Category Archives: Outreach News

Community Outreach: Talking about the animals

Many of us that work in biomedical research often are confronted with the dreaded question: “What do you do for a living?” The anxiety of the inevitable conversation about animal research can be palpable. One may ask, “Do I tell them the truth and get into a debate about the ethics of animal research? Or do I tell them that I am an accountant, thus avoiding any further conversation about my career?” Although distorting the truth works, but it does a great disservice to all those involved. How will people really understand animal research unless accurate, balanced information is provided? Historically, the majority of the information available is from science journals or biased animal rights groups. As a result, the bulk of the information is skewed to paint animal research as a vile, unethical institution that cares little about the animals. On the other hand, science journals describe the science, written for scientists. How does the lay person get that accurate information? That accurate information comes from you, the one that works in the industry.

It is important to note that I do not speak for all individuals in this field, but the sentiment behind my words is shared by the vast majority. Those of us that have chosen to work in this field have done so for very specific reasons:  Some of us do it to be a part of human and/or animal medical advances; others do it because they feel passionate about animal welfare and, of course, there will always be a few people who do it solely because they like having a steady job with a steady paycheck. Fortunately, the vast majority of people in the industry do not subscribe to the latter reason.

The fact that many people disapprove of animal research, but nearly all benefit from it, indicates that most people do not truly understand how biomedical research works. From food and drug production to vaccines, surgical and disease treatments, humans have benefited from animal research for hundreds of years. The sheer shock that the public has in reaction to animal research stories indicates that more education is needed. For example, the A.L.S. ice bucket challenge was all the rage last year, yet some people complained they did not want their charitable dollars to go towards animal research. The fact that some people did not know that all medical testing and treatments have or will go through animal testing before use in humans demonstrates the lack of education regarding the system. It is now time to explain it. When it comes to public opinion it is important to understand that people’s perception of complicated and controversial subjects is dramatically affected by the available information to which they are exposed. We can thank the biased animal rights groups for providing the bulk of the misinformation about research that exists today. They have had years to twist the truth and present their information in a way that immediately causes negative emotional responses in those that are subjected to this information. That is the same stance those of us in research must take. We must talk about what we do, but it should be made personal. This is the only way the lay person will be able to relate, at the personal level.

When I think of a personal story that describes the environment of research as well as the people and animals, I think of Duncan. Duncan was a chimpanzee I had the honor to know while working as a veterinary technician. Since he didn’t have a family group, he had to be housed singly, along with three other lone males. We were tasked to give them a little extra attention. Although I spent time with all of the males, Duncan was, by far, my favorite. I spent many hours over the years sitting next to his enclosure and talking to him. Of course, he would nod and grunt at me, not allowing me to feel too crazy speaking to an animal. One day, Duncan became sick. He had saculitis (inflammation of his air sacs) that was not responding to treatment.   After weeks of diligent care, Duncan succumbed to his disease. I was holding him and petting him the day he passed. As he lay breathing his last breath, I looked around me. All I saw was a family crying over the loss of a member. From care techs to managers and veterinarians, we all cried together. The loss of this amazing creature shook everyone to the core. This pain can only be compared to the loss of a human loved one. I felt great comfort in knowing that we all mourned Duncan and that we, as the caregivers that did more than just feed him, we loved him.   It is with stories like this, that the true face of biomedical research can be seen, from great love and compassion. These are the stories we need to tell.

CC-BY-NC-SA

Creative Commons BY-NC-SA: kathyweststudios@gmail.com

Once an individual is empowered to speak up about research and tell their story, as I was through Duncan, the next step is to determine the outlet and the audience. Anyone can get involved with outreach; locally or nationally. Some examples are: Institute of Animal Technology (IAT), American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), technical schools, local career days, contributions to web sites publishing articles about science and, of course, casual conversation. Please see the end of this article for links to various avenues for outreach.

Regardless of the platform for outreach, the target audience should always be considered. Formulate your discussion, lecture, presentation or article around the individual that will be receiving the information. If the bulk of your audience is not science based, avoid scientific jargon- speak in plain terms. Most importantly, explain how your work has or may improve medicine as if you are speaking to someone with no knowledge of the inner-workings of research.

