Category Archives: Outreach News

UK Charities Explaining Animal Research

Following from our previous post on US charities explaining their animal research, we will now take a look at UK charities using the same criteria. Of the UK top 200 charities (by income in 2012), only six conduct animal research.

The first thing to note is that all six organisations are members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) – an umbrella organisation which demands that its members endorse a statement on the role of animals in research, a portion of which can be read below:

The public supports medical research charities to find new treatments and cures for debilitating and life threatening conditions. All AMRC charities have strategies for how they will fund high quality research to better understand disease and so improve health and wellbeing.
[…]
Whilst not all our members are currently funding research using animals as part of their strategy, they all support the principle of using animals in research when it is necessary to advance understanding of serious health conditions to develop better treatments and there is no alternative that can be used to find out the same information without using animals.

Secondly, all six organisations have signed the Concordat on Openness on Animals in Research in the UK which, among other things, demands signatories will:

Commitment 1: We will be clear about when, how and why we use animals in research

Commitment 2: We will enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals

Ratings Criteria:

The ratings criteria are the same as that used to look at the US charities. To me, the most important thing is that information exists if people need it. Preferably people need to be able to find this information online rather than have to call up for it. Each of the following five criteria will give a charity one star.

  • There is a statement available
  • It provides a good overall explanation of why they fund animal research
  • It is available on their website
  • It provides an explanation on how they determine when to fund animal research
  • Does the website make any mention of the use of animals, for example, in the summaries of research they fund

Cancer Research UK

Five out of Five stars 5/5The main policy page on “The use of animals in cancer research” is disappointing, with only a short statement:

A great deal of cancer research is carried out without using animals. In certain areas, however, animal research remains essential if we are to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Cancer Research UK only uses animals when there is no alternative.

Cancer patients and their families are at the heart of everything we do. We believe that all our research is vital if we are to save the lives of more patients in the future.

However, CRUK also have an easily googleable blog post on the issue which they often provide to those wanting more information. This blog post is fantastic, it begins:

More people are surviving cancer than ever before.

Thanks to decades of research, survival from cancer has doubled in the last 40 years, giving thousands of people more time with their loved ones. In fact, more than half of all patients will now survive for at least ten years.

But this progress simply wouldn’t have been possible without animal research.

At Cancer Research UK, research using animals is part of our efforts to beat cancer. This includes discovering the faulty genes and molecules that cause cancer, investigating how the disease grows and spreads, developing and testing new treatment and tests, and exploring how our immune system can help fight tumours.

The 2,500+ word post, written by the Director of Science Funding, explains why animal research is important, its past contributions, and the reasons and conditions under which animal research projects may be funded. The main pity is that this blog post isn’t linked to from the policy statement, or better yet the information from the blog post put onto the policy statement page.

CRUK also mention animals (usually mice) in research news stories, such as a recent piece that found the activity levels of particular genes in breast tumours could identify more aggressive forms of the disease. This story was mainly about clinical studies, but mentioned early findings in mice that led them there.

Cancer Research UK – 5/5 stars

The Wellcome Trust

Five out of Five stars 5/5
The Wellcome Trust provides an easy-to-find, lengthy statement regarding why they both conduct and fund animal research. Here is a portion.

The use of animals in research has enabled major advances in the understanding of biology and led to the development of nearly every type of drug, treatment or surgical procedure in contemporary medical and veterinary practice. Some of the best-known examples include:

  • antibiotics such as penicillin and streptomycin
  • vaccines for polio, meningitis, distemper, foot and mouth
  • treatments for conditions such as cystic fibrosis and asthma
  • drugs to treat mental diseases like depression
  • organ transplants and blood transfusions
  • the use of insulin for diabetes
  • and contraception for use by people and in controlling animal breeding.

The Wellcome Trust is therefore convinced that the use of animals in research remains valid where the potential benefits to be gained by humans and other animals from such research outweighs the use of animals in that research.

The subheadings in the statement show the breadth of the statement:

  • Why animals are used in medical research
  • How many animals are used?
  • Research involving animals is licenced by the Home Office
  • Research must be approved as ethical
  • Wellcome Trust-funded research involving animals
  • The 3Rs – replacement, reduction and refinement
  • Alternatives to animals in medical research

Wellcome news articles and other communications regularly mention the use of animals. For example their recent letter to the UK House of Lords regarding mitochondrial donation mentions the role of mice and monkeys in the development and testing of this new method.

The Wellcome Trust – 5/5 stars

British Heart Foundation

Five out of Five stars 5/5BHF finish the list of British charities in equal form. They provide an extensive statement about their use of animals providing links to other organisations and to their fantastic leaflet on the issue. Here is a portion of the statement:

BHF's leaflet on animal research

BHF’s leaflet on animal research

By studying new medicines and techniques in human cells in the lab first, and carefully trialling the best ones in animals, we’ve done all we can to make sure they’re going to be effective and safe for treating patients.

Researchers are studying how the heart develops in mice and fish to better understand what can go wrong to cause babies to be born with heart defect

Potential new heart medicines that work on human cells in the dish must be assessed in a living system before trials in patients can be carried out

Animal studies can reveal potential problems with new treatments allowing dangerous side effects to be spotted before clinical trials

The research community is constantly developing new techniques to help reduce the number of animals needed or non-animal models. Scientists we fund carry out as much of their research as possible on human volunteers, cells, or computer models for example.

