STEM Fair: Why Talking to Children about Research is Important

On March 21st, the Park Forest Middle School in State College, PA held its annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fair.  Approximately 500 students in the 6th through 8th grades participated.  As part of this program, the Animal Resource Program at Penn State University set up a table to talk about the use of animal models in research.  The AALAS Foundation generously provided many outreach materials such as puzzles, hand-outs, and CD’s.   The stall also displayed a variety of environmental enrichment items for various species from mice to primates.

This is the third year the Animal Resources Program have participated in the STEM Fair and besides the environmental enrichment items they also have a game developed by Americans for Medical Progress (AMP).  The Research Trivia Game consists of a game board and various trivia questions.  These can be found on the AALAS Foundation website.  Groups of children are given a statement about a type of research animal whose picture is on the game board.  Those that get the answer right win a prize.  This year winners received a stuffed animal generously supplied by Carter 2 Systems, Inc. and Charles River. Additionally, there were goodies from Bio-Serv, the AALAS Foundation, and other vendors associated with animal research.  The fact that the prizes ran out and someone had to make a mad dash to the local super market to buy some candy to hand out suggests the table was popular.

Trivia game Americans for Medical Progress

Excerpt from the Trivia Game: Would you have got the answer?

The Park Forest Middle School has student representing a diverse background and with that their perceptions on the use of animals in research and in general.  Many are the children of the farmers in the surrounding area.  These students tend to have seen the direct benefits of animal research in the form of antibiotics for their livestock, better formulated feed, and general veterinary care.  There are also students whose parents work Penn State University or in business around the university.  These students have a mixed impression of animal research.  Many students who visited the booth, while not necessarily opposed to biomedical research using animal models, were not aware of all that is done regarding animal welfare.  They were surprised at the number of different enrichment devices used to allow the animals to exhibit normal behaviors.  For example, providing nesting materials for mice or foraging boards for primates.  The students also seemed to enjoy learning about the how different animals have been used to advance our knowledge or find cures for diseases.  While most of the students professed to “liking” animals, there were none that suggested they were opposed to animal research.

Stem Fair

It’s vitally important that we in the scientific research community participate in these types of outreach opportunities.  PETA has long targeted children from grade school through high school.  It’s imperative that we continue and build presenting the truth about the work we do to this age group. This is when they begin forming their ideas about not only what types of jobs they’d like to have, but how they view issues.  If all they hear is the animal rights side of things, then we’ve lost a key moment to present the truth.  It’s also important because we need to reach out to the next generation of researchers, animal caretakers, those that will work for the various vendors, and veterinary staff.  Many students who visited the booth talked to had no idea that this type of work existed.  We need caring and compassionate people to continue the work of the research community.  Those who visited the booth were shown a Whyville page that has various games related to animal research geared towards middle school kids.  The AALAS Foundation has also recently launched the CARE website that has information about working in the field and links to pages such as the 4Research page.

Kids are genuinely interested in the type of work the research community does do, and it’s important that we get out and talk about it to them.  Besides providing good and interesting information to the kids, it’s a lot of fun!

David Bienus

For more information on outreach initiatives read:

Speaking of Addiction Research

J. David Jentsch is a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the recipient of the 2010 Joseph Cochin Young Investigator Award from the College on the Problems of Drug Dependence and the 2011 Jacob P Waletzky Award for Innovative Research in Drug and Alcohol Abuse from the Society for Neuroscience. He is a member of the Speaking of Research Committee and writes his own blog: the Unlikelyactivist.

This post is the full version of a piece originally written for under the title “A Scientist Comes Out Swinging at PETA’s Addiction Research Stance”.

Biomedical research seeks to expose biological principles and mechanisms that cause disease in order to advance from a time where medications and treatments were discovered by chance to one where we reason our way to solutions for human and animal health through scientific discovery. Since the founding of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1974 (only 40 years ago), immense progress has been made into understanding, at the level of brain cells and molecules, why some drugs are addictive, why some people are particularly prone to addictive behaviors and how to treat drug use disorders. One of the reasons that so much progress has been made so quickly is that animal models for drug abuse are remarkably accurate and informative.