Now that you have a story to tell, you may ask yourself: Why should I speak out? The answer is clear.   The people with the best knowledge of the inner workings of research are the best source of information. It is time that the research community counteracts the years animal rights groups have had to speak against research. The best way to counteract those effects is to be open about what we do and how we do it. We should inform the public by providing balanced information. Let them make their own decisions but with correct information, instead of skewed rhetoric that serves only to fuel the extreme views that all animal research is bad and managed by heartless people that do not care about animals or society. Each one of us should be proud of our careers. It is time to show your pride and tell the world what we do and why we do it. We, the research community, are in favor of ethical treatment of animals for biomedical research and would prefer a world where disease did not need to be studied. We would also prefer a world where there was effective and appropriate alternatives for animal research, however, none are currently available or reliable to use for all research. Until that day comes, we will continue to provide the best care we can- not only because it is the law but because it is the right thing to do.

James Champion

Speaking of Research accepts guest posts from researchers, technicians, veterinarians, and those involved in outreach. If you are interested in writing a post for us, please contact us.

Open Letter to the Australian Senate regarding a proposed bill to ban the import of primates

The following letter has been sent to the Committee Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications regarding the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research) Bill 2015. This proposed bill would ban the Australian research community from importing primates for use in biomedical research. The following is a segment of the proposed amendment:

Australian Bill

We encourage the scientific community to leave comments of support for our letter in the comment section below.

Dear Committee Secretary,

Nonhuman primate research has played an important role in many medical breakthroughs, from the polio vaccine to the development of life support systems for premature babies.

Studies with nonhuman primates are a small fraction of basic, behavioural, and biomedical research; however, they are critical to scientific research that seeks to address health issues of grave concern to the public. Nonhuman primate research includes studies relevant to understanding, preventing, and treating a range of diseases including, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, anaemia and a multitude of mental health conditions.

Thanks to research on primates:

  • Polio has been eradicated from Australia, saving tens of thousands of children from crippling disability
  • Thousands of Australians have had Deep Brain Stimulation to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s
  • Over 20,000 HIV positive Australians can live a relatively normal life thanks to the development of antiretrovirals
  • Australian children can be vaccinated against Hepatitis B, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella

Measures to constrain nonhuman primate research in Australia puts future medical breakthroughs in jeopardy.

Australian law already bans the use of wild caught nonhuman primates for research (as does the EU). Such laws should continue to be actively enforced to uphold animal welfare standards, but importantly, should not be expanded to prevent important nonhuman primate research being conducted.

Preventing researchers from importing nonhuman primates could prevent scientists from responding to public health issues or new areas of biomedical research in Australia and beyond. The domestic supply of nonhuman primates may be able to provide for most of the needs of the scientific community, but also risks constraining it. Any future Australian research would be limited to species of monkeys currently bred in Australia’s three breeding colonies, effectively restricting the animal models available to the biomedical community.

Research conducted with nonhuman primates is strictly regulated. All research must be approved by Animal Ethics Committees, who apply the 3 Rs framework to ensure that animal studies are Replaced wherever there is a non-animal alternative, Refined to ensure animal suffering is minimised, and Reduced to ensure that as few animals are used as is necessary to produce scientifically viable results. Animal welfare remains a high priority for the scientific community – with animal care personnel and veterinary staff providing round-the-clock care for their wards.

Yours faithfully,

Speaking of Research

Inês Albuquerque
Jeremy Bailoo, Ph.D
Prof Mark G Baxter
Prof Allyson Bennett
Paul Browne, Ph.D
James Champion
Paula Clifford
Amanda M. Dettmer, Ph.D
Prof Doris Doudet
Jazzminn Hembree RLATG
Tom Holder
Prof J. David Jentsch
Juan Carlos Marvizon, Ph.D
Kimberley Phillips Ph.D
Prof Dario Ringach
Simon R Schultz, DPhil

Background Briefing on Animal Research in Germany

Speaking of Research have now added a fourth background briefing on animal research to our list. We now have a German background briefing – in both English and German – to add to our briefings on the US, UK and Canada. We hope this briefing will offer journalists, politicians and the public a short, handy overview of the key facts. Our two-page summary provides information including the number of animals used for research purposes, the laws and regulations surrounding animal research, and some key questions people have.

Download our background briefing on animal research in Germany [or in German]

As with our previous briefings, we encourage those working in universities, pharmaceuticals, and other research institutions, to help share this document when contacting or responding to journalists about research stories relating to their institution. By attaching this background briefing to proactive stories, or reactive statements, it can help ensure that your research is understood within the context of the wider research environment.

We would like to thank Pro-Test Deutschland – particularly Renee Hartig, Florian Dehmelt and Jennifer Smuda – for their help in gathering information on the German legislation, and for translating the German-language version of the document.