However, completely replacing all animals in research is not yet possible. There is no alternative method that can reproduce the complicated working of our hearts and circulatory systems.

Similarly their news article and other pages on the website will frequently mention the use of animals like rats, mice and zebrafish. British Heart Foundation should also be congratulated for going front and centre with their animal research when they put out a TV advert mentioning their research on zebrafish.

British Heart Foundation – 5/5 stars

Arthritis Research UK

Four out of five stars 4/5Arthritis Research UK are signed up to the AMRC statement, and link to it, but also provide their own perspective. Here is an extract:

Medical research using animals has made a vital contribution to advances in medicine and surgery which have brought major improvements to the health of people. Research using animals will continue to be essential to tackle many of the unsolved problems in understanding and treating musculoskeletal conditions.

The UK has one of the most rigorous systems in the world for regulating animal research. The UK requires permissions from both central Government and local ethical reviews to conduct research involving animals. As part of this approval process, each medical research project using animals must be examined and ways to improve adoption of the 3Rs are considered

The whole statement covers regulation and the 3Rs, to explain when animal research can happen, but I’m not convinced they made the strongest case for why animal research is necessary. An example treatment made possible by animal studies would have really strengthened the statement.

Arthritis Research UK regularly mention animal research in their news posts, such as a recent cell-based approach to regenerate bone and cartilage developed in mice.

Arthritis Research UK – 4/5 stars

Parkinson’s UK

Five out of Five stars 5/5Parkinson’s UK provides a long statement online which includes a strong explanation of why animal research is necessary, past medical breakthroughs made possible thanks to animal studies, quote from a patient, examples of grants, an explanation of the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research and more. Here is an extract:

We believe there is an urgent need for ongoing research to advance our understanding of Parkinson’s, improve treatments and ultimately find a cure. We believe theuse of animals, such as fruit flies and fish, is currently an essential tool in this research, but we are committed to the minimum possible use of animals and to ensuring that highest regulatory standards are maintained.
[…]
Since the 1970s, the lives of millions of people with Parkinson’s around the world has been transformed by the drug levodopa, This acts to partially replace the dopamine that is no longer produced in the brain due the eh death of nerve cells. Research involving animals has formed an essential step in the understanding of the effect of this vital drug.

Parkinson’s UK provide a quarterly publication, which is littered with examples and mentions of animal studies. The most recent issue’s first news story mentions rats, as well as having a letter about the use of animals in research. Parkinson’s are also willing to engage in the news, we have in the past mentioned Parkinson’s UK’s strong letter to a local newspaper responding to activist claims

Parkinson’s UK – 5/5 stars

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research

Five out of Five stars 5/5Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research have a strong statement and an FAQ on the issue of animal research. Both are easily googleable, and includes details of what animal species are used and what proportion of research projects involve animals (29%).

Some of the biggest achievements in treating blood cancer that are now in routine clinical practice, such as stem cell transplantation, have only been made possible through the use of animals in research.

The achievements of understanding blood cancer progression, understanding the basis for chemotherapy, and identifying the principles of bone marrow transplantation are just some of the revolutionary and lifesaving developments in blood cancer treatment that would not have been possible without using animals.

Whilst there is a considerable amount of research that we support that does not require the use of animals, we believe that animal research is still necessary.  Understanding how disease affects systems within the body, as well as possible treatments, requires investigation in whole body systems. Our animal research mostly uses mice, but we also use other animals like fruit flies and zebra fish.

While the LLR website doesn’t put a lot of news in its research section, when it does it includes mention of the animals. A story about studying genes of patients with blood disorders mentions that cells from mice are also used to study how misfiring enzymes can lead to histone changes.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research – 5/5 stars

Summary of Results:

UK Charities doing Animal Research and Animal Testing

Fantastic results from the six biggest UK medical research charities, though they are far from being the only British charities who talk about their funding of animals. You can see some of these and other charities’ statements below:

When comparing the UK and US charities we see some stark differences. All the UK charities we looked at have a statement available on their website (and googleable). All make an effort to explain how and why animals are used in research. In contrast, most of the US charities do not have a statement available online, though many do mention the use of animals in news articles on the website.

So what can the US charities learn from the British cousins? Well many US charities have prepared statements on the use of animals in research; they just need to get them online. If every charity which had a statement put them online they would raise the average score of American charities from 2.4 out of 5, to 3 out of 5. Many of the American charities could also work to improve their statements – there is good practice both sides of the Atlantic, and they could either take examples from other US charities like the American Cancer Society (see previous post) and Alzheimer’s Association, or they could look to their British equivalents.

But why is it important that charities be open about their animal research? As we discussed in more detail in the previous post there are three main reasons:

They are taking public donations, and the public have a right to know how this money is spent. If charities think funding animal research is important they should be able to explain why frankly and openly.

Charities cannot hide their animal research – animal rights groups can find out even if it is not on their website. However, by putting information openly on their website the charity defends itself against activist attempts to “out” them. The public cannot be “shocked” by the “dirty little secret” that a charity funds animal studies if they have that fact stated openly and clearly on their website (with an explanation as to why). It is better for a charity to state it does animal research and explain the reasons why, than it is to let an activist or journalist put their own spin on it.

Finally, we must foster an environment where both the public, and policy makers, understand the importance of animal research. The former demands the laws and regulations, and the latter put them in place. If the scientific community want to make sure their research environment is secure then they must encourage openness on the issue.