In the clearest example of all, if you place a laboratory rat into a chamber and allow it to trigger delivery of cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine, alcohol, heroin, etc., into their bloodstream by voluntarily pressing a button, they will do so. Rats will seek out and voluntarily “self-administer” drugs of abuse, just like people do, precisely because of the remarkable similarity in the reward pathways in the human and rat brain, as well as due to the fact that these drugs act upon brain chemicals in nearly identical ways in rodents and humans. Moreover, if you allow rats to consume the drug daily over a long period of time, a subset of them will progressively become “dependent” upon the drug, just the same way a subset of people that abuse drugs do. Dependence is indicated by the fact that the subject loses control over their drug use and continues to use the drug, despite efforts to abstain. Because of these incredible parallels between humans and animals, we now understand the mechanisms by which drugs of abuse produce reward at a deep level, as well as how these agents encourage drug-seeking and –taking behaviors. For example, we now know how parts of the brain like the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and prefrontal cortex participate in the development of drug-taking behaviors, and we know how crucial brain chemicals like dopamine and glutamate are to these phenomena. This information would not have been possible without responsible and humane research involving a variety of animal models – ranging from invertebrates (fruit flies, roundworms) to rodents (rats and mice) to non-human primates (mostly monkeys).

Rat Rodent Addiction Animal Testing Research

It is reasonable to ask why, given these advances and the value of animal models, we have not yet cured addictions. The answer is simple. When NIDA was founded 40 years ago, we actually knew very little about the basic biology of the brain and its relationship to drug abuse. Decades of basic research were required before we knew enough about the brain pathways involved in reward to further understand how drugs acted on these pathways and changed them in response to long-term drug intake. Decades of basic research, still on-going, was and remains required to identify all the genes, molecules and cell processes that drugs act on but which were unknown to us as recently as 10 years ago. Basic research continues in an attempt to fully describe how the hundreds of billions of nerve cells in the brain work together to create behavior and how the tens of thousands of genes in our genome affect the function of our bodies. Coupled with amazing advances in the technology needed to study the brain, this knowledge from basic research will yield unprecedented progress towards treating addictions, as well as other disorders of the brain (from Alzheimer’s Disease to schizophrenia) will be possible.

So, what has research into the biology of addictions done for us so far? In a recent blog post, Katherine Roe from PeTA claims that only one new medication has been approved for the treatment of alcoholism/alcohol use disorders based upon animal research in recent years, that it has only “limited” effect and that animal research has “green-lighted” decades of failed medication trials. Not only are each of these statements factually wrong, the truth that is subverted by her points actually demands more animal research, not less.

Firstly, there are actually three medications approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorders (one is old and two are new). One new drug naltrexone (that blocks opioid systems in brain) was approved in 1994; in 2004, the FDA approved another medication (acamprosate). Both specifically target brain chemical systems discovered to be important to alcohol’s effects though animal research. In addition, the development of both medicines required animal research since they act on molecules in brain that might be unknown at all without basic research studies in rodents and non-human primates.

Secondly, referring to the efficacy of these medicines as limited seems to misunderstand the nature of pharmacology. These medications do not effectively treat everyone that is medicated with them – but then, no drug used for any disease does. That’s not the way pharmacology works. That said, for tens of thousands of people with alcohol use disorders around the world, they achieve and maintain abstinence thanks to one or both of these medications: something that wouldn’t be possible for them without the medicines. For those people, animal research on alcohol addiction has literally saved their lives.

Thirdly, the fact of the matter is that the desperate need for medications for drug and alcohol abuse has led both NIDA and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) to undertake many clinical trials for medications before there was adequate evidence for efficacy in animal models. Many of the failed clinical trials involved these kinds of medicines. Therefore, if one is concerned about the failure of clinical trials (and we certainly should be), we should be calling for more investment in research, including in research involving animal models. Saying that animal research had “green-lighted” every single medication is simply and unequivocally wrong.

It is for all these reasons that the drug abuse research community is incredibly supportive of animal-based research. The pre-eminent professional society in this area – the College on the Problems of Drug Dependence – which includes epidemiologists, neuroscientists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and policy experts has published a statement clarifying their position on animal research:

There is an urgent need to know more about psychoactive drugs, particularly those features that lead some individuals to escalate initial use into regular use or dependence.  Research with laboratory animals will play a key role in these and related efforts… The College on Problems of Drug Dependence recognizes the value and importance of drug abuse research involving laboratory animals and supports the humane use of animals in research that has the potential to benefit human health and society. Such research plays a vital role in acquisition of the new knowledge needed to understand and reduce drug abuse and its associated problems.

