Spain publishes animal research statistics for 2014

In the last two weeks we have provided animal research statistics for Switzerland and Finland. Now Spain joins our statistical analysis as it released its 2014 statistics for the number of animal research procedures (for research and testing). Overall, 808,827 animal procedures were conducted in 2014, a 12% fall from 2013, but also the first statistical release under the new EU guidelines. The number of animals is likely to be very similar (with only 14,552 procedures on animals which had previously been used in research).

Animal Research in Spain in 2014. Click to Enlarge

Animal Research in Spain in 2014. Click to Enlarge

Most species saw a large drop in numbers, with the main exceptions being fish and birds which rose sharply. Zebrafish have been increasingly used in research all over the world due to their fast reproduction cycle and transparent embryos. Cephalalopoda (e.g. jellyfish) were included in 2014 for the first time.

Most research was on mice, rats, birds and fish

Most research was on mice, rats, birds and fish

Mice, rats, fish and birds accounted for 93% of research animals in Spain, roughly the same proportion as other EU countries. Dogs, cats and primates account for less than 0.2% of all research procedures in Spain in 2014; again, similar to other EU countries.

The new EU guidelines also require retrospective reporting of animal suffering in experiments. Of the 808,827 procedures, 53% were subthreshold or mild, 27% were mild, 8% were severe, and 12% non-recovery (where the animal is fully anaesthetised before surgery and then never woken up). For more information see Table 3 of the Government statistical release (in Spanish).

Animal research numbers have fallen in Spain since 2009

Animal research numbers have fallen in Spain since 2009

The number of animals used in testing and research since 2009 has fallen from a little over 1.4 million animals to just over 800,000 in 2014. These older statistics are available on the website of the Ministry for Agriculture.

Dangerous and Irresponsible: PETA attempts to intimidate NIH Director Francis Collins

PETA campaigns are rarely benign, from misrepresenting science to glorifying violence against women and scientists. Their latest campaign, reported yesterday by Science Insider, is no different. PETA have sent hundreds of letters to the neighbors of both NIH Director, Francis Collins, and world renowned researcher, Dr. Stephen J. Suomi, as part of a long running campaign against Dr Suomi’s NIH-funded research into the behavioral and biological development of non-human primates.


These letters, condemning Dr Suomi’s research, are full of inaccuracies. His work has been defended by several large scientific organisations. When PETA first launched their campaign against Dr Suomi earlier this year the American Psychological Association wrote:

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.

The American Society of Primatologists statement noted:

The American Society of Primatologists supports research on non-human primates that is carefully designed and employs rigorous research protocols. Dr. Suomi’s research and consistent funding by the NIH attests to his adherence to prescribed protocols and regulations.

While the NIH’s own very robust statement, which it issued this January following a review of Dr Suomi’s research programme sparked by PETA’s complaint, concluded that it:

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.

Yet the letters are more than just another incident of misrepresented research. They are irresponsible and dangerous. By posting Dr Collins’ and Dr Suomi’s addresses, alongside a misleading picture of the NIH research, they have potentially given animal rights extremists the necessary information to carry out extremist actions. We have seen similar address releases in past result in terrifying home demonstrations as well as acts of vandalism and worse.

PETA have been involved in animal rights activism for decades and should be well aware of the potential risks – this whole strategy comes down to the harassment of scientists and their families to scare them from conducting important biomedical research. Indeed, a statement by PETA’s Alka Chandna to Science Insider that “If I had a neighbor who was doing this, I would want to know about it…It’s similar to having a sexual predator in your neighborhood.” suggests that harassment and intimidation is exactly what PETA have in mind. It becomes all the more sinister when you remember PETA’s record in glorifying and encouraging violence, and supporting violent animal rights extremists.

As Speaking of Research member Prof. David Jentsch noted in his comments to Science Insider:

PETA’s arguments about the value of the science fails on its merits, so they resort to these deeply personal attacks. We’re seeing more of these types of tactics across the animal rights movement. They’re essentially saying to scientists, ‘We know where you live.’

Is this what PETA want?

Is this what PETA want?

So will PETA’s approach succeed? The fact is that very few of the scientists targeted by PETA or other animal rights extremists have ever given up their research, and for some – and David Jentsch himself is a good example – being targeted has prompted them to become vocal advocates for animal research, which one suspects is not the result the animal rights groups intended.