For those charities wanting to improve the way they discuss animal research with the public, there is a fantastic booklet jointly produced by the Association of Medical Research Charities and Understanding Animal Research which provides guidance and support. It covers how a charity can be prepared for questions about its animal research, how to answer those questions (be them by phone, social media, or in person), and finally looks into ways in which charities can find opportunities to be more proactive in their explanation of why they fund or conduct animal studies. The introduction states:

This guide is designed to help medical research charities answer questions from the public about the use of animals in research. Charities have contact with their supporters and the public in many different ways. They need to be able to explain how they are investing donations effectively and be equipped to answer any questions

Hopefully next time we conduct this analysis we will see even higher scores for charities across the world.

Speaking of Research

US Charities Explaining Animal Research

In June 2012 we reviewed five large American health charities which conducted animal research to see how well they communicated this use. The results were not encouraging: three charities got 0/4 stars for their animal research statements, and two charities for 1/4. So has anything changed?

In this post I will look at those charities conducting or funding animal experiments in the US who are on Forbes’ list of top 50 charities (2014). There were nine charities I found that fit the bill:

Ratings Criteria:

I believe the most important thing is that information exists if people need it. It is one reason why we created a searchable list of organisations with a statement on why they conduct or fund animal research. Preferably people need to be able to find this information online rather than have to call up for it. Each of the following five criteria will give a charity one star.

  • There is a statement available
  • It provides a good overall explanation of why they fund animal research
  • It is available on their website
  • It provides an explanation on how they determine when to fund animal research
  • Does the website make any mention of the use of animals, for example, in the summaries of research they fund

American Cancer Society

Four out of five stars 4/5There is no information available on the website but by using their webchat I was given the following statement:

The American Cancer Society advocates the use of non-animal systems in research whenever possible; however, there are times when scientific research using animals remains essential for developing treatments and cures for people with cancer.  When that is the case, the American Cancer Society insists that such research complies with the highest ethical standards to protect the health and welfare of animal subjects.

After talking a little longer I was also provided with the following:

The American Cancer Society supports animal research when:

  • The use of animals is appropriate, and no non-animal alternatives exist.
  • Animals are only used when the answers to scientific questions cannot be obtained in any other way.
  • Computer models do not adequately present how individual molecules, cells, or tissues of the body work when healthy or when disease strikes.
  • The researchers guarantee the highest ethical and compassionate standards to protect the health and welfare of animal subjects and comply with federal and institutional guidelines.

Animal research is important to the American Cancer Society because:

  • New cancer drugs must be tested on living systems.
  • Proper doses and possible side effects in human bodies must be identified and evaluated.
  • Research with animals has led to significant advances in medicine, including the discovery of insulin injections for treating diabetes.
  • Research with animal models has produced successful cancer treatments for childhood leukemia.
  • Animal research is crucial for understanding many causes of cancer.

For future research, the American Cancer Society believes:

  • Test tube experiments are often effective in early phases of research.
  • The continued use of stem cell and organ tissue cultures offer hope for non-animal research.
  • The continued use of computer models offers hope for future studies.
  • It shall serve both humans and animals in diseases and prevention.
  • The Society will show continued support of stringent guidelines and regulations for the well-being of all animal subjects.

In all truth this is a fairly good response – it explains when and why they conduct animal experiments. If only they put this up on their website *sigh*.  The research news section of the website does mention the animal models used, for example a recent ACS-funded researcher used mice to assess the best timing for taking anti-cancer drugs – which it turns out is immediately after traditional chemotherapy.

American Cancer Society – 4/5 stars

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Three out of five stars 3/5St Jude does not have any position or policy statement on their website. When I phoned them up the operator wasn’t sure if they conducted research on animals. They passed me to someone else who also didn’t know, and then passed to someone who wasn’t there. After emailing them I did receive a reply:

As a research institution, St. Jude has a unique mission to generate the knowledge that will save the lives of children stricken with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. In the course of our research to find cures for these deadly diseases, we do use laboratory animal models, mostly rats and mice bred specifically for that purpose.

There is no substitute for animal testing when evaluating the effects of diseases and proposed treatments to fight those diseases. Most biological systems do not behave in a predictable manner and cannot be replicated by computer simulations. St. Jude is usually legally required, and always ethically obligated, to test treatments on laboratory models to ensure safety and efficacy before those treatments are studied in children. Without this research, St. Jude would not be able to provide hope for cures to our patients and their families.

Please be assured that St. Jude does not conduct useless laboratory research. We are very careful to abide by the laws, statutes, and ethical guidelines for animal research. Our procedures comply with the government’s Animal Welfare Act, and we are accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International to ensure the best care for the animals used in our research. Our labs are inspected regularly by the Department of Agriculture.

So there is a statement that attempts to explain when animals are used. Get it up on the website and relate it to many neonatal and pediatric treatments than exist thanks to animal studies. There are already many mentions of animals used by St. Jude researchers in the medicine and science news section of the website, such as using specially bred mice to identify a potential target for drugs to combat leishmaniasis.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – 3/5 stars

American Heart Association

Two out of five stars 2/5Despite searching their website I was unable to find a position statement (through the menus or the search bar) on their animal research, however after phoning them up I was guided to a page with position statements on animal research, cloning, gene therapy and stem cell research. The statement is good, but could certainly be expanded to provide more information on animal research.

