Tag Archives: Allyson J. Bennett

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:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/02/20/raising-the-bar-what-makes-an-effective-public-response-in-the-face-of-animal-rights-campaigns/

Time for a change in strategies? http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/06/24/time-for-a-change/

A detailed response to a PETA video accusing a primate lab of mistreatment:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2008/07/04/peta-out-with-the-new-in-with-the-old/

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.

Fair partners in dialogue: Starting assumptions matter and they should be spelled out

The importance and need for civil, open dialogue about the complex set of issues involved in use of animals is among the points of agreement between members of the scientific community, the public, animal rights activists, and others.  Speaking of Research, along with others, has consistently advocated for such dialogue and has engaged in it via a number of venues, including our blog, public events, conference presentations, and articles.

Such dialogue often takes place without clear specification of the starting positions held by the people engaged in the conversation. The problem with this approach was recently highlighted by Dario Ringach in his posts about a series of public forums on ethics and animal research (here, here, here).

The basic position of those engaged in animal research is obvious in part by the nature of their work. Furthermore, the very structure of the current regulations and practices reflect– both implicitly and explicitly– a set of positions on the ethical and moral considerations relevant to the use of animals in research.

For example, in the U.S., the laws and regulations that govern animal research mandate that proposals for use of vertebrate animals (including rats, mice, birds) provide, among other things:  1) a justification of the potential benefits of the work; 2) an identification of potential harms and means to reduce them; 3) evidence that alternatives to using animals are unavailable; 4) use of the least complex  species; and 5) much detail about the animals’ care and treatment, including the qualifications and training of the personnel involved.  Consideration of these issues occurs not only at the stage of IACUC evaluation, but throughout the scientists’ selection of questions and studies to pursue, peer review and selection of projects for funding (more here). Furthermore, the entirety of the project must proceed in compliance with a thorough set of regulations designed on the basis of the 3 Rs – reduce, replace, and refine (for more about regulation see here, more about 3 Rs, here).

In other words, while there is always room for continued improvement, the structure is designed to require that the major ethical and moral considerations relevant to animal research be addressed by those involved in performing and overseeing the work. This structure also incorporates explicit consideration of changes that arise from new knowledge.  That includes evolving knowledge about different species’ capacities and needs, as well as the development of alternatives to animal-based studies for particular uses.  It also includes  advances in our scientific understanding that demonstrate greater need for basic research that requires use of animals to address key questions.

One of the important purposes of dialogue is to communicate diverse viewpoints and values on animal research. One key to understanding those viewpoints and values is consideration of the basic starting assumptions, or positions, from which they arise.

What are the positions of those who oppose laboratory animal research?  In some cases, these are clearly stated.  In the case of absolutists, the position is that no matter what potential benefit the work may result in, no use of animals is morally justified. This extends across all animals – from fruit-fly to primate. Furthermore, all uses of animals, regardless of whether there are alternatives and regardless of the need, are treated identically. In other words, the use of a mouse in research aimed at new discoveries to treat childhood disease is considered morally equivalent to the use of a cow to produce hamburger, the use of an elephant in a circus, or a mink for a fur coat.

In this framework, the focus often excludes consideration of the harms that would accrue as a consequence of enacting the animal rights agenda. For example, the harm to both humans and other animals of foregoing research or intervening on behalf of animals.  As a result, while the absolutist position is often represented as one that involves only benefits and no harms, this is a false representation. While some animal rights groups are clear about their absolutist position, others—to our knowledge—are not.

On the other hand are those who avoid identifying directly with an absolutist position, but instead focus on the need for development of alternatives to use of animals.  This is a goal that may be widely desired and shared. It does not, however, address the question of what should be done in absence of alternatives and in light of current needs that can only be addressed by animal studies. In turn then, this position is silent with respect to moral and ethical consideration of a broad swath of research and fails to offer a framework to guide current actions.

We believe that the goal of promoting better dialogue would be assisted by making these positions clear and we provide a starting place below.  We welcome additions by individuals and groups, as well as clarification or correction if any are unintentionally misrepresented.

_______________________

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Offers clear statement of absolutist position. “PETA has always been known for uncompromising, unwavering views on animal rights. PETA was founded in 1980 and is dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals. PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.”

In Defense of Animals:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.  “We work to expose and end animal experimentation”

New England Anti-Vivisection Society:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position. “Is NEAVS against all animal experiments? Yes. For ethical, economic and scientific reasons, NEAVS is unequivocally opposed to all experiments on animals and works to replace them with humane and scientifically superior alternatives that are more relevant and predictive for humans.”

