such as that written by Oxford University Duchenne muscular dystrophy researcher Professor Kay Davies. In addition research funders have added information explaining their position on animal research to their websites, for example the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s top medical research charities, have published a briefing on “Why we support research involving animals”, and a Q&A on European Directive 2010/63/EU.

We congratulate the European Commission on this good decision for science and patients in Europe, and the EU scientific community for speaking up for science with one voice.

Speaking of Research

Stop vivisection Initiative fails to impress at EU hearing

In March we discussed a new attempt by animal rights supporters to ban animal research in Europe, The Stop Vivisection European Citizens’ Initiative, which was signed by  1.2 million people (half of them in Italy). The initiative calls for “the European Commission to abrogate directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and to present a new proposal that does away with animal experimentation”. On Monday 11th May the organizers of the initiative had an opportunity to present it to a joint session of  several European Parliament committees, in a hearing that was also addressed by scientists who spoke in favor of keeping directive 2010/63/EU.

So how did it go?

Well, an editorial in last week’s edition of Nature gave a fair assessment of it when they described the session as “a pretty grey affair” in which the duo who presented the initiative – Gianni Tamino and Claude Reiss – “spoke calmly but unconvincingly” to a half-filled auditorium. A transcript and summary of the key points made by the European Animal Research Association and put together the key points that were said during the meeting (download here) indicates that the initiative is almost certain to fail in its objective of  persuading the EU Commission to repeal Directive 2010/63/EU.

European-Parliament

A look through the EARA report  shows why. Any MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) hoping to hear new evidence from Dr Ray Greek and Dr Andre Menache, the scientific advisors who the Stop Vivisection Initiative organizers had brought along, were in for a  disappointment, as instead they presented a veritable greatest hits of anti-vivisection claims. Their testimony included Dr Ray Greek’s trademark  misrepresentation of what “prediction” means in biomedical research, while Dr Menache reheated the old 0.0004% myth. Surprisingly, these were far from being the worst claims made by supporters of the Stop vivisection initiative. Particularly low points came when MEP, and initiative supporter,  Anja Hazekamp stated that there has been massive increase in animal testing (The EU’s own statistics show the opposite) and when Claude Reiss, one of the organizers of the Stop Vivisection petition, ventured deep into conspiracy theory territory with a claim that there is a patent on HIV treatment that completely cleans the virus from the body, but has not been developed because it is not profitable.

In contrast the voice of science was very ably represented. Professor Francoise Barré – Sinoussi, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine for her role proving that HIV causes AIDS, put forward a very strong case for the importance of animal research in advancing medicine, and repeatedly demolished false claims made by anti-vivisectionists, particularly claims that animal research had not made a useful contribution to HIV research and the development of a vaccine against HIV infection. On this she is on safe ground as there is no doubt that animal research has made very important contributions to HIV research and development of therapies (for examples see here, here and here), and while development of an effective vaccine has been slow – because it’s very, very difficult – there has been real progress in recent years, and most HIV experts is that studies in  non-human primate models of the infection have a critical role to play in evaluating potential vaccination strategies.

Francoise Barré - Sinoussi, undoubted star of the EU parliament hearing.

Francoise Barré – Sinoussi, undoubted star of the EU parliament hearing.

Throughout the hearing one very important voice was conspicuous by its absence, that of the patients who rely on medical research. MEP Françoise Grossetête, who spoke in favor of retaining Directive 2010/63/EU, noted in particular that EURORDIS, the organization that represents rare disease patients in Europe, had not been invited to present evidence at the hearing. We hope that the EU commission will now actively seek the advice of EURORDIS and other European patient organizations before making their final decision.

What happens now?

At the hearing the Vice-President of the European Commission confirmed that the Commission will provide a formal response to the initiative by 3 June 2015. On the basis of what we saw at the hearing, and the fact that the majority of MEPS present were in favor of retaining Directive 2010/63/EU, it is a near certainty that the EU commission will reject the Stop Vivisection initiative and retain the Directive.