The American Heart Association supports using animals in biomedical research — because it helps us improve heart health and save lives. In fact, the decline in U.S. death rates from heart disease and stroke since the 1960s is due in part to discoveries from research using animals.

So, when animals are needed for experiments we fund, researchers must handle them responsibly and humanely.

  • Before receiving our funding, we require researchers to show that:
  • They have considered alternative methods to using animals.
  • Their research can’t be successfully done without using animals.
  • Their experiments are designed to produce needed results and information.

So there is a statement, thought its explanation for animal research is a little week. It is online, though not that easy to find.

While a search for “mice” does come up with some search results, most link to the names of scientific papers or presentations rather than explaining the use of animal models in research.

American Heart Association – 2/5 stars

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

One out of five stars 1/5There was no information available on their website – something which was confirmed over the phone. The operator seemed very nervous about giving me information, asking repeatedly what I wanted the information for.

A second phone call to the public affairs department didn’t get me any closer. Despite repeatedly being put on hold no one seemed to have any idea about their position on animal research. No statement at all!

This is made more frustrating when you know that there are many mentions of animal research in their Recent Discoveries & Advances section, such as developing a rat model to “study the neurological side effects of radiation to the brain”.

Memorial Sloan Ketering Cancer Center – 1/5 stars

Mayo Clinic

One out of five stars 1/5Nothing on the website. After a phone call I received the following by email:

Mayo Clinic believes in the vital role that animals have in advancing medical knowledge and developing new treatment options. Researchers would not have discovered new ways to treat heart disease, found cures for childhood cancers or advanced knowledge in many neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s without animals as part of the research process. Animals used to help advance science are treated with the utmost respect and care and in accordance with Mayo’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Mayo Clinic adheres to or exceeds all federal and state laws and regulations regarding animal use in research and makes every effort to ensure the safety and well being of animals. Mayo uses animals in research only when necessary and always with the goal of providing improved treatment or therapies for patients.

A short statement that didn’t quite say enough to gain stars for why and when its research is done. Better than nothing though.

While searches for “mice”, “rat” and “dog” on the Mayo Clinic website did bring up search results, few of them appeared to give pages meant for public consumption.

Mayo Clinic – 1/5 stars

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Three out of five stars 3/5Unfortunately the Leukemia and Lymphoma society does not have a statement on their website. After chatting with someone in their communications department I was sent the following statement:

Our work depends on broad and open-ended scientific inquiry. In this context, LLS supports the appropriate use of animals in conducting research to find potential cures for blood cancer patients.

Much of what we know about the diagnosis and treatment of diseases that afflict humans, including cancers and specifically the blood cancers, is the result of scientific studies conducted in animals. Moreover, lymphoma and leukemia are major killers of domestic and companion animals, and so there are potential benefits not only for humans but also for animals when research yields successful new cancer therapies and vaccines.

LLS requires that research using animals must adhere to federal and state laws, and follow the guidelines put forth by the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. Research supported at foreign institutions must also abide by NIH’s policy on animal use. All researchers receiving LLS funding work with their institutional animal care and use committee to review and approve any protocol related to animal use. The purpose of these committees is to ensure that research strictly adheres to all federal and state guidelines regarding the care and use of animals.

We recognize the importance of the development and use of non-animal alternatives such as cell lines and cell cultures, computer simulations and mathematical modeling, and encourage their use when scientifically sound; i.e. accurately representing cancers in patients. However, in many instances the humane and appropriate use of living animals is both critical and ethically valid.

The absence of a suitable non-animal alternative and the explicit justification to use a given species and number of animals are required to qualify an applicant for any research support from LLS, as is the explicit documentation of steps taken to eliminate or minimize any potentially painful procedure. These humane considerations must be developed with the assistance and under the supervision of a qualified veterinarian and fully approved by an applicant’s research institution.

This is a strong statement and it is a pity, like many other charities, that they do not choose to put this up on their website for the public or media to find. It explains why they use animals and the conditions under which animal research is done. It also discusses why alternatives cannot replace all animal studies. Good statement, but they need to get it on their website.

There appeared to be no mentions of animal models in the news releases (or anywhere else) on the website.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – 3/5 stars

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

One out of five stars 1/5The DFCI did not have any information on their website. When I phoned up they confirmed that they conducted such research but had no statement available on their website. When I asked where I could get more information they replied that they “try to stay away from making any public statements on the matter”. Concerning.

This “no comment” approach seemed to contradict a more open attitude to mentioning the use of animal models in their research news. When I checked, one of the top stories in their “Featured Research” was an article entitled “Mouse Models Play Pivotal Role in Testing Combination Therapies” – excellent!

Dana-Farb Cancer institute – 1/5 stars

Alzheimer’s Association

Four out of five stars 4/5The Alzheimer’s Association do have a two page document on their website on the “Use of Animals in Research”. It starts by clearly explaining why they feel animal research is necessary:

Currently, the complexity and intricacy of the human brain is beyond the capacity of even the most sophisticated science to simulate in man-made models (for example, with computers) or through the use of cells grown in the laboratory or lower organisms.

The Alzheimer’s Association believes that the use of animals in research is essential to the success of research into the causes, treatment, prevention and cure of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

It is too long to reproduce in full, but it then goes on to explain the conditions under which they will fund animal research and provides information about knowledge gained through animal research.