Alliance for Animals (Madison, WI):  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.  “It is Alliance for Animals’ guiding principle that all animals, human and nonhuman, should never be treated as the property of another.” AFA is a non-profit 501(c)3 animal rights organization whose fundamental belief is that all animals, human and nonhuman, should not be treated as the property of another.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.“Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation.”  And: “To promote through education the prevention of suffering and cruelty to any of God’s creatures, human or otherwise, including, but not limited to their diet, their health, and their living conditions. To promote through education the elimination of the use of animals in biomedical research and testing, their use as food, or their use for any and all commercial purposes; and to protect the environment in which we all live, so that no living beings suffer from its destruction or pollution.”

Humane Society of the United States:  Does not, to our knowledge, offer a clear position on whether it is morally acceptable to use animals in research when there is no alternative. What they do say“As do most scientists, The HSUS advocates an end to the use of animals in research and testing that is harmful to the animals. Accordingly, we strive to decrease and eventually eliminate harm to animals used for these purposes.”

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:  Does not, to our knowledge, offer a clear position on whether it is morally acceptable to use animals in research when there is no alternative.  What they do say“We promote alternatives to animal research and animal testing.”

_______________________

For those engaged in dialogue about the ethical and moral considerations related to the use of non-human animals in research , even this brief list makes clear that it is important to ask participants to begin by putting their basic starting assumption forward.  Why?  For one reason, because those assumptions are key to identifying whether there are potential areas of agreement or none at all.

For example, discussing refinement of laboratory animal care with an absolutist—someone fundamentally opposed to animals in laboratories—misses the point. No amount of refinement would make the work acceptable to them. In this case, the more critical questions for discussion would include consideration of the relative harms and benefits of failing to perform research for which there are currently no alternatives to animal-based studies.  Consideration of species’ capacities and criteria for differential status– if any– would also be a useful starting point.

What about dialogue with those individuals and groups who do not provide a clear position?  Does it matter?  Some would argue that it does not because the dialogue is only concerned with animal welfare and with reducing harm to nonhuman animals, or with pushing forward to develop non-animal alternatives for some types of research. In fact, framed in this way, most scientists are not only in the same camp, but are also the people who work actively to produce evidence-based improvements in welfare and development of successful alternatives.

The problem, however, is that real-time, critical decision-making about human use of other animals in research is not simple.  It does require serious, fact-based consideration of the full range of harms and benefits, including consideration of the welfare of both human and nonhuman animals.  It also requires clarity about alternatives, where they exist and where they do not.  And it requires some understanding of the time-scales in which knowledge unfolds – often decades – and a basic appreciation for the scientific process.

It is easy to argue that developing non-animal alternatives should be prioritized. But this argument does little to address the question of what to do now, what we do in absence of these alternatives, and what choices we should make as a society. Those questions are at the center of dialogue and the core issues with which the scientific community and others wrestle.  To address them productively, and in a way that considers the public interest in both the harms and benefits of research, requires articulation of starting assumptions and foundational views.

Allyson J. Bennett

A Closer Look at How Animal Research Progresses from Idea to Study

Unfortunately, the “how” and “why” of the research process is of much less interest, and receives far less attention, than the “what did they find?!” part of research. The latter is what you’ll see—if we’re lucky from the science outreach perspective— on television, in the science and popular media, Facebook, Twitter, and conversations world-wide. Meanwhile, the former will be relegated to websites of federal agencies, scientific societies, and animal research advocacy groups and are read less widely.  In fact, it is entirely possible that a great many bets could be won by wagering that the public generally doesn’t care to read up on regulation or processes governing the research behind the cool discoveries that make news.

In the case of animal-based research (and some other controversial fields), the “how” and “why” do sometimes generate some public interest because they are keystones in considering questions about its ethical basis and evaluation.  Public understanding and discussion of the process by which science moves forward is important. It provides appropriate context for fact-based dialogue about the ethical evaluation, decision-making, and regulation that govern a wide range of science conducted within our democratic system. Thus, many scientists and advocates not only welcome public interest in the conduct of science, but also actively promote thoughtful, engaged, and informed collaboration on efforts for improving research practices.