In 2017 the Directive will undergo it’s first 5 year review, which is likely to focus on its implementation across the EU, but the commission have also promised to organize a scientific conference that year to discuss the validity of animal research. With that in mind it’s good to see that last week’s Nature editorial noted that scientists across the EU are becoming increasingly – and refreshingly – vocal on the need to support animal research as a pillar of scientific and medical progress. In recent weeks we’ve seen thousands of scientists sign a motion of solidarity with a neuroscientist targeted by animal rights extremists in Germany, more than 140 research organizations, patient organizations, medical research funders and scientific associations sign up to a statement in support of Directive 2010/63/EU, Sixteen European Nobel laureates publish an open letter in UK and German newspapers to rebut the Stop Vivisection campaign. We’ve also seen several excellent letters appear in the national press, including a letter in the Times by Steve Ford, Chief executive of Parkinson’s UK, on the importance of animal research, and articles such as that written by Oxford University Duchenne muscular dystrophy researcher Professor Kay Davies.

The Stop Vivisection Initiative may have almost run its course, but the threat to the future of biomedical science in the EU is sadly never very far away. We hope that the current re-invigoration of the European scientific community continues, and that scientists strengthen and expand their engagement with politicians, journalists and citizens in the run-up to 2017 and beyond.

Speaking of Research

Animal research openness in action – from Cambridge to Florida

Last week we published an article calling on all involved in animal research to speak up for science as animal rights activists held their annual World Week for Animals in Laboratories (WWAIL), writing:

This year, if your university or facility is among those that attract attention during WWAIL, we ask that you join in the conversation by providing protestors, public, and media your own voice.  Whether it is via banners, websites, or talking with reporters– speak up for science and for public interests in advancing scientific understanding and medical progress. Although it may not matter to those committed to an absolutist agenda, it can matter to those who are interested in building a dialogue based in fact and serious consideration of the complex issues that surround public interests in the future of science, health, and medicine.”

The past few days have seen several great examples of just the sort of engagement with the public that we had in mind, including videos form two top universities in the UK that take viewers inside their animal research facilities.

The first comes from the University of Cambridge, who have published a video entitled “Fighting cancer: Animal research at Cambridge”, which focuses on how animals used in research are cared for and how the University implements the principles of the 3Rs. It includes interviews with Professor Gerard Evans of the Department of Biochemistry, who uses mice in studies of lung and pancreatic cancers, and Dr Meritxell Hutch of the Gurdon Institute, who has developed 3D liver cell culture models that she uses to reduce the number of mice required for her studies of tissue repair and regeneration, as well as with members of staff as they care for the animals.

The second example is another video, this time from Imperial College London, which also show how research staff care for the animals used in research, and features an interview with Professor of Rheumatology Matthew Pickering, who studies the role of complement proteins in liver damage in mice.

For the third example we cross the Atlantic to South Florida, where animal rights activists are trying to close down several facilities in Hendry County  that are breeding monkeys for medical research, a service that is hugely important to biomedical research. One of the companies being targeted by the animal rights campaigns is Primate Products, so we were delighted to see Dr. Jeff Rowell, a veterinarian and President of Primate Products, speak up about the vital work they do in an interview with journalist Amy Williams of local news outlet News-Press.com.

Primate products

During the interview Dr. Rowell discusses how the work of Primate Products is misrepresented by dishonest animal rights campaigns, including the inaccurate and malicious allegations made by the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) in 2010. As we discussed in a post at the time, these allegations were based on the deliberate misrepresentation of photos taken during veterinary care of injuries several macaques received in fighting with other macaques when housed in social groups (a normal though infrequent behaviour in the species in the wild and in captivity).

The News-Press.com article also shows that there is still a lot of work to be done to improve openness in animal research, as the three other companies that are breeding monkeys for research in Hendry County refused to speak with the Amy Williams, a shame considering that it was their decision to base themselves in the county that triggered the current animal rights campaign. While they are justifiably nervous of speaking with the press (some journalists and publications are arguably beyond redemption) the truth is that the “No comment” approach works for no-one apart from those who oppose animal research. In speaking at length with Amy Williams, Jeff Rowell has provided an excellent example that his colleagues in Hendry County would do well to follow.

The initiatives we have seen from the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and Primate Products over the past few days are extremely welcome, and we applaud them for their efforts. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that the future of medical science will never really be secure until they are the norm rather than the exception.

Before we conclude, it’s worth noting that it’s not just in the US and UK that researchers are beginning to realise the importance of openness in animal research to counter misleading antivivisectionist propaganda. In Italy Prof. Roberto Caminiti, a leading neurophysiologist at the University La Sapienza in Rome whose work is currently being targeted by animal rights activists, was interviewed recently for an excellent video produced by Pro-Test Italia, in which he discusses his primate research and how it is regulated.

Speaking of Research