The latest version of all our briefings can be found on both the Multimedia resources page, and in the menu system under Facts->Animal Research Briefings.

See a sample of the briefing below:

Briefing note on animal research in Germany

We permit anyone to redistribute this briefing providing it remain unchanged, and in whole, with credit to Speaking of Research.

We would also like to thank the Science Media Centre (in the UK), who’s “Briefing Notes on the Use of Animals in Research” provided the inspiration for our own.

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.

Please consider supporting the activities of Speaking of Research. We are asking our readers for small individual contributions (up to $15/€10) to help us pay our $150 website costs for 2016. See more here.

A request to our multilingual readers

To our multilingual readers (or our monolingual readers’ multilingual friends), we need your help. We have been trying to build up a picture of animal research worldwide, however our efforts are limited due to language barriers in some countries. So far we have statistics for 13 countries and the EU, copied below. We are looking for people in other countries (or who speak the language) to help us get the animal research statistics for 2014 (or failing that, 2013).

Multilingual SpeakersDifferent countries have their own reporting requirements. All EU countries must now collate and report their animal research data in the same way (though some countries are slower than others at publishing these). On the other hand, countries like Australia do not collate them centrally, instead leaving this to individual territories – some of which collate these statistics, some of which do not.

In order to report on a country, we (at minimum) need the number of each species, or the number of procedures on each species, used in research in a given year. However, additional information on types of research, severity, previous years, etc., all help build up a picture of research in the country. It is also helpful if you can give us an English translation of the headings in any table that you send us. Information should be sent to contact@speakingofresearch.com

Some information may be easily found online – it is just a case of finding the correct webpage of the correct Government department (e.g. here or here or here). Other Governments have FOI laws which can be invoked by emailing the relevant department and requesting the figures. An example email might read:

To whom it may concern,

I would like to know how many animals were used in research in <country> in 2013 and 2014. Please could you provide these figures, or provide a webpage, with these statistics broken down by species.

Yours faithfully

Here is the list of countries where we currently have statistics. We are also interested in getting more recent statistics where they exist.

Country Year Number of animals (vertebrates)*
Number of mammals exc. mice and rats
More information
Canada 2013 3,023,184 307,109 Link
Denmark 2012 252,825 19,503 Link
European Union (EU) 2011 11,481,521 773,306 Link
Finland 2014 288,142 16,206 Link
Germany 2014 2,798,463 188,872 Link
Ireland 2014 224,249 9,841 Link
Israel 2014 340,330 ~6,800 Link
Netherlands 2013 526,593 38,487 Link
New Zealand 2013 224,048 111,471 Link
Northern Ireland † 2013 18,638 2,798 Link
Spain 2014 808,827 45,290 Link
Switzerland 2014 606,505 22,953 Link
United Kingdom (UK) † 2014 3,867,439 117,546 Link
United States (US) 2014 ~ 12-25 million‡ 834,453 Link

Full information, including explanations for certain elements of the table, can be found here

Thank you to all our readers for your support.

Speaking of Research

Guest Post: What it means for me to be a veterinary technician in biomedical research

James Champion is a registered veterinary technician that is the Director of Operations of Morehouse School of Medicine’s Center for Laboratory Animal Resources.  He has worked in animal research for over twelve years.  He was also awarded the AAALAC International Fellowship Award in 2015.

Since I was a young child, I have gravitated towards all animals.  For most of my life, they seemed to be kindred spirits of mine.   This passion for animals led me to veterinary technology.  Although, I admit, I started as a veterinary technician so I could get experience that would eventually lead me to veterinary school; it turned into a fulfilling and exciting career.  As life often demonstrates to us; our plans are meaningless.

I had been working as a veterinary technician since I was sixteen, following that path until 2002.  That is when a friend, after seeing a job posting at Emory University, asked me if I wanted to work with monkeys.  Of course, my response was an immediate ‘yes’.  That was when my career in biomedical research began.  I was a veterinary technician for a research breeding facility where I helped to ensure all the animals were healthy and happy.  No one warned me of the backlash I would experience when I spoke of my new career.  I learned real quickly how hot of a topic biomedical research was.  It was also, then, that my undesired shame for what I did was starting to manifest.  I started to fear being targeted by animal rights groups, having a debate every time I discussed my career, as well as, fear that I was blindly supporting the use of animals to better human life.  It soon became clear to me; we don’t talk about what we do.  A great example of this was during a Christmas holiday, my cousin, who happens to be diabetic and has scoliosis, asked me, “How can you do that to those cute monkeys.”  The ridiculousness of this question coming from someone who can directly observe the benefits of animal research was not lost on me.  After the initial shock of being accused of doing something nefarious, I truly understood her motivation for her question.  She had little to no understanding of how research actually works and how it is heavily regulated.