Because drug and alcohol abuse are diseases with far-ranging health effects, contributing to death from overdose, cancer, stroke and metabolic disease, all of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a clear interest in seeing research end addictions. Animal activists’ claims that former NIH director Elias Zerhouni has spoken against the value of animal research are misleading given that he has recently made his opinion clear:

I understand that some have interpreted these comments to mean that I think that animals are no longer necessary in medical research. This is certainly not what I meant. In fact, animal models and other surrogates of human disease are necessary — but not sufficient — for the successful development of new treatments. In short, animal models remain essential to the basic research that seeks to understand the complexities of disease mechanism.

Overall, opposition to animal research on addictions seems to require a deep misunderstanding of basic science research, of the state of current scientific understanding of addictions and their treatment and of basic principles of biology, like pharmacology. It also defies the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and drug abuse treatment community that emphasizes the critical need for more research, including animal-based research, in that effort.

J. David Jentsch

Better Mice, Better Research, Better Results

This guest post was written by Mark Wanner from The Jackson Laboratory. He has previously written a guest post for us in 2013 responding to an article in the New York Times. This article is adapted from his earlier post on the The Jackson Laboratory blog, Genetics and your health, here. This focuses on a recent Nature commentary by Steve Perrin, which has been misunderstood by many in the animal rights community. Mark also discusses ways of improving the accuracy of the mouse model.

In February 2013, I wrote a post about the use of mice in preclinical research. It was largely in response to a New York Times article about a scientific paper that impugned data obtained from mice used in trauma and sepsis research. The NYT article in turn implied that research using mouse models for human disease was pretty much useless, or misleading at best.

Laboratory Mice animal testing

My counterpoint at the time was that research using inbred mouse strains (or in this case a single inbred mouse strain), while valuable for understanding basic biology, can be very difficult to translate to human medicine for a variety of reasons. It also does nothing to address human genetic variation and the accompanying variability of responses to any one therapy or drug.

So can mice be good experimental models for human disease? Yes, they certainly can, but it’s imperative that changes be made on a broad scale to preclinical (both biomedical and pharmaceutical) research. That’s something that scientists at The Jackson Laboratory have long advocated, and now it’s the point of a comment piece in Nature published in late March titled “Preclinical research: Make mouse studies work” that has generated significant coverage and discussion.

Noise in the data

In the commentary, Steve Perrin, chief scientific officer at the ALS Therapy Development Institute, describes how findings in mice have failed to translate to more effective ALS therapies. Unlike the NYT article, however, Perrin doesn’t imply that mice are necessarily a poor disease model system. He instead asserts that much preclinical research uses mice quite poorly, with specific examples from the ALS field.

Perrin has ample reason to broadcast his concerns. He’s working with a patient population that is inexorably dying. As he says, “patients with progressive terminal illnesses may have just one shot at an unproven but promising treatment.” Sadly, trials of about a dozen treatments that showed survival benefits in a mouse model yielded only one that “succeeded” in human patients in recent years. And even that one, a drug called Riluzole, had minimal benefits.

With the stakes so high, you would think that any experimental therapy that reaches the clinical trial stage would have robust animal data backing it up. That is often not the case, however. As Erika Check Hayden points out in a follow-up piece in Nature News, a particular ALS mouse model that carries a mutation in a protein called TDP43, has a disease phenotype that is quite different from that of humans: “TDP43 mice usually died of bowel obstructions, whereas humans with the disease tend to succumb to muscle wasting, which often results in the inability to breathe.”

TDP43 is but one example of what Perrin calls “noise,” preclinical data that may look good but provides no insights into clinical realities because the research was not sufficiently careful or rigorous. Care and rigor don’t come easily, however, especially for the behind-the-scenes work of developing and characterizing the mouse models needed before good research can even begin. Perrin acknowledges in conclusion: “This is unglamorous work that will never directly lead to a breakthrough or therapy, and is hard to mesh with the aims of a typical grant proposal or graduate student training programme. However, without these investments, more patients and funds will be squandered on clinical trials that are uninformative and disappointing.” Or, as Derek Lowe states more bluntly in a commentary on his “In the Pipeline” blog, which covers the pharma industry: “Crappy animal data is far worse than no animal data at all. . . . If you don’t pay very close attention, and have people who know what to pay attention to, you could be wasting time, money, and animals to generate data that will go on to waste still more of all three.”