It’s also worth noting that on previous occasions where animal rights extremists have targeted the neighbors of scientists on this way, they have responded with displays of support for the scientist and their family. We expect that this time will be no different (especially as PETA are hardly the most trusted of organizations).

It seems unlikely that Collins will be cowed by PETA’s tactics, after all as a researcher who has spoken up in favour of human embryonic stem cell research when it was under threat, and who as NIH Director frequently has to deal the demands of wilfully ignorant and frequently obnoxious politicians, he has probably developed quite a thick skin.

Indeed, during a discussion of the NIH’s flagship BRAIN Initiative at the Society for Neuroscience meeting last month Collins was asked directly about non-human primate research, and responded by acknowledging the need for non-human primate research in the BRAIN Initiative and the need for continued outreach to the public on the importance of animals in advancing biomedical research.

Some commentators have suggested a connection between the PETA campaign and yesterday’s announcement by the NIH that it has decided to retire all its remaining research chimpanzees. While some may be tempted to think this, it seems unlikely to be the case. As several researchers noted in the Nature News article reporting the NIH decision, there are still some question marks over the NIH’s decision. In particular how the NIH will ensure that the conditions in which the chimps are retired to meet the high welfare standards of current NIH facilities, and how it will affect valuable non-invasive neurocognitive, genomic, and behavioural research that most sanctuaries do not have the facilities to support, is still far from clear.

However, it is also readily apparent that this decision was driven by the fast decreasing use of chimps in biomedical research over the past 5 years, and in particular the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to give research chimps endangered species protection, which prevents any invasive biomedical research that doesn’t benefit wild chimpanzee populations, a ruling that arguably made supporting even a small research chimp colony unviable for the NIH. PETA’s most recent harassment campaign is unlikely to have had much – if any – affect on the NIH’s decision making.

Francis Collins

The situation is very different for other non-human primate species, which continue to play a crucial role in many areas of NIH-funded research. Francis Collins himself noted this  in the official statement on the decision to no longer support chimpanzee research, when he concluded by writing:

These decisions are specific to chimpanzees. Research with other non-human primates will continue to be valued, supported, and conducted by the NIH.

Speaking of Research applauds Francis Collins’ continued support for non-human primate research, and his refusal to concede to PETA’s attempts to bully him into a decision that would do serious damage to the NIH’s status a world leader in biomedical research, and indeed to progress against a wide range of devastating diseases.

Speaking of Research condemns the efforts of PETA to stand in the way of medical research that can change lives. Almost 20% of the US suffered from mental health illnesses in the past year. The research community is morally obligated to do what it can to help understand and treat these devastating conditions. We also condemn a PETA tactic that risks exposing researchers to acts of violent extremism that PETA claim not to support.

We hope Francis Collins and the NIH will not bow to pressure, but will continue to stand up in defense of the research community and the importance of biomedical research.

Speaking of Research

Preventing neuronal death: the future of stroke therapy

In neurological research the importance of neuronal death is well known, as are its implications for the normal functions of your brain. Many serious neurological conditions, such as stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Chorea, are a direct consequence of this type of neuronal death, which determines the clinical manifestation of the illness and, as a consequence, the prognosis for the patient.

For example, in stroke an ischemic attack (loss of blood flow), even if it is localized, can initiate the neuronal death program, due to excessive stimulation of neurons (nerve cells) by molecules known as neutotransmitters, the so-called excitotoxic triggers. This in turn leads to a worse clinical development and physical symptoms like palsies, sensory alterations, cognitive impairments and more.

One of the principal triggers of this event is the activation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors on neurons, which are sensitive to glutamic acid, one of the most important excitatory neurotransmitter of the brain.

When these receptors are over activated due to the release of an enormous amount of glutamic acid as a consequence of the lack of oxygen in the affected area of the brain, this triggers a flow of Ca++ ions into the neuron, which activates many enzymes inside the nerve cell that directly damage the internal structure and ultimately cause the cells to die in a process known as apoptosis. (1)

It’s clear at this point how important it is to stop this process in order to prevent progressive damage in areas that are not directly affected by the original ischemic event.