James Champion Veterinary Technician

Although my opinions of research are different than those that lack the understanding of the system, my drive within my field is not different from others.  I have personally seen the positive results from research.  From the longevity of my pets to the treatment that allowed my grandmother to live, reducing the debilitating effects of the stroke she had.  In addition to that, I would not have been able to travel to England and Africa this past year without contracting any diseases without the vaccines and medications I was provided.  I wouldn’t have been able to travel if I had not had back pain injections last year, allowing me to stand upright and be able to sit for the length of time that was required for my international travel.  For me, I feel like I am contributing the improved welfare of the world around me by participating in the industry that trains our future doctors as well as contributes to the medical advances in our understanding and treatments of diseases.  Unfortunately, this was not quite enough for me to be at ease working in this field.

After much soul searching, I found my purpose.  I was able to reconcile my doubts and put all of my energy in doing what I feel I was meant to do.  I became the advocate for our research animals.  This change was not a result of a promotion or specific instruction.  It was clear to me, if I was not in my position, putting the animal welfare as the utmost importance, who would?    If you asked anyone in research, you would find a high percentage of people that would gladly give up their careers if it meant not needing to use animals.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a suitable alternative, at least, not yet.  Until that day comes, we in the research industry will continue to provide care for these animals, to which we owe much gratitude.  All current medical advances (vaccines, antibiotics, treatments, etc.) are all due to the animal heroes that have provided the data needed to combat diseases in both humans and animals.

Vervet Monkeys

“That is when a friend asked me if I wanted to work with monkeys. Of course, my response was an immediate ‘yes’.”

Despite the differences we humans have in our opinions, it isn’t our duty to change someone’s views. That is an internal and personal process and journey upon which we must embark alone.  Our duty as bastions of animal welfare is to proudly discuss our jobs as animal care givers.  Most people do not understand the process for applying, planning and initiating any animal studies.  If more information is provided and more openness is observed, less people may have as strong of negative impression of biomedical research as they do.  At this stage in my life, it has become clear that I must be a part of the ‘coming out of the research closet’.  I began to speak at conferences for research staff as well as veterinary technician conferences, speaking of the great work we do in research.  By inspiring our colleagues and openly talking about what I do, I feel the path is set.

Why do I think veterinary technicians are needed in research?  I may be biased since I am a veterinary technician that has become the Director of Operations of an animal research program, but I feel veterinary technicians are needed in research.  Most veterinary technicians have big hearts, making them compassionate care givers with an innate ability to recognize pain and suffering.  In addition to that critical quality, veterinary technicians are able to triage cases to ensure intervention is provided only when necessary.  Lastly, most veterinary technicians are able to handle euthanasia (although the worse part of the job), understand the balance between costs versus care.  They do this daily; taking care of others’ animals while their own are home waiting for them.

Being an animal lover, I am often confronted with consternation that I am able to work in this field.  Although the inquiry can be offensive because it implies that I condone hurting animals in some way and that I do not care that we use animals for our needs.  If you know someone that is an animal lover (as are most of us that work in this field), ask yourself:  “Is this job easy for someone that loves animals?”  If they love animals, this career must not be easy for them.  Instead of asking them how they can participate in this work, try thanking them.  Thank them for being there 365 days a year to ensure these animals do not suffer and the best care possible is being provided.  Thank them, also, for combating emotional fatigue to ensure we are steadily studying disease and its treatments.  Lastly, the animals that make this sacrifice should be thanked.  This gratitude can be shown by providing these animals with the best care possible.  As a result, our scientists get the best data possible.

Biomedical research is a difficult, yet rewarding career.  It requires high standards of care and compliance with regulations.  It also requires compassion that is tested every day.  For those that work in this field, they must understand the value of animal welfare and how that affects high quality data.  Without the care of qualified and compassionate staff, this data would not exist and the research community would not be able to provide the world with medications, treatments and vaccines.  The only way to bring the debate to the forefront is to talk about it.  Be proud.  Talk about what you do.  Get involved and share your experiences.

James Champion, CMAR, LATG

FASEB Hosts Briefing on Canine Research

On November 17, 2015, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) sponsored a congressional briefing highlighting the role that canines play in advancing both human and dog health.  Attended by Congressional staffers and other stakeholder, the briefing highlighted three panelists who described how studying naturally occurring diseases in dogs improves our understanding of corresponding human diseases.