A quick search of “mice” on the website brought up just shy of 600 results, though most were abstracts from research grants rather than information oriented for public consumption. The most recent blog entry mentioning mice was in 2013, suggesting that mentioning animal research was not common.

Nonetheless, well done to Alzheimer’s Association – this is probably the best statement. I found it without too much issue and it was fairly comprehensive for a policy statement (certainly compared to other charities). Four stars.

Alzheimer’s Association – 4/5 stars

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Three out of five stars 3/5Having asked the question by email, I received a link to an obscure policy document. A policy statement on “Research involving human subjects or animals” could be found on Page 6.

For research involving animals, written approval from the grantee’s Institutional Animal Use and Care Committee (IACUC) must be received by the Society prior to the release of any funds. This approval must be signed by the Chairperson of the Committee, and a copy of the letter must be received by the Society on an annual basis during the funding term of the research award.

All biomedical research which involves the use of animals must adhere to the following principles:

  1. Animals shall be used in biomedical research only when no other means of obtaining scientifically sound, valid and useful results are available.
  2. The minimum number of appropriate animals required to obtain and validate results shall be used.
  3. The acquisition, care and use of animals must be in accordance with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.
  4. Certifications must be received from research facilities prior to being approved for a research grant that the facility(ies), its researchers and employees adhere to the Animal Welfare Act, National Research Council Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and any appropriate U.S. Department of Agriculture or National Institutes of Health regulations and standards.
  5. In cases requiring the death of an animal, only the most appropriate and humane form of euthanasia shall be used consistent with the purpose of the research

The statement is sound, but doesn’t seem to be written with the public in mind. It would benefit from a simple and open explanation of when and why animal models can play a key role in developing an understanding of MS.

Despite the relatively weak statement, the NMSS was much stronger in mentioning and explaining the use of animal models in their research news. For example, stories like, “Researchers Funded by National MS Society Report Early Success Testing a Novel Strategy for Protecting the Nervous System in Mice with MS-like Disease“.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society – 3/5 stars

Summary of the Scores:
US Charities doing Animal Research and Animal Testing

Well done to the American Cancer Society and the Alzheimer’s Association for coming top of the list of organisations being open and honest about their animal research. The Alzheimer’s Association is particularly strong in its animal research statement.

On the other end of the scale, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute need to look at ways of being more open on this issue. Most of the cancer treatments we have today have come about thanks to a huge number of studies on animals. Herceptin, a recent drug for breast cancer, is a humanised mouse antibody which could not have been created except for the use of mice in its development and testing.

So why should charities bother to be open about their animal research? I believe there are three reasons.

Firstly, they are taking public donations, and the public have a right to know how this money is spent. If they believe animal research is an important part of what they fund, then they should be prepared to explain this frankly and openly.

Secondly, regardless of whether they put a statement up on their website, animal rights groups will find out. It took me a few days to ascertain which US charities did, or did not, conduct or fund animal research – others could follow the same process. Putting information openly on the website helps create resilience on the issue – members of the public can no longer be “shocked to discover” that a charity they support funds animal experiments, and animal rights groups cannot go to the paper announcing a charity’s “dirty secret they try desperately to hide”. Any member of the public of journalist can be told straight away by the charity that “Yes, we conduct and fund animal research. We say so openly on our website, and you can find out more information on the reasons why there – we have nothing to hide”.

Lastly, it is important that we foster an environment where both the public, and policy makers, understand the importance of animal research. The former demands the laws and regulations, and the latter put them in place. If the scientific community want to make sure their research environment is secure then they must encourage openness on the issue.

In a second post, we will have a look at British charities which conduct animal research

Speaking of Research

Veterinarians Bringing Research to the Public

Scientist, technicians, animal care attendants and veterinarians all have different roles to play in explaining how and why animals are ethically used to advance scientific discoveries and improve therapeutic treatments of illness. Speaking of Research committee member Michael Brunt was asked to speak to laboratory animal veterinarians and LA veterinary residents from Canada and northeastern USA about the role of their profession in public outreach. The Mini-Laboratory Animal Symposium was hosted by the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

Michael Brunt talks Science

Michael Brunt talks Science

While scientists are the most appropriate group to explain the importance and relevance of their research, veterinarians are likewise the most appropriate group to explain to the public the aspects of medical care, husbandry and welfare of these animals. Pictures accessed through Freedom of Information requests or “under cover” videos are frequently taken out of context and presented in a way that misrepresents the accuracy of image to the public (here, here, here). Veterinarians have a vital role to explain the medical procedures depicted in many of these images. Many of these procedures, like TB testing, are part of a routine clinical care and diagnostic testing that ensures the health and welfare of the animals in their care.

It is imperative that misinformation be corrected to ensure that the public has an accurate understanding of what is occurring with animals used in science. All professionals working in this field have a role to play to bring research to the public.

Speaking of Research

Educating Ourselves and the Public – The Toll of Caring

This article, by SR member Michael Brunt, was first published in the March 2015 issue of AALAS’ Laboratory Animal Science Professional.

In 2013 the Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science (CALAS) launched the InReach for OutReach program. One goal of InReach for OutReach is to assist our members to actively articulate the positive contributions they make to our society. The hope is to foster a culture where laboratory animal science professionals will feel accepted, valued, and recognized for their hard work and dedication to improving the lives of animals and people. Canada is an open-minded county when it comes to science. Roughly 60% of Canadians believe the potential suffering of an animal to be acceptable or somewhat acceptable for safety testing of medicine, conducting medical research or teaching and training of professionals such as veterinarians.1 Ninety-three percent of Canadians are moderately or very interested in scientific discoveries or technological developments and also have the lowest reservations towards science in the 17 countries considered. 2 This is great news for laboratory animal science professionals because we are an essential part of making many of those discoveries happen. With such a receptive population, the InReach for OutReach program can play an important role to empower laboratory animal science professionals in Canada.

