Category Archives: Outreach News

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.”

***

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

 

Why I Became an Animal Technologist

Today’s guest post is by animal technologist, Jazzminn Hembree, who explains why she became an animal technologist and what her job involves. If you enjoy this, also check out an older post by Kelly Walton, DVM, where she explains why she became an animal veterinarian.

I’ll start by introducing myself, my name is Jazzminn Hembree and I am a certified laboratory animal technologist. I started in this field when I was 17 as a student helper at the University of Cincinnati, simply because all I wanted to do was work with animals. I graduated high school from Live Oaks CDC with a certificate in Animal Science and Management. Since then I have worked in several positions within animal research, I have been privileged to be co-author on several papers, present data, earn certifications, and do something that I love every day. I could not see myself working in any other field.

Why I Became an animal technologist jazzminn

“I started in this field … because all I wanted to do was work with animals”

Growing up, I always said I wanted to be a veterinarian and open my own clinic. Things have changed. Once I saw the possibilities available when I got into an animal facility, I knew this was my niche. I am inspired by the science behind it, and am passionate about the animals I work with. I have to admit that up until now I have been nervous to tell people what I do, people don’t understand animal research. I think this needs to change, we need to be more open and transparent about what we do, but we have to do so in a responsible manner.

Let me explain what a certified laboratory animal technologist is in the US is. Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) is the highest level of certification available through the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). There are three certification levels: first, Assistant Laboratory animal technician (ALAT), second, Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and third, Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG).

“The future of the profession and biomedical science depends on promoting the benefits of biomedical research through public outreach and ensuring that high-quality training and education programs and materials are available for those working in the profession of laboratory animal science.” – AALAS Public Outreach website

As a Laboratory Animal Technologist today: I work closely with the research staff, the veterinarian, and the facility director to provide excellent care for the animals so the researchers can collect accurate and sound data. My job is to provide the daily care, such as health monitoring, feed and water, properly disinfect and sterilize equipment, and prepare work areas. I also assist in technical procedures such as blood draws and injections, as well as health treatments. Occasionally I might have to monitor the animals’ weight and or size, or food and water consumption. As a team, my co-workers and I are required to keep up to date and accurate documentation for the facility operations. I also assist the supervisor and director with the quality assurance monitoring by testing surfaces to ensure cleanliness, as well as the training of new students and employees within the facility.

Now that you have an idea of what I do I’ll get to ‘How could I work in this field if I love animals so much’? This may sound odd to some, but I do it because I love the animals. I know what we are doing is not only helping humans but also other animals. How would we ever know how to treat a sick pet if we hadn’t researched the disease and tested the treatments? I get to care for and handle animals on a daily basis. I am able to help a sick animal get well again. I know what I am doing today is going to help someone tomorrow. I believe these animals should be respected and honored for what they provide us. I know it is portrayed that the animals in a research facility are sad, distressed, hurting, and scared; frankly this is just not the case. Research animals are loved and cared for better than some companion animals. These rats are not at risk of diseases, they are not scrounging for food or shelter, they are provided sterile food and water, a clean environment, temperature and light controlled rooms, and have caretakers to care for and love them.

I have been on both sides of research, I have worked as a technician doing the daily cleaning and in a lab performing the studies and collecting the data. I know the importance the animal model is to the science, and have seen the outcomes. I was in a lab which mainly studied diabetes and metabolic diseases as a part of a team collaborating with a pharmaceutical company for many years. Having diabetic friends and family, I felt what I was doing could help save their lives one day. I am proud of the papers we published; in fact we won the 2014 Journal of Peptide Science Best Publication Award. I could not be more honored to be part of such a great group of people at the time. I then worked in another lab for a short time in which I was part of the Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Core, in which we worked on characterizing mouse models in support of quality research. I am now back to working on the daily care side of research with a new perspective of what our job and the animals provide to the researchers and their data.