Why? One reason is that the ultimate benefactor from scientific studies is the public and, within a democratic society, it is for all of us to decide whether the benefits of those studies outweigh their costs.  Another reason is that scientists are generally sensitive and responsive to societal views, but feel an obligation to ensuring that these views are informed by facts as well as emotional appeals.  This is an issue that is not at all unique to animal research. It also appears in discussions of other topics that can elicit controversy, including for example: evolution, climate change, use of embryonic stem cells, and vaccines.

For animal research, the challenges inherent in serious evaluation of its costs and benefits are not trivial. Nor is it amendable to flashy, sensationalized, and emotion-evoking campaigns.  Simplistic approaches to this issue are not useful and do a disservice to all of us.

From our perspective, it is both disappointing and frustrating to find that understanding of the process by which science moves from idea, to the conducting of the study, to the dissemination of the findings, to the evaluation of those findings receives far less attention than would be needed in order to rationally discuss the research.  Why?  Because the reality of how science is actually conducted is centrally relevant to conversations about science.  And while this is an obvious statement, it is also clear from many portrayals of science by opposing groups that the basics of scientific process and conduct are often missed in the discussion.

In the case of laboratory animal research, the starting point of many opponents is an absolutist position in which the conditions for animals, the ultimate outcome of the research, and its benefits, are irrelevant. They are irrelevant because the starting assumption is that the use of animals is morally unacceptable. For those who hold this view, there is no benefit that would justify the animal use.  There are others who hold a less absolute view and, like us, believe that the use of animals in research begins with moral and ethical consideration that requires thoughtful, fact-based weighing of both relative harm and benefit.  One major part of this evaluation is identifying whether alternatives exist to meet the same goal.  Another is identifying as closely as possible what harm may be incurred, the probability and extent of benefits. Each of these considerations is integral to regulation of animal research in the U.S. and elsewhere. They are also considerations that are so integral to the scientific process that they operate far beyond those stages typically identified as the “checks” for ethical and humane conduct of animal research (e.g., IACUC review, federal oversight).

long haul slide

How scientific research moves from idea stage, to conducting a study, to success or failure, to critical review, to dissemination and use of findings is a process that can appear somewhat opaque to public view.  The pieces of information required to construct the general pathways are publicly available.  Putting them together, however, is not necessarily straightforward for those without immediate interest, expertise, or engagement.  So while the information is neither hidden nor made secret, it is of the type that can be easily misunderstood or misrepresented.

Should this gap in basic understanding and perspectives on how scientists’ ideas move from thinking to reality concern us?  The answer is yes.  Among other reasons, the gap serves as an impediment to an informed evaluation of science.  It also weighs heavily against productive dialogue about core issues of public interest.

How does an animal research project move from scientist’s idea to finished study?

In general, the process looks like this:  Scientists generate ideas that are based in careful study of what is known, what is not known, what methods already exist, what facts we have.  They next critically evaluate and review relevant previous literature and data–  often soliciting others’ expert knowledge–  to determine whether the idea is novel (has not already been tested),  of potential importance or significance, and feasible.

Thus, while some may have the impression that scientists roll out of bed in the morning, or have an aha-moment- then  move straight to the lab to conduct whatever study occurred to them via dream – this is not the way it typically works.

As illustrated, deciding on whether an idea is worth pursuing or not is driven by many factors. If the resulting data would have little potential benefit, few scientists are likely to pursue it. Why?  Because scientists have a lot of ideas and it makes no sense to expend energy on one that won’t be useful in terms of providing significant new knowledge or understanding.  It is also true that such ideas are unlikely to compete successfully in the different arenas of expert scientific review, including review for funding, publication, and citation.

research process

If a scientist judges his/her idea worth pursuing, the next step is likely to decide whether the study is feasible or practical. What does this mean?  In short, this is a question that revolves around ethical, economic, and practical issues.  On the ethical side, for animal research the scientist will consider animal welfare and treatment, any potential for harm.  Next, on the financial and practical sides, the scientist will consider how much the study will cost and whether the necessary work can even be done. During this initial stage the scientist will also critically evaluate whether the existing literature and facts provide adequate and strong platforms for the proposed study, or whether more basic and background data are needed to guide decisions before moving forward.

For that fraction of studies that survive the scientist’s own critical examination—and likely that of his/her collaborative group and colleagues—the scientist may decide to pursue the work. If so, for animal research the next step will be to write a proposal to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) in order to conduct a study.  In the U.S., IACUSs are among the main venues for thorough review of animal studies.  We have written previously about IACUCs and there is more information here.