Animal Technician with a CatAnother goal is forging international partnerships to create synergies, utilize existing resources and coordinate outreach efforts. During the AALAS Foundation’s “WE CARE” campaign to educate the general public about the professionals that care for research animals, many groups and associations assisted in its international promotion across social media. “Caring for Animals – It’s Not Just My Job…It’s My Passion” is a message that reached millions of people, educating and fostering a culture where the contributions, dedication to our animals and personal sacrifices of laboratory animal science professionals can be openly acknowledged and valued.

Animal Tech with RabbitMost laboratory animal science professionals choose this career because they love animals. We talk to our animals. We hold them close, hug or stroke them. We get to know their personalities. Most importantly we bond with them. We know that the emotional bond that is formed enhances the psychological wellbeing of the animals and helps to give them the absolute highest quality of life while they are with us. Sadly, projects end and our companions are euthanized to retrieve the vital scientific data that is required to make discoveries that will improve the health and relieve the suffering of millions of humans and animals. Rationally we know that it’s true but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. So what do laboratory animal science professionals do?  We cry and grieve, and bond with the next group of animals that arrive because they deserve the absolute highest quality of life while they are with us as well. The repeated traumatic emotional loss for laboratory animal science professionals can cause significant health effects, confusing feelings of guilt, burnout and even cause some individuals to leave the profession. Everyone copes with loss in differing ways but I feel it is most important to support each other at every opportunity.

It is imperative for each of us to explore these emotional questions because we must educate ourselves with our own answers before we can share our truth to educate the public.  In 2001, a U.S. nonprofit association for euthanasia technicians, the Mazer Guild, published 12 supportive concepts for its members. They have been adapted for laboratory animal science professionals by Alison Hopkins (www.monkeypuzzletraining.co.uk) in an article that was published in Animal Lab News.3 The supportive concepts acknowledge the challenges that laboratory animal science professionals face on a daily basis.  Through that acknowledgement one is able to explore and navigate the emotions associated with the repeated traumatic loss of our animals.  The concepts also reiterate our obligations as laboratory animal science professionals to promote public understanding, encourage discussion and support others that choose this career path.

We choose this path because it is our passion!  We are passionate about animals that we have the privilege to care for with compassion and respect.  We are passionate about the science that continually makes strides towards new therapeutic advancements.  We are passionate about alleviating the suffering of our fellow animals and people who agonize with debilitating and painful diseases.  “Caring for Animals – It’s Not Just My Job…It’s My Passion”

Michael Brunt, MSc, RMLAT, CMAR is a Project Manager for the Campus Animal Facilities at the University of Guelph, Canada.

References

  1. Canadian Council on Animal Care. [Internet]. 2013. 2013 National Survey. [Cited 7 January 2015]. Available at: http://www.ccac.ca/Documents/2013_National_Survey.pdf
  2. Council of Canadian Academies. [Internet]. 2014. Science Culture: Where Canada Stands. [Cited 7 January 2015]. Available at: http://www.scienceadvice.ca/en/assessments/completed/science-culture.aspx
  3. Alison Hopkins. [Internet]. 2014. Towards Fostering Emotional Resiliency in the Workplace. [Cited 7 January 2015]. Available at: http://www.alnmag.com/articles/2014/04/toward-fostering-emotional-resilience-workplace

Speaking of Research speak to future vets

The Ontario Veterinary College hosted the 3rd annual symposium of the University of Guelph Future Vets Club which explored topics related to the impacts of human-animal interactions. Speaking of Research committee member Michael Brunt was invited to speak about embracing the human-animal bond in research. The one day symposium offered a diverse selection of human –animal topics including medicine, parasitology, research, wildlife, epidemiology and animal welfare.

FVC Symposium 2015

Michael presented a lecture discussing the importance of the human-animal bond that develops with research animals. The 50 delegates in attendance were provided with background on why animal research is necessary as well as the debunking of several myths commonly perpetuated by animal rights groups. An extensive list of myths can be found on our “Animal Rights BINGO” post.  People that work with and care for research animals love animals. They treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve and provide them with the highest quality of life while they are with us. Further reading can be seen on our previous posts “Why I Became an Animal Technologist” and “Why I am a Laboratory Animal Veterinarian”.

The lecture offered an opportunity to present accurate information about the use of animals in research and further productive discussion surrounding this important issue. Many members of SR are involved in outreach. Please contact us if you are interested in having someone speak at your institution or conference.

Speaking of Research

Supporting science: NIH answers PETA

The National Institutes of Health released a statement Monday in support of a well-respected and long-standing primate research program within the NIH intramural program that has been the subject of an ongoing PETA campaign. The focus of the research program, under the direction of Dr. Stephen J. Suomi, is on:

“examining the behavioral and biological development of non-human primates. Primary objectives are to understand how genetic and environmental factors interact to affect cognitive development, as well as develop interventions that can alter developmental trajectories of individuals whose specific genetic and experiential background put them at risk for adverse developmental outcomes. These studies cannot be carried out in humans and require the use of animal studies to carefully separate experience, genetic, and environmental factors. Ultimately, these findings assist researchers in identifying humans most likely to suffer negative effects in at-risk situations and develop behavioral and drug therapies to improve negative outcomes early in life.”