I hope to share with everyone my strong belief that education, such as technical aining, competency in research procedures, and knowledge of the laws and regulations, are what keep the animals healthy, and results in effective, accurate research data. As I continue to work on my education, I want to inspire others to do the same. I also want to inform people of the critical importance of animal research. I believe the motives and caring nature of the people who take care of the laboratory animals, as well as the laws and the regulations we follow, are misunderstood by many which leads to the impression of cruelty. There are many institutions, regulations, and guidelines established to protect the welfare of the animals used in research. Research institutions are guided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Public Health and Safety (PHS) Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), as well as the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. I believe we, as a field, are failing to educate the general public in the laws and regulations we must follow to protect the animals in our care. As an animal lover myself, I understand the fear the general public has about animal research. What we do in research is very similar to the practices your veterinarian does, we are just trying to come up with new procedures and medications and answer questions to advance both the veterinary field as well as the medical field. I believe part of my job as a Laboratory Animal Technologist is not only to be an advocate for the welfare of laboratory animals and ensure that we follow all regulations and guidelines, but also to teach others the importance of the work being done.

Jazzminn Hembree, LATG

2015 – The Year of the Science Communicator!

Science is really, really important. From the ability to communicate with almost anyone in the world using a pocket-sized device, to the ability to land a robot on an asteroid 400 million kilometres away, science is constantly pushing us to new heights. Science also has a huge impact on the treatments and medicines that we can benefit from. 2014 saw an innovative cell transfer to treat spinal injury, stem cell therapies for macular degeneration and a promising new treatment for HIV.

Nonetheless, not everyone is sold on science. Science budgets have fallen over the last five years as policy makers take the axe to research. Science sceptics – from anti-vaxxers to animal rights activists, climate change deniers to chemtrail conspiracists, are also damaging the reputation of scientists and their research.

So what must we do? We must talk openly and clearly about the value of scientific research. 2015 must be the year of the science communicator. In many research institutions, science communication is simply part of the job of the press/media team, but we need every researcher to become a science communicator if we are to push back the tide of ignorance and teach people the vital importance of scientific discovery.

scicomms scicommSpeaking of Research is one of the many organizations trying to challenge misinformation in science. For this we need your help. 2014 saw our website traffic more than double (from 2013), but if we want to continue to grow we need more people to help communicate their science.

We recently wrote about five ways you can help Speaking of Research – all in less than the time it takes to watch an episode of Lost.

  1. Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]
  2. Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]
  3. Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]
  4. Send us a picture of research [10 minutes]
  5. Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

Let’s make 2015 the year of the science communicator – and let’s make every one of our readers an ambassador to the cause!

We hope you had a great New Year

Speaking of Research

The BUAV is misinforming UK policy makers

If you are a PPC who has arrived on this page via a link sent by a colleague or voter, it is because they wish you to have the facts on animal research before making any decisions on the BUAV’s 6 PPC pledges.

Introduction

The BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) has been contacting Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) in the UK’s upcoming 2015 General Election, urging them to back their six pledges against animal research. They are also urging their supporters to send similar emails and tweets to their local PPCs.

The information provided in their email contains many examples of misinformation regarding animal research. We urge our readers (especially any PPCs) to share it with their colleagues and PPCs to ensure future UK parliamentarians make their decisions based on solid scientific evidence and not the misinformation of an antivivisection activist group. UK residents should make sure their candidates are kept informed – you can use the BUAV’s candidate finder search bar to find contact details for your local PPCs (remember to delete the BUAV’s preset email or tweet). You can find a suggested letter to your local candidates encouraging them to read this post at the bottom of the page (or click here).

Speaking of Research has criticized the BUAV before for dishonesty in their claims:

The BUAV Email

Click on any of the claims in the BUAV email below to be taken to the section of this post debunking it.

Dear <Candidate>

I am writing to announce the launch of our Vote Cruelty Free website, a new platform publicising the views of candidates, to encourage compassionate people across the UK to use their vote for animals in laboratories in the 2015 General Election.

Did you know that over 4 million animals are used for experiments in the UK each year?

The 2010 Coalition Agreement included a pledge to work to reduce the number of animals used in ‘scientific procedures’, but since then the number of animals licenced to suffer in experiments has increased by more than 11%.

Yet according to a 2014 Government survey, only 37% of people agree that it is acceptable to use animals for research.  And 95% of new drugs tested on animals fail in human trials.

The BUAV and Cruelty Free International, which work to end animal experiments, have set out six simple steps to reduce animal experiments in the next Parliament:

  1. Ban experiments on cats and dogs
  2. End the secrecy surrounding animal experiments
  3. Stop importing monkeys for use in laboratories
  4. End non-medical experiments
  5. Stop genetically modifying animals pending a review
  6. Stop suffering in the most extreme experiments

Please can you let us know which of the above steps you support? Please send your response to [us] by 5th January. Candidates’ views are being publicised on the Vote Cruelty Free website, which we will be promoting from January, so that compassionate people in your constituency can use their votes for animals in May.