In brief, the IACUC is comprised of individuals with veterinary and scientific expertise, as well as a public representative.  Animal studies do not proceed until the IACUC has reviewed and approved a proposal.  What do these protocols contain?  You can see some here, this site contains links to protocol forms from a range of institutions.  Although institutions vary in the format of applications, among other things, they include: information about what the study is designed to test, why it should be conducted, the literature review and strategies used to ensure that it is not unnecessarily duplicative, that alternatives do not exist, the number of animals proposed and justification for both the number and the species,  detailed description of all procedures,  and other details about the animals’ care and treatment.  In other words, the full range of information that the review committee will need in order to evaluate whether the study meets standards.

Is the IACUC process perfect in evaluating study protocols? No.  It is, however, the current system mandated by federal law and it is one that generally functions well to protect animal welfare.  It is also an evolving system, with scientists, veterinarians, federal agencies, science and animal welfare advocates engaged in its ongoing evaluation and improvement. Some of the criticisms of the existing system, however, neglect consideration of the larger context, the process by which research unfolds. For example, critics point to the fact that IACUCs approve the majority of studies put before them as evidence that “almost anything” a scientist could dream up receives approval.  In reality, IACUCs only review proposals that scientists write and submit. This means that the IACUC only sees study proposals that have already received some critical evaluation and that likely already fall within the constraints of current guidelines, practices, and norms.  Scientists, like others involved in animal research, take part in training and education about the range of issues related to animal welfare, humane treatment, and regulatory requirements.  As a result, they are generally not likely to write protocols that diverge from acceptable practices.

Following IACUC approval, the scientist may then begin conducting the study. It is often the case however, that IACUC approval is not the final step between idea and study.  Instead, for a new project, the scientist must also write a proposal to a funding agency in order to secure financial support for the research. In many cases in academic research, funding for these studies comes from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation.  Competition for these funds is high and the majority of applications are not successful.  Those proposals that are funded have undergone rigorous review by a panel of scientists whose expertise is within the area of the proposal.  The criteria for review vary by agencies, but include very close examination of the significance of the research question, evaluation of its potential for success, scrutiny of the methods, expertise of the investigator, and quality of the facilities in which the research will be conducted.  The appropriateness of the animals chosen for study, their number, and their treatment are also subject to critical evaluation and discussion.  In sum, beyond IACUC review, many animal studies—including all of those funded by NIH, NSF, and other agencies— undergo another level of external expert scientific review.

Take-home message?  The evaluative process between a scientific idea, the conduct of a study, the results, and their evaluation, use, and further discovery is one with many steps and significant consideration.  The potential harm and benefit of each study receives review at each stage as well, both within and outside.

Research aimed at addressing basic, translational, or clinical questions relevant to advancing our scientific understanding and medical progress for humans and other animals is ultimately all aimed at questions with significance to many.  At the same time, it is also absolutely true that the benefits of research are not always directly or immediately apparent.  We simply do not know the answers before we conduct the work.  Furthermore, we can be confident—drawing from real conclusions from the history of science – that important, meaningful, generative breakthroughs are not entirely predictable.  As a result, it is no easy task to construct a metric by which to evaluate the potential benefit of research and to weigh that against any harm incurred during its conduct.

Considered carefully, the history of animal research and animal welfare are quite clear with respect to how the accomplishments of research and consideration of mutual interests in animal welfare provide the basis for progress in ethical and humanely-conducted animal research.   Public interests are served by dialogue based in fact and in clear accurate articulation of ethical frameworks from which animal research is considered.  Understanding the multiple levels at which research projects are evaluated from scientific and ethical perspectives is an integral starting point for this discussion.  Science doesn’t occur through simple processes or via a single stage of evaluation; nor should public dialogue about this complex issue.

Allyson J. Bennett

Part 2: University of Toronto ends live primate research – Outsourcing Controversy

 Earlier this week we wrote about the University of Toronto’s public statements concerning the end of their on-site primate research. A number of broader questions were raised by considering similar cases and articles.  Among them, what does it mean for a university to claim that it does not engage in a particular type of research?  In the case of the University of Toronto, the same article announcing the end of their primate research indicated that Univesity of Toronto researchers will continue primate studies at other institutions. 