Timothy Nichols, MD, Director of the Francis Owen Blood Research Laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill opened the briefing by discussing his research on hemophilia, a rare blood disorder where sufferers lack clotting factors and have uncontrollable bleeding.  Some dogs, like humans, are genetically prone to hemophilia and have been instrumental in learning more about the disease and  in  identifying new treatments of hemophilia for dogs and humans.  Many of the therapies available to humans have been developed in susceptible dog breeds, and more therapies are currently being tested. For example, Dr. Nichols explained that dogs treated with gene therapy have been disease free for over seven years.  He hopes that this treatment can soon be applied to humans.

Beagle in research

Following Dr. Nichols was Amy LeBlanc, DVM, DACVIM, Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Program.  Dr. LeBlanc oversees clinical trials where pet dogs with naturally occurring cancers are enrolled in studies through the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium to test new treatment paradigms.  Results from treating dog patients are used to help inform trials with analogous human cancers.  Dr. LeBlanc noted that dogs are a great model for studying cancer relevant to humans because dogs are outbred, exposed to the same environment and stresses, and have genetic profiles similar to humans.  Additionally, dogs are immune-competent and cancer metastasis occurs in a comparable manner to humans.

Elaine Ostrander, PhD, Chief of the Cancer Genetics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, discussed her research studying the canine genome.  Using DNA samples of pure-bred dogs supplied by pet owners, breeders, and veterinarians, Ostrander’s laboratory identifies the genetic basis for specific traits.  For example, studying the genetic profile of dogs with short legs (e.g., corgis, dachshunds) led to the understanding that a specific gene is responsible for an excess of a specific growth factor resulting in an inhibition of cartilage forming cells, slowed bone growth, and shortened legs.  Identifying of this gene may help researchers address growth conditions in humans.

During the question and answer period, the panelists were asked a number of questions by audience members. The importance of using the correct animal model for the scientific question being asked was highlighted and emphasized by Dr. Nichols’ response, “hemophiliac mice don’t bleed, dogs do.” When the panelists questioned whether animal models of disease were becoming more important in studying human disease, there was an emphatic “absolutely” by all speakers.

FASEB Briefing - Animal Research Saves Lives - Facts on Dogs

To coincide with the briefing, the Federation also released a new canine research factsheet (partially pictured above) detailing the ways in which research with dogs has improved human and canine health and the many ways in which it is regulated. The factsheet and other educational materials were distributed to attendees—including congressional staffers—and can be found on FASEB’s website.

Often, congressional offices hear about animal research only from those who are against it.  These briefings allow for researchers to speak directly to the staff of influential lawmakers and explain the importance of animal models in biomedical and biological research. These types of outreach events are crucial in helping to dispel the myths perpetuated by those opposed to animal research.

Speaking of Research

Canada Releases 2013 Animal Use Statistics

Our statistical releases continue. Last week the Canadian Council on Animal Care released its report on the number of animals used in Canada for scientific purposes. The CCAC is an independent oversight body that oversees the ethical use of animals in research. They also develop guidelines and promote training programs to ensure that all individuals involved in animal research or welfare are properly trained before being allowed to work with the animals. The CCAC reports that in 2013, 3,023,184 animals were used for research, teaching and testing in Canada. This is an increase of 4.6% (134,175 animals), from the 2,889,009 animals that were used in 2012. These numbers include all vertebrates and Cephalapods, but do not include other invertebrates such as fruit flies or nematode worms.

Animals Used in Research in Canada in 2013

Table of animals used in research in Canada in 2013. Click to Enlarge

Mice (40.8%), fish (32.1%) and rats (7.5%) once again were the three animal types most often studied. The majority of animals (61.6%) were used in studies of a fundamental nature/basic research, representing 1,897,831 animals. Category of invasiveness describes the level of pain and or distress that an animal could potentially be exposed to while under study. Category B, which could include breeding activities for domestic animal herds or genetically engineered rodents, accounted for 812,118 (26.4%) animals. In the highest category of invasiveness E, 78,294 (2.5%) animals were counted. This number is down from 93,242 (3.1%) counted in 2012. 48.1% of animals in E protocols were studied for testing purposes, which are required by the Canadian governments to ensure that new drugs, vaccines and products are safe and efficacious for use in humans and other animals. The three types of animals most frequently used in E protocols were fish, mice and guinea pigs.

Animals used in research in Canada 2013 by species

Animals used in research in Canada in 2013

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

Speaking of Research