The BUAV Claims: DEBUNKED

“Did you know that over 4 million animals are used for experiments in the UK each year?”

It is true that over 4 million animals were used in 2013 (4.12 million procedures on 4.02 million animals), but let us add some context. The numbers have been generally rising from around 2.5 million in 2000, however, it is far below the historical high of 5.5 million in in the mid-1970s. Furthermore, to put the numbers into context of other animal use, we eat around 900 million chickens per year, and an estimated 220 million animals are killed by pet cats per year.

Animal testing Perspective in ResearchRead more about the numbers of animals used in the UK.

“The 2010 Coalition Agreement included a pledge to work to reduce the number of animals used in ‘scientific procedures’, but since then the number of animals licenced [sic] to suffer in experiments has increased by more than 11%.”

We have written about the BUAV’s misguided criticism of the “Broken Promises” on reduction before. Ultimately the problem comes from the word “reduce”. While many people understand “reduce” to mean using less animals overall, reduction (one of the 3Rs) is about using fewer animals in any given experiment to achieve the same standard of results.

Realising this confusion on “reduction”, the Government clarified its position in 2014, in a paper called “Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research”. It said:
[In] 2010, the Government made a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. This commitment is not focused on baseline numbers which are influenced by a range of extraneous factors. Instead, it encompasses replacement, reduction and refinement (the 3Rs) more broadly, putting them at the heart of a science-led approach.

The reality is that animal research numbers are based on many factors including current research techniques (so while the growth of GM mice research increased animal numbers, the CRISPR GM technique could help reduce it.), funding for animal research, research environments in other countries etc.

Yet according to a 2014 Government survey, only 37% of people agree that it is acceptable to use animals for research”

The BUAV has shown incredible bias in its reporting of the 2014 Government survey. Here is the first paragraph of the key findings, which include the 37% statistic:

“Overall the public (British adults aged 15+) is supportive of the use of animals in scientific research (68% agree it is acceptable ‘so long as it is for medical research purposes and there is no alternative’), but there is also widespread agreement (76%) that more work should be done to find alternatives to using animals in such research. Fewer than four in ten (37%) endorse the use of animals for all types of research – even where there is no alternative. Ensuring animal welfare is an important proviso; almost seven in ten (69%) can accept such research ‘as long as there is no unnecessary suffering to the animals and there is no alternative’.”

To take quotes from the survey (remember that legally animal research can only be done where there is no viable alternative).

  • “68% agree that they can accept the use of animals in scientific research as long as it is for medical research purposes and there is no alternative, with 17% who disagree”
  • “69% agree that they can accept the use of animals in scientific research as long as there is no unnecessary suffering to animals and there is no alternative, with 14% who disagree”

The survey found 37% believed “It is acceptable to use animals for all types of research where there is no alternative“. The reality is that most of us can think of some type of research we would disagree with (perhaps cosmetic testing, which has been banned across the EU) even if there were no alternative, so it is no surprise that only 37% agreed (and 41% disagreed) to all types of animal research. However the polls clearly show a majority of people do agree with animal research for medical or scientific purposes.

“And 95% of new drugs tested on animals fail in human trials.”

The BUAV seems to have caught up very late on this statistic. It was publicised by Speaking of Research in January 2013 in a guest post from Professor Robin Lovell-Badge. Unfortunately, they seem not to have read Prof Lovell-Badge’s post, which explains how this type of statistic has been misused exactly as the BUAV has done:

Reading Lovell-Badge’s original post is the best way to get your head around the statistic (which should be 94% unless you count registration of a drug as a human trial), but the basics of note are:

  • All the drugs which pass animal tests and fail at some point in human trials, have all passed pre-clinical tests using non-animal methods (e.g. in vitro, computer screening etc). In that context, if we were to use the same form of words, it would be much more than 95% of new drugs tested using non-animal methods which failing in human trials.
  • Of all the drugs which pass Phase 1 clinical trials in humans, 86% will fail in later stage human trials. Yet, we do not hear activists suggesting that humans are an entirely inappropriate model for drug development” – Prof Lovell-Badge
  • In over 30 years there has not been a single death in a Phase 1 clinical trial in the UK … animal testing has been exceptionally effective at keeping dangerous drugs away from people.” – Prof Lovell-Badge

The BUAV’s Six Pledges: DEBUNKED

So we move onto the BUAV’s six pledges that they wish PPCs to defend:

“1. Ban experiments on cats and dogs”

Firstly, it should be noted that cats and dogs, together account for just 0.12% of all animal experiments in the UK (mice, rats, fish and birds together account for 97% of all procedures). Both species (and monkeys and horses) have special protections to ensure that they are only used where no other species would be viable.