Driving change

For decades, The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) has worked to improve the efficacy of its mouse models for preclinical research. It has long recognized the limitations inherent in working with only one or two strains of inbred mice—imagine testing a drug in only one or two people!—and has spearheaded the development of mouse populations (Collaborative Cross and Diversity Outbred) that provide effective models of human genetic variation. It works to fully characterize both the genotypes and phenotypes of the mouse strains it distributes and to share the data with the research community. It has been at the forefront of developing mice that express human disease genes and/or recreate the human immune response.

“JAX has provided leadership from the beginning, even before disease foundations and funding agencies realized this was a problem,” says Associate Professor Greg Cox, Ph.D., who studies neuromuscular degeneration, including forms of ALS, at JAX. “It is nice to finally hear the message coming from someone other than the ‘fanatical’ mouse biologists. It is up to us to make sure that poorly designed mouse genetics experiments stop, both for the sake of good biology and for future decisions regarding clinical applications of the research.”

So how do you design experiments well? Perrin lists four ways to fight “noise.” The first three are basic ways to correctly manage research animal populations—exclude irrelevant animals (i.e. unrelated mortality), balance for gender and split littermates—but the fourth, track genes, may be the most vital. If you don’t know the animals’ precise genotypes and as much as you can about normal and disease phenotypes, it’s just about impossible to generate relevant data. Differences between background strain genetics can yield highly misleading results, making correct strain characterization essential. Also, inheritance between generations needs to be carefully tracked.

Another way to significantly improve the power of preclinical research is to use mouse panels that reflect human genetic diversity rather than one or two inbred strains. As long ago as 2009, JAX Professor Ken Paigen and collaborators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill effectively implemented a new approach to testing drugs for potential toxicity. Paigen and colleagues tested acetaminophen, the commonly used NSAID, on 40 different mouse models chosen specifically for their strain genetics. The research revealed several gene variations associated with toxic reactions, which the researchers then matched with those in human patients experiencing adverse reactions to the drug. Such screening, which could also provide essential information regarding the effects of genetic variation on efficacy and general side effects, is not part of the current standard drug testing process.

Perrin calls for a community effort to generate the mouse models needed to undertake effective preclinical research. JAX has already served as a vital hub to several such efforts, collecting, curating and distributing mouse strains useful for research into many diseases. These mouse repositories provide researchers access to quality control, standardization and mouse genetics expertise unattainable without a central resource of this nature.

Last July I wrote about the pervasiveness of positive bias in preclinical research findings and the associated problems. Now Perrin’s commentary indicates that such positive bias is based on generally poor data. More thought and care are not only important for preclinical research, they’re absolutely necessary. Using mice in a way that provides valuable, translatable preclinical data takes far more up-front time and money, investments that can be difficult to justify in competitive pharma and academic settings. But the costs of not doing good research—and generating “crappy” animal data—are immeasurable on both financial and human scales.

Mark Wanner

Background Briefing on Animal Research in Canada

In February we announced the publication of our US Background Briefing on animal research. Today we are publishing our Canadian counterpart briefing. We hope this will offer journalists, editors and broadcasters who may need to discuss this issue, a handy overview of the facts. Our two-page summary provides key information including the number of animals used for research purposes, the laws and regulations surrounding animal research, and some key questions people have.

Download the Background Briefing on Animal Research in Canada

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

Animal Research Canada

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

We would like to produce more of these for different countries in the future, to add to our American and Canadian briefings. Those wishing to see a similar briefing for the UK should consult the Science Media Centre’s “Briefing Notes on the Use of Animals in Research”. We thank the Science Media Centre for offering their support in producing our briefings.

Speaking of Research

SYR: Why I Became a Biologist

The Speaking of Your Research (SYR) series gives scientists a voice to discuss their own research. We welcome posts by animal researchers explaining the science and motives behind what they do. Contact us for more details.

I am a biologist. At heart, I have been a biologist ever since I can remember. Life, in its many forms, fascinates me and, even though my interests aren’t confined to biology (or sciences, for that matter), it was always very clear to me that I would pursue the task of trying to understand life a little bit better.