What’s still not so clear is the precise molecular pathway from the liberation of glutamic acid to the neuronal death, but experimental evidence suggests that a membrane protein called JNK (c-Jun-N-terminal-kinase) has an important role in this activation. (2)

Although it has been shown that by blocking JNK it’s possible to reduce infarct size (the size of the damaged area of brain tissue) and neuronal death in an in vivo animal model of cerebral ischemia, the same studies have also shown serious side effects, as JNK has several important physiological functions in the body. As a result researchers have sought to identify means of blocking the role of JNK in ischemia–induced neuronal cell death without blocking its other functions.

It has been demonstrated that JNK is activated by two upstream molecules, called respectively MKK4 and MKK7, that respond to specific stress situations and represent a key bottleneck, and that in particular MKK7 shows an important role as mediator in the activation of JNK as ain response to cerebral ischemia.

Due to this observation, a team of neuroscience Italian researchers developed a specific MKK7 inhibitor peptide, called GADD45ß-I, to study its possible effects in vitro and in vivo in rodent models.(3)

This molecule showed an interesting neuroprotective effect in vitro and no toxicity itself on neurons, suggesting its application for in vivo treatments; during the in vivo (animal research) phase, the molecule was tested on two different rodent models which demonstrated that this peptide could reduce the infarct area of 43% after 24h, if administrated before the induced stroke. Very importantly this neuroprotective effect was still maintained when GADD45ß-I was administered 6h after the initial ischemic damage, which is critical as analysis of earlier failed candidate stroke therapies have stressed that potential therapies must be able to prevent damage when administered several hours after stroke onset (when treating stroke prompt diagnosis and treatment is vital). These protective effects are maintained for at least a week and show that the molecule does not merely delay apoptosis but actively blocks the process.

To prevent ischemic damage in the immediate aftermath of stroke onset, we can use rt-PA (recombinant tissue plasminogen activator) to promote the breakdown of a possible obstruction inside a cerebral artery and prevent a progressive stroke; and this is an important approach that has saved many lives in the last 20 years.  However, this therapy has side effects such as bleeding, and it can be not use in some specific but common conditions, for example in patients who use anticoagulant as Warfarin for atrial fibrillation, and is only effective if administered within 3,5-4,5 hours of stroke onset (although it may be effective later in some cases where the damaged area is clearly demarcated in brain imaging by MRI or CT scan).

All other therapies that are available to neurologists are only supporting therapy for the blood pressure, active anticoagulation and respiratory support where it is necessary.

GADD45ß-I offers the possibility that we could protect a patient under ischemic insult even when we could not use the thrombolytic therapy with rt-PA, and we could also protect them from future insults by regular administration of this drug, which may be especially useful for multimorbidity patient, those who suffer from two or more chronic health conditions.

This could also lead to reduce post-stroke consequences, to improve the prognosis for these persons and to a reduced need for rehabilitative therapies as physiotherapy, speech therapy and exercise therapy

If these promising early results are confirmed in clinical trials, this therapy could be one of the most important discoveries in the field of neurology in the recent years and could radically change our approach on stroke, allowing us to switch from a supportive therapy to a preventative therapy.

If we think that in 2010 circa 17 million stroke occurred worldwide, and that every 6 seconds a person somewhere suffers a stroke, we can also imagine the potential impact of this therapy.

  1. Lipton SA. Paradigm shift in neuroprotection by NMDA receptor blockade: memantine and beyond. Nat Rev Drug Discov 2006; 5: 160–170.
  2. Centeno C, Repici M, Chatton JY, Riederer BM, Bonny C, Nicod P et al. Role of the JNK pathway in NMDA-mediated excitotoxicity of cortical neurons. Cell Death Differ 2007; 14: 240–253.
  3. Vercelli A, Biggi S, Sclip A, Repetto IE, Cimini S, Falleroni F, Tomasi S, Monti R, Tonna N, Morelli F, Grande V, Stravalaci M, Biasini E, Marin O, Bianco F, di Marino D, Borsello T. Exploring the role of MKK7 in excitotoxicity and cerebral ischemia: a novel pharmacological strategy against brain injury. Cell Death Dis. 2015 Aug 13;6: e1854.