Although this seems like a small point that concerns only a single animal research program, it is illustrative of larger questions and issues that deserve more thoughtful consideration.  One is what it means to say that a researcher, institution, or nation does or does not conduct a particular type of research. It is not at all obvious, and thus is an easy thing to manipulate in public presentation. For example, ask the following questions:

  1. Does that mean only that they do not house animals and conduct studies, or do not conduct that work independently on their own campus or within their own borders?
  2. Or does it mean that they not only do not conduct the work, but also do not support the work in any way, with collaborative effort, resources, or their approval? 
  3. Or does it mean that they not only do not conduct the work, but also do not support the work and would refuse any benefit arising from the work?

It is not only the University of Toronto ending its housing of monkeys and instead relying on collaborative opportunities in the U.S.that raises these questions. The point is also well illustrated in considering whether Canada and other countries are, or are not, involved in biomedical research with chimpanzees. One of the frequently raised points used to argue against ape research is that biomedical research with chimpanzees is conducted in only two countries — the U.S. and Gabon.  But what does that mean? And is that really true?

In fact, a recent CTV news show highlighted the fact that studies for Canadians are performed at a U.S. chimpanzee research facility funded largely by a federal grant to maintain national research resources in the U.S.  The fact that Canadians are involved in chimpanzee research is not hidden in any way, but is easy to misconstrue.

In Canada, there’s no outright ban, but no one is actually doing it.

Instead, Canadians commission studies at research facilities like the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, the largest facility of its type in the world. It’s home to nearly 7,000 primates, 360 of them chimpanzees.”

It is not only Canadians. Scientists from a number of other countries engage in behavioral and biomedical research collaboration involving chimpanzees housed in U.S. research institutions. Furthermore, when the Netherlands became the last European country to ban chimpanzee research almost a decade ago, it was acknowledged that because the opportunity for chimpanzee research remained in the U.S.everyone could be assured of continuation of the work without the cost, controversy, or responsibility of having to maintain the possibility within their own country.  A 2003 article highlights this point:

The end of European ape research, long sought by animal rights activists, was accelerated by a report published in 2001 by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW). It concluded that high costs and decreasing scientific need had made chimp studies all but superfluous. In rare instances where ape research will be crucial to combat a human disease, the panel said, large colonies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. would be better equipped.

However, even in parliament itself some hypocrisy was acknowledged. Because ‘if the occasion arises’, the government quoted the KNAW report, Dutch researchers would still be free to do experiments abroad. Observed House member Bas van der Vlies (SGP): ‘Since through a back door [the Netherlands will profit from [ape research elsewhere, I see no reason for us to start beating our chests like gorillas.’”

The point made by Bas van der Vlies is a good one and one especially relevant now as the U.S. weighs legislation to end invasive chimpanzee research.  It is also more broadly relevant because it underscores why the decision of single entity, institution or nation, to end a particular type of research must be viewed within the context of the range of alternative opportunities and avenues that will serve the overall goal.  In other words, the decision to ban an avenue of research means one thing if that choice will result in a true end to the work. The same decision is inherently less risky if it is cushioned by knowledge that another institution or another country is committed to maintaining that research avenue and shouldering the accompanying burdens.

It is also true that the decision to “end” a particular kind of work is often more reflective of different types of cost considerations.  For example, note increasing outsourcing of animal research to other countries with less developed regulatory structure and lower costs. Whether that is good for animal welfare, science, research institutions, and the public is a topic of discussion among scientists and is one that should be given more thoughtful public consideration. We believe the US public is better served by advocating for reasonable improvements in animal welfare while keeping important medical research at home. The adoption of unrealistic policies and regulations that dramatically increase the cost of the work, while not significantly impacting on the well-being of the animals, will help drive the research overseas, with negative consequences on the biomedical leadership of our country and uncertain consequences for the well-being of the animals.  

So how do we tell the difference between individuals, institutions, and countries genuinely committed on moral or ethical grounds to ending particular types of research, rather than in only displacing it to others?  One piece of evidence would be for those claiming that the work is either unnecessary or unethical to also make clear that they do not simply outsource the work to other institutions or countries. 

Another would be for them to decline any benefits from the work.  For example, although we are aware of no efforts underway to preclude citizens of countries that disallowed such work to benefit from the findings or any advances made through chimpanzee biomedical research, for example hepatitis C vaccines currently under development, it would seem that this would be an easy way for people to affirm their commitment to the global picture. (Whether it should be habitat countries or a world-wide body who provides consent on behalf of the wild apes for whom conservationists are arguing should benefit from vaccines developed from research in laboratory studies of nonhuman primates might be a separate issue.)