As a kid, my most vivid memories go back to those Saturday mornings when I use to wake up at 7 a.m. to turn on the TV. First, there were cartoons to watch, but – at around 10 a.m. – the “Wildlife” shows would start: documentaries from the BBC Wildlife or from the National Geographic Channel. David Attenborough’s or Jacques Cousteau’s voices were my companions, as I flew above mountains or dived into the depths of the oceans, watching the most bizarre animals or the most fascinating flowers. There was a whole diversity of life around me that I was relentlessly drawn to. In my mind, I had this naïve idea that I wanted to be the next David Attenborough. I felt like it must be great just to grab a camera and follow animals around just to catch that perfect moment! But life got in the way… Not because I didn’t have opportunities to follow my dreams, but because the dream itself changed.

When I was eleven, one of my cousins checked into the hospital, quite suddenly, with what would later be diagnosed with measles encephalitis. During the early stages, I wasn’t completely aware of what was happening. Indeed, not even the doctors knew what was happening. When he was finally diagnosed, it was already too late for the interferon treatment. After years struggling with the disease, he fell into a coma and eventually could no longer struggle. Looking back, my change of field of interest started there. Suddenly, I started thinking about diseases, about what causes them and how incredibly little we know about it all. I started looking at microorganisms in a whole different way: I started realising I wanted to know more about what makes them tick and how to stop that ticking. So, by the 7th grade, I already had my mind settled on Biology.

The path since there has been one of seizing opportunities: I finished college (Biology with a minor in Evolution and Development) and I went on to take my MSc in Applied Microbiology. By the beginning of the second semester, I saw an ad for a trainee position studying the neurological sequelae of cerebral malaria. For me, it couldn’t get more interesting than that!

When I joined the lab, the first thing I had to do was read. Among all those articles, the first thing that struck me (having little knowledge of this before) was the numbers: according to the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report 2013, there are around 200 million new cases of malaria and around 700 000 deaths per year, the majority of which (around 500 000) are children under the age of 5 years. I was shocked by these figures and, most importantly, by the ones related to the funding of anti-malarial research and preventive measures. And even though these numbers are finally starting to rise, they are still very much below what would be desirable.

Mosquitos Malaria animal research

Anopheles stephensi is the most commonly used mosquito vector for Plasmodium (the malaria parasite) in research labs

And so it was that, at 21 years of age, I did my first in vivo experiment, using rodent models of malaria. The moral challenge wasn’t easy and the decision wasn’t taken lightly. But, while I regard all living things as worthy of respect, I cannot disregard the good that comes from the use of animal models. I had to look at the ugly effects of what malaria does to people and especially to children. And I had to look at them in mice; in the mice I was handling, observing and taking care of every day. I had to look at all that and still make a decision. It is emotionally hard, but I truly think that using animal models is the only way we have of really studying this disease (and so many others!). The ethical decision that I make every day has become less difficult to make when I see it as the best chance we have of saving the lives at stake here: the millions infected every year, by a disease Jeffrey Sachs described as a disease of “poverty”.

The lesson I was taught on my very first day was: “the first thing to keep in mind is the animal’s distress. If it is distressed, not only will it be bad for the animal but it will also be bad for you, because your experiment will be jeopardized”. Four years have gone by, and I have passed it on to the students I’ve trained as well, because I truly believe this should be the golden-rule for everyone doing this work!

From cerebral malaria I moved on to other fields of research, screening compound libraries for new anti-malarials, and integrating the search for an anti-malarial vaccine. Now, the goal is there all the time, in front of my eyes! But I can only do what I do, because others before me have studied the biological processes I want to tackle. And they have done so using animal models.

Inês S. Albuquerque, MSc

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

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

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

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

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

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

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

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

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

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

A common image – tuberculosis skin test

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

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

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

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

University of Florida monkey pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allyson J. Bennett

More information and resources:

Raising the bar: What makes an effective public response in the face of animal rights campaigns:

Time for a change in strategies?

A detailed response to a PETA video accusing a primate lab of mistreatment:

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

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

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

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

But has it had its vaccinations?

But has it had its vaccinations?

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

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

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

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


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

In her eyes, the experiments are:

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

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

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

Is suffering the #object' of research?

Is suffering the ‘object’ of research?

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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