Switzerland releases 2014 animal research statistics

[16.11.15] The statistics in this post have been corrected. Previously we showed figures from studies completed in the last quarter. Here are the official 2014 statistics

Earlier this week we focused on Finland’s animal research statistics, now we move 1,000 miles south west to Switzerland.  We have translated the Swiss National Statistics on animal research, and provided much of the information in the table below.

Animal Research in Switzerland by species and use

Animal Research in Switzerland by species and use

Overall, there were 606,505 animals (not including invertebrates except Cephalopoda and lobsters) used in research and animal testing in Switzerland in 2014. Most of these animals were involved in basic research, which overwhelmingly used mice.

Animal Research in Switzerland in 2014 by Species Chart

Animal Research in Switzerland, 2014. Click to Enlarge

95% of the research was conducted on mice, rats, fish and birds – similar to other European countries. Monkeys (251), cats (788) and dogs (3,286) together accounted for 0.7% of all research animals.

Animals used in research in Switzerland Pie Chart 2014

Species of Animals Used in Switzerland in research and testing in 2014

Suffering was also measured and classified under four categories of severity. 42% of experiments were sub-threshold, 35% were mild, 21% were moderate and 2% were classified as severe.

Animal Research use since 1983

Animal Research use since 1983

Overall there has been a steady downward trend in the number of animals used in research in Switzerland over the last 30 years, although this has stabilised more recently.

Animal Research stats for Finland in 2014

Speaking of Research prides itself on providing the best coverage of worldwide  animal research statistics. Today we add a new country to our list – Finland. Check out our comparison of countries.

Finland’s statistical release complies with the new EU reporting methods on animal research statistics (see the recent UK release). As a result the statistics are split between experimental procedures, and procedures involved in the creation of maintenance of GM animals. We have provided a totals column as well.

Animals research procedures in Finland 2014

Mice accounted for the majority (58%) of animals used, then fish (23%), rats (10%) and birds (3.5%). Together these four types of animals accounted for over 94% of all animal research species – this is similar to other European countries.

Animal research procedures in 2014. Click to Enlarge

Animal research procedures in 2014. Click to Enlarge

The statistics also revealed that most of the experimental procedures were for basic research, with only 2.5% of experimental procedures for regulatory animal testing (mostly on rats and sheep).

The new EU rules also require countries to retrospectively report on severity. Of the experimental procedures (so not including the 50% of breeding procedures), 61.5% were sub-threshold or mild, 30% were moderate, 5% were severe and 3.5% were non-recovery (the animal is never awakened from anaesthetic). If the recent UK statistics are anything to go by, then severe procedures are likely to be a small proportion of the total procedures (as breeding procedures are, on average, less severe).

We congratulate the Finnish authorities for providing easy-to-read information about the numbers of types of animals used in research in 2014. The next few weeks may also see the publication of the statistics of many more EU countries.

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Animal Testing. Is it really a polarised debate?

I was recently contacted by a student who had an assignment to report both sides of a contentious issue, and she’d chosen animal research.

To her, there were two sides to the debate – a simple yes or no to research. Yet, as I explained to her, it is not a genuinely two-sided argument.

To understand why, we need to look at the basis of the hardline anti-vivisection viewpoint that no animal should be used in an experiment. This is the position taken by most animal rights groups around the world, from PETA and the National Antivivisection Society, to Cruelty Free International and Animal Aid. The polar opposite of this viewpoint is that animals should always be used in experiments, yet this is never what has been argued by those in favour of experiments in the UK.

Are debates like this really between polar opposites?

Are debates like this really between polar opposites?

To understand the history of the issue, animal research really kicked off in the mid to late 1800s. In 1875, there was a Royal Commission which examined the necessity of using animals, at which scientists including one Charles Darwin gave evidence.

In 1876, on the basis of the Royal Commission, Parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, which demanded that all researchers using animals, as well as each experiment, must be licensed.. There were relatively few experiments even proposed at the time, so the President of the Royal Society was asked to justify the scientific validity of each one. Special protections were afforded to dogs, cats, primates and horses which ensured that they could not be used if another species would suffice.

As time has gone on, the law around animal research has been tightened and finessed. In 1986, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act made it explicit that animals could not be used if there was an alternative method and in 1998 it became illegal to test cosmetics or their ingredients.