The NIH statement notes the high value of the research program, as assessed by an external board of scientific experts who concluded that the program:

  “has achieved world class, enduring contributions to our understanding of the developmental, genetic, and environmental origins of risk and vulnerability in early life,” and “could be a truly remarkable point of departure for a unified theory describing the biological embedding of early social conditions and their developmental consequences.”

Cover PNAS monkey pic 2For more about the research, the laboratory, and the animals, see:

NIH’s Response to PETA

NIH’s response to the PETA campaign was thoughtful, thorough, and transparent. The response includes a positive assessment of the value of the research in terms of human health relevance and advances in scientific understanding. It addresses why the research in conducted in monkeys and why it is not possible to use alternative methods, or to conduct the work in humans.

The response also includes a serious, fact-informed consideration of the animals’ welfare. Detailed responses from two of NIH’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees that conducted an extensive evaluation of the research address each element of the concerns raised by PETA and the scientists supporting them (including, Professors John Gluck, Psychology, University of New Mexico; Agustin Fuentes Anthropology, Notre Dame; and Barbara King, Anthropology, William and Mary College; Lawrence Hansen, Pathology, UC-San Diego).

Furthermore, in response to PETA’s complaint, the NIH undertook an exhaustive review via its Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW). Comprehensive responses to each of the concerns raised by PETA are contained in the reports posted on the NIH website. For those who seek more information, facts, and substantive background to inform their consideration of the conduct of the research and the animals’ welfare, we encourage you to read the NICHD IACUC response posted here: NICHD 12.17.15 ACUC_Memo_2_121914

nih statement 01.28.15

Taken together, NIH’s responses provide a strong demonstration of a high level of care and consideration of animal welfare, as well as the risk and benefit balances that are inherent in the conduct of research with both human and nonhuman animals. The response clearly vindicates Dr. Suomi and provides welcome public acknowledgement by the NIH of the importance of his work.

As welcome as the NIH responses are, they are not, however, responses that will satisfy PETA’s absolutist goal of ending all use of nonhuman animals for any purpose, including animal research, but also food, companionship, entertainment, or other uses.

PETA’s complaint about this and other research included language about animal welfare and about alternatives to animal research in order to achieve the same scientific goals. In reality, however, PETA’s position—like that of all absolutists—is not centrally concerned with either viable alternatives to animal studies or with animal welfare. Rather, the position is that no human use of other animals—any animals, whether photogenic and appealing in popular campaigns, or not—is justified, regardless of the outcome or harms. (See here and here for additional discussion.)

As a result, it would seem that no response NIH could give to PETA would be satisfactory unless it was to end all animal research altogether. Or, in the case of a particular project or lab, the only response satisfactory to PETA or other absolutists would be to end that project, or close that lab. At some level then the question to ask may be about the cost: benefit of such responses.

By contrast to the absolute viewpoint, aspects of ethical consideration of animal research that matter to the majority of the broad public and to the scientific community are evidenced by their instantiation in the laws of a democratic society and  in regulatory and community standards, as well as in individuals’  own assessment. These include concern with significant public health challenges and appreciation for the critical role of basic scientific understanding as the foundation for a broad range of advances that benefit the public, other animals, and the environment. They also include acknowledgement of accomplishments and breakthroughs for human and nonhuman health that are accomplished via animal research. At the same time, they include selection of alternatives where possible, attention to animal’s care and welfare, continuing refinements of procedures in accord with evidence, risk and benefit justification, external oversight, and expert scientific evaluation.

In the case of the current NIH campaign and other campaigns against specific animal research there is a well-known pattern. A group like PETA focuses on a research project—usually one involving  animals such as cats, dogs, or primates that will capture broad public interest. The group then uses the highly responsive system of public institutions and government agencies to obtain information, call for investigation, and launch media campaigns to elicit public concern (and donations). The campaigns are typically based in some form of oversimplification and misrepresentation of the research, treatment of animals, availability of alternatives, or value of the science. In the face of public inquiry or media attention, public research institutions under attack typically offer a response focused on the scientific question, accomplishments, absence of non-animal alternatives, and on the animals’ welfare and oversight.

The problem with that pattern is that it ignores the fact that PETA and others’ campaigns are, in many ways, a reflection of a conflict between fundamentally different philosophical viewpoints. These differences cannot be resolved simply by ensuring scientific advances, careful risk and benefit assessment and balance, or high standards for laboratory animal welfare. All the care, training, accreditation, and external oversight in the world will not address the concerns of individuals or groups who are absolutely opposed to the use of animals in research and who believe that no matter the benefit, use of animals in research cannot be justified. Nor will such approaches address those who believe — wrongly, in most cases — that there are existing alternatives to the use of animals in research. Furthermore, each additional layer of oversight and regulation introduced in an attempt to appease those who cannot be appeased may well add substantial administrative hurdles and costs to the scientific effort without achieving meaningful improvements for animal welfare.