The reality is that banning experiments on cats and dogs would end the development of veterinary medicine for those species. Examples of research that might have been lost by such a ban include the use of dogs use to study spinal injuries, which has allowed both pet dogs, and people, to walk again thanks to a nasal cell transplant

The use of cats and dogs in research has fallen dramatically in the UK in the last two decades, nonetheless, an arbitrary ban would be bad for science and medicine

“2. End the secrecy surrounding animal experiments”

The BUAV has been focusing on this issue for a while despite the fact that nearly everyone – including industry and government – want to reform the Section 24 “secrecy” clause. The Government is well on its way to finalising these reforms. Read this article from Chris Magee, Understanding Animal Research Head of Media and Policy, explaining Section 24 reforms.

“3. Stop importing monkeys for use in laboratories”

Most primates used in research in the UK are imported from abroad. All these animals are F1 or beyond, meaning both they were bred in captivity – there are no wild primates in UK labs (most UK primates are F2 or beyond meaning both they, and their parents, were captive-bred).

Primate breeding centres tend to be in hotter countries with large outdoor corrals which allow large amounts of monkeys to play together – this is good for animal welfare. UK climate is not conducive to this.

Primates account for less than 0.08% of all animal experiments in the UK, they have special protections to ensure they are only used where no other species would be viable.

Nonetheless, primates are essential to work in understanding neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Deep Brain Stimulation – a treatment to stop tremors of Parkinson’s patients – was developed through the use of monkeys in research.

“4. End non-medical experiments”

The statistics which the Government publishes each year tries to distinguish different areas of research including “Fundamental biological research” (28%), “Applied Studies – human medicine or dentistry” (13%), “Applied studies – veterinary medicine” (4%) and “Breeding of GM or HM animals” (51%). This BUAV pledge wants to limit research to the “Applied Studies – Human Medicine or Dentistry” (insinuating this is the only research important for human health). The reality is that without the fundamental research (often called “basic research”), and the breeding of GM animals, the Applied research could not happen.

This is not to mention that the BUAV seems happy to ban veterinary research – which is important for animal welfare.

“5. Stop genetically modifying animals pending a review”

GM animals offer a way of “humanising” animals, increasingly their physiological similarity to humans. We can give an immunocompromised mouse a human cancer and then work out the best combination of treatments to destroy the cancer, we can splice in GFP gene (fluorescence gene from jellyfish) to allow us to measure cell death, and GM animals have many other uses. Watch this little video from Understanding Animal Research for more information on the importance of GM animals.

“6. Stop suffering in most extreme experiments”

When researchers apply for a licence to conduct animal experiments they have to estimate the level of suffering of the animal (from next year they will have to record actual suffering and submit this information back to the Home Office). This can be Mild, Moderate, Severe or Unclassified (where the animal is never woken from anaesthesia). In 2012, 2% of licences were “Severe”, though this does not necessarily mean 2% of experiments are severe. See more on licences here.

The Government states on its website that: “We have legislated so experimentation is only permitted when there is no alternative research technique and the expected benefits outweigh any possible adverse effects.” Essentially, if any severe licence will be approved, it is on the basis that this higher level of suffering is justified by the potential benefits to human and animal health.

Overall what we see is more misinformation from the BUAV. We urge parliamentary candidates from all parties to reject the BUAV’s approaches, and stand up for the important role of animals in research.

If you wish to discuss these points further, please contact us by email or phone.

Addendum

Here is a template email you can send to your local candidates, though we encourage you to personalise it as much as possible:

Dear <Candidate Name>,

I am aware that many PPCs have received emails from the Vote Cruelty Free campaign (run by the BUAV) asking candidates to support their six pledges on animal research. I am concerned that some of the information sent in these emails may not be entirely accurate.