Still, however, the principal of only allowing research conditionally remained at the heart of UK animal research. In order to conduct an animal experiment, researchers need a series of licenses from the Home Office. The experiment has to pass two tiers of ethical review and prove why there is no alternative to using an animal.

If we were to transpose this ethical review system for experimentsto using animals for food we would say ‘it can be ethical for a person to eat a chicken if, for instance, they are malnourished’. Each person who was hungry would have to apply to eat the chicken, explaining also why they couldn’t eat anything else, and their application would be considered by an ethics committee before being rubber-stamped by the Home Secretary.

The key thing here is that this system is different from saying ‘it is always acceptable to use an animal’, which is the polar opposite viewpoint of ‘it is never acceptable to use an animal’.

The ethical difficulty of saying that it is never acceptable to use an animal is that it underplays the value of human and animal medicines which have derived from animal experiments. Indeed, some campaigners wilfully attempt to rewrite medical history to remove the role of animals from key discoveries, but how could you remove dogs from the discovery of insulin? How do you make a drug based on a mouse hormone without a mouse?

Individuals can be against all animal experiments if they want, but they have to acknowledge the harms associated with their worldview. It is similar to anti-vaxxers: it’s your lookout if you don’t want to vaccinate your child, but let’s be clear that you are placing them and others at risk.

Researchers are motivated to act because the victims of disease are not hypothetical. They are the children on the wards of Great Ormond Street hospital, they are people dying in sub-Saharan Africa, they are wild animals, they are your pets, they are your family. The suffering is already happening. Standing idly by and watching them suffer is not a kindness, it’s a negligence.

There are other important subtleties which are lost with a simplistic yes/no approach to animal research. For instance, what do we mean when we say ‘research’? Are we talking about brain surgery, or a blood sample? We know, for example, that some 27% of experiments are below the threshold for suffering; so have suffered less than if they’d received an injection. The degree of suffering is essential to judging the value of an experiment as the costs relative to the benefits are essential to determining value. If I’m offered a ‘procedure’ by a doctor, I’m going to need to know if we’re talking about a blood test or an amputation before deciding whether to go ahead with it.

I think it was worth using animals to develop the badger TB vaccine and the vaccines I give my cat. I think it is worth using a mouse to make a breast cancer drug, because I think the tens of thousands of women who are diagnosed with the condition every year are capable of suffering in ways the mouse cannot. For example, they may be consumed by worry for their children, whereas mice are liable to consume their children. The woman and the mouse are not morally equal except by the most superficial of measures.

However, I want to know that each experiment has gone through rigorous ethical review. I want to know that it is worthwhile. If it is not, I, somebody who is notionally ‘for’ animal research, would agree with those opposed to it. This can only means one thing – the definition of ‘against’ animal research is correct, but the definition of someone ‘for’ it is lacking. Those who identify as being against animal research are generally against all animal experiments. Those who identify as supporting animal experiments are generally only supportive given strict conditions (based on regulation, purpose etc).

I also want to see alternatives to animals testing and research continue to be developed. Animals may well be the best model we have for many bits of research, but I want better. So should you. These would have the potential to be cheaper, and even more reliable.

It’s true that there’s little dialogue between the biomedical community and the now established anti-research lobby and this isn’t surprising since they are effectively having different conversations. The biomedical community is figuring out how to improve animal welfare and is engaged in an ongoing harm/benefit debate. The demands of those opposed to animal research are effectively too uncompromising, too unreasonable, too damaging to the public good to be accommodated.

Their policy asks are all about banning research, which merely sends it abroad (often to places with lower regulatory standards), rather than doubling down on developing alternatives to animal studies which will be the only realistic way to reduce the overall number of animals used in research.

So are pro-research and anti-vivisection viewpoints, polar opposites?

Animal Rights perspectivesNo. The research community is supportive of measures to improve animal welfare while recognising the importance of balancing it with the needs of those suffering from disease worldwide.

Indeed agreement between researchers and the animal rights movement can be found through investment and development of alternative technologies, while accepting that some animals will continue to be needed in the foreseeable future. If only we could focus on that, instead of engaging in a public bun fight between two sectors which aren’t even having the same conversation.