From that perspective, and in light of yet another PETA campaign that has resulted in a significant and extensive response from public agencies, the question becomes whether – and what – might be a better path forward. At present, the same path does not look like one that is productive to improving scientific research. Rather, the prediction would be that PETA and other groups will continue to use the transparency and responsiveness of public research institutions to lend steam to popular opinion campaigns that then target individual scientists, laboratories, and institutions. In turn, a great deal of time and energy will go into investigations, responses, and reports that are likely to yield little in terms of animal welfare, little public benefit, little progress to ending animal research, yet potentially high harm to science. At the very least these responses consume resources that would otherwise be devoted to scientific research or practical enforcement of regulations to protect animal welfare.

As we welcome the NIH’s support for Dr. Suomi we must also ask ourselves a question:  How many more cases like this will there be before the leaders of the scientific community take action to prevent the regulatory system from becoming primarily a tool of the animal rights propaganda machine?

Speaking of Research

American Psychological Association supports NIH primate researcher Stephen J. Suomi

Research conducted within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) intramural program has been the focus of a PETA campaign over the past several months. Elements of the campaign mirror tactics PETA has used elsewhere to generate media coverage, fundraising, and emails or phone calls to the NIH. The campaign recently reached beyond newspaper, bus, and metro advertisements to include a congressional request to NIH to provide a review of the research.

The American Psychological Association (APA) responded on January 22 with strong statement of support for the scientist and research under attack by PETA.

APA 01.22.15

APA’s letter to the congress members, in its entirety, reads:

“In December 2014 you were one of four members of Congress who sent a letter to Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), requesting that his office commission a bioethics review of a research program directed by the world renowned researcher, Dr. Stephen J. Suomi. On behalf of the American Psychological Association and its Committee on Animal Research and Ethics, I am writing to provide a broader scientific perspective on this research. As you are likely aware, the request you received was a part of a sustained and well publicized campaign against Dr. Suomi’s laboratory by the organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in support of its mission to put an end to research with nonhuman animals.

Your letter stated that prominent experts have raised concerns about the scientific and ethical justification for these experiments. We believe that the facts do not support PETA’s public statements about this research. Over the past three decades, Dr. Suomi and his collaborators have made significant contributions to the understanding of human and nonhuman animal health and behavior. Dr. Suomi’s work has been critical in understanding how the interactions between genes and the physical and social environments affect individual development, which in turn has enhanced our understanding of and treatments for mental illnesses such as depression, addiction, and autism.

Dr. Suomi and colleagues found that like humans, monkeys share similar variants of genes that make an individual more vulnerable to mood and personality disorders; however, genetics interact with experience in determining such disorders, and mother-infant dynamics in particular have a large influence on later development. Dr. Suomi has successfully produced monkey models of depression and excessive alcohol consumption and his studies provide insight into modes of treatment. Through his work on neonatal imitation, Dr. Suomi discovered potential early signs of atypical social development in monkeys, which has informed the search for screening methods and treatments for autism in human children. Further, through his work on the development of attachment behavior to a caregiver, which is crucial for infant survival in both humans and other animals, Dr. Suomi’s research has had a tremendous impact on the standards for the welfare of nonhuman animals in captivity.

Cover PNAS monkey pic 2

The specific study targeted by PETA was designed to investigate the long-term effects of fluoxetine (Prozac) in children. Given that drugs are typically tested only on adults, the effects of this commonly prescribed anti-depressant on children were unknown. Thus, in response to overwhelming concern raised by parents, physicians, and others involved in child and adolescent health about the safety of this medication for children, Dr. Suomi and his colleagues began a study with baby monkeys to elucidate the effects of fluoxetine in children. Contrary to PETA’s repeated claims that animal research has not improved human health and that modern non-animal research methods are more effective, there are, in fact, no viable non-animal alternatives for identifying the causes of and treatments for disorders that affect the brain and behavior. Studies with a wide variety of nonhuman animal species have been and continue to be integral to basic and applied research on health.

Laboratory animal models generally provide the most scientifically rigorous means of studying normal and abnormal behaviors in order to better understand their underlying mechanisms and to remedy disorders. Monkeys are the ideal model for the work that Dr. Suomi does, because they share approximately 93% of human DNA, they live in social groups with similar mother-infant dynamics as humans, and they develop more quickly than humans. Moreover, the monkeys in Dr. Suomi’s studies are treated humanely, following strict guidelines set forth by the Animal Welfare Act and overseen by numerous entities including the NIH Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International (AAALAC), and institutional animal care and use committees. And given that Dr. Suomi is an intramural researcher at NIH, you can be certain that his research animals receive premier quality of care.

I understand that it may sometimes be difficult to weigh the qualifications and varying conclusions of “dueling experts,” but let me assure you that Dr. Suomi is a highly regarded member of the APA and the psychological science community at large, as well as a highly sought-after expert in the field of pediatric medicine. In addition to providing information to the U.S. Congress, Dr. Suomi has testified at the World Health Organization and addressed the British House of Commons about the implications of his scientific findings.

Based on the conviction that research with nonhuman animals is a necessary component of basic and applied research on health, APA strongly supports humanely conducted, ethically sound, and scientifically valid research with nonhuman animals. For nearly 100 years, through its Committee on Animal Research and Ethics, APA has promoted informed, serious, and civil dialogue about the role of nonhuman animal research in science. If you should be asked to take further action against Dr. Suomi, I hope you will make it a point to seek out additional information before making a decision. My staff stand ready to provide you with additional information, including assembling experts for a staff briefing or assisting you in any other way on this issue.”

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The complete statement can be found here:  APA Suomi-letter 01.22.15