Before making any pledges I encourage you to read an article by Speaking of Research, who have taken the time to address the claims made in the Vote Cruelty Free email. This post can be found here: http://speakingofresearch.com/2014/12/23/the-buav-is-misinforming-uk-policy-makers/

Speaking of Research also provide a general briefing on animal research in the UK which covers the key issues in a factual and scientific manner. https://speakingofresearch.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/background-briefing-on-animal-research-in-the-uk.pdf

Yours sincerely,

<Your name>

Five Ways to Help

Only have a few moments to spare? Quick jump straight to one of the Five Ways to Help:

  1. Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]
  2. Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]
  3. Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]
  4. Send us a picture [10 minutes]
  5. Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

There are over “300,000 Biological and Life Scientists” in the US. The average person in the US spends 5 hours 15 minutes per day doing leisure and sport activities, of which 45 minutes is spent “socializing and communicating”. Combine those statistics and you find that a single year contains over 500 million scientist leisure hours (= 65,625 years) or 82 million hours of scientists socializing and communicating for leisure (=9,375 years). Imagine the impact on the public understanding of science if those scientists spent 1% of their leisure time communicating science to the public (equivalent to one scientist fitting 650 years worth of science communication into every year).

Speaking of Research is small organisation with virtually no budget and a committee of less than 20 volunteers. This year we have produced over 100 posts and attracted well over half a million views to the website. For the hours of effort we have put in this year, we want one back from you. Here are five ways to help us in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Lost (and definitely more satisfying when you finish) or listen to the Beatles White Album (you could probably do that at the same time).

1 hour explain animal testing

Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]

A measly minute to do a Google search and/or the search box on your institution’s website. If you find one, check if it appears in our list of statements, and if not then use the form on the page to submit the link.

If there isn’t a statement available on why your institution uses animals in research then we recommend emailing the communications department to ask why not, and suggest they create one. Point out examples (particularly the exemplary statements in bold) of good statements.

Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]

If you found an animal research page, does it have a link to Speaking of Research? These links help us rank on Google and get more people reading about the important role of animal experiments in modern science. We recommend sending the following email to the webmaster or commnications team:

Dear Webmaster

Please can you add the following paragraph to our departmental website, on our page about animal research here: <insert url>

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following resources:
http://www.speakingofresearch.com – Speaking of Research
http://www.amprogress.org – Americans for Medical Progress
http://www.fbresearch.org – Foundation for Biomedical Research
http://www.animalresearch.info – Animal Research Information

Kind Regards

<insert name>

Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]

As we enter the sixth minute we ask you to think about how you can help inform friends and relatives about the role of animals in research. Could you help share our materials?

At the bottom of every one of our pages is a box (see picture below) where you can share our message on a wide number of social media websites including Facebook, Twitter and Google+. It takes seconds to share one of our posts, and helps us spread our message to those who have not come across our website.

sharing speaking of research

Another way of sharing is through our short tweetable facts about animal research. We will be posting one every weekday on Twitter until Mid January, so consider retweeting us, or writing and posting your own fact.

Send us a picture [10 minutes]

Last month we asked for your help to “show the world what animal research looks like!” We need you to spend a few minutes taking some photos of animals in your lab (make sure you get necessary permissions) and then send them to us. We don’t need to say which institution the photographs were taken, we just need real images showing what animal research really looks like. We want scientists to gift us these images, so we can redistribute them around the internet and help show the world what animal research looks like.

Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

It’s great photographing animals, but what we really need is an explanation to go with it. We want scientists to write about why they use animals in research, what your research hopes to achieve, and how you care for animal welfare. Whether you are a PI, a post-doc, a veterinarian or an animal tech, you have a unique insight into how and why animal research is carried out, and we want you to share that! Read more on the Speaking of Your Research initiative here.

If Frederick Banting was alive, I'm sure he'd be writing about his research for us.

If Frederick Banting was alive, I’m sure he’d be writing about his research for us.

Join us [It’s up to you!]

Can you spare a little more time to help us run Speaking of Research? If you’re willing to participate on the email-based committee, and can commit to writing an article for us once every four months, then we would warmly welcome your help. Committee members put in whatever time they can spare to help us better communicate with the general public about animal research. So contact us today!

Remember

Science Needs You