What is gained from considering this more complicated picture?  In the case of the recent University of Toronto press coverage, a reminder that it is disingenuous at best to solicit public approval by disavowing research that the institution has conducted, has benefited from, and will continue to be involved in — albeit with the majority of risk and cost assumed by other institutions. In the case of chimpanzee research, a reminder that as long as non-U.S. interests benefit from and participate in studies conducted in the U.S., it is not accurate to claim that it is only the U.S.that sanctioned and benefited from such work.  And that includes the apes in Africa who could benefit from the vaccines developed via laboratory research in theU.S. and elsewhere.

Finally, we would advise a critical eye towards any articles in which universities, pharmaceutical companies, or countries claim that they are not engaged in primate or other animal research.  Those who have simply chosen to do the same work elsewhere or via collaboration should be clear about their involvement. Similarly, those whose work depends on data, tissues, or animal models developed by others, or at other institutions, should acknowledge a responsibility and involvement in the live animal work as well. 

Allyson J. Bennett

End of Primate Research at the University of Toronto?

Intended or not, comments by a university administrator and veterinarian in some Canadian news articles last week likely gave some readers a distorted view not only of the status of research at the University of Toronto, but of animal research more broadly. A pair of articles reported that primate research at the U of T had ended.  In one titled “University of Toronto stops research on live monkeys” a university official explains:

“They were our very last ‘non-human’ primates and we have no intention of using any more. Technology now lets us get the same information from smaller animals,” said Peter Lewis, the U of T’s associate vice-president of research.”

Except that the press coverage also says that the U of T scientist Prof. Barry Sessle, whose highly regarded research orofacial pain and neuromuscular function and dysfunction straddles both laboratory animal research and clinical research involving human subjects, will “continue to do monkey studies in partnership with a lab in Chicago.”  We are also aware that University of Toronto researchers undertake primate research even closer to home at another research institute in Toronto. Does the U of T administration exclude their own faculty from the “we” in the “we have no intention of using any more [primates]” statement?
In an article headlined “With last monkeys dead, U of T sees a shift in animal research,” the university’s veterinarian adds his view of the need for primates in research.

“Across the country, Dr. Harapa has watched the appetite for research primates waning. Their cost and availability are factors, and universities do feel some ethical pressure, he said. “But the main reason is that people have just adopted other animals for their experimental needs – mostly rats and mice.

Comments by Lewis and Harapa raise a number of questions. Foremost, we wonder whether U of T might want to correct any possible misimpression that their comments apply only to their own research programs, which are apparently now suited by a restricted range of animal models?  For example, Lewis’ statement that: “Technology now lets us get the same information from smaller animals.” obviously applies to a subdomain of study, as do Harapa’s comments:

“We stopped using dogs and cats a few years ago too. We can do so much research now by genetically modifying a mouse,” said Harapa. “Under a sector microscope you would hardly know the difference between a human heart and that of a mouse.

While these thoughts may be relevant to specific work at U of T, they are obviously not meant to be applicable to the broad set of research questions under study elsewhere.  We are well aware that genetically modified mice and rats are an increasingly powerful tool for biomedical research, but they cannot yet replace species such as dogs, pigs and macaques in all necessary studies.


Some institutions may find it tempting to dodge public controversy by allowing a perception that the absence of on-site animal research reflects an institution’s commitment to not participate, support, or benefit from that work. Encouraging that public perception is an easy path to gain favor with animal activists and other opponents. But this is not a good path, if for no other reason than the fact that solving a research problem involves a range of animal models at various points in time. It is disingenuous to deny the value of research with a particular species because your institution has decided to discontinue working with that species. If nothing else, those inclined to dodge should consider that they are deriving benefit from the work of their colleagues at the institutions still willing to assume the risk and responsibility. That argues in favor of acknowledging the value of the work in your public statements.

It is unfortunate that these articles contain no comments by either Harapa or Lewis that might improve public appreciation of the value of a range of animal models, or any statement of support for the valuable research undertaken by Prof. Sessle, whose primate studies drew the attention of animal rights activists.

Allyson Bennett

Addendum 2012/03/12:

In a statement to the science journal Nature  UT associate vice-president of research Peter Lewis clarified some of his earlier statements, stating that:

There are many types of research that require the use of non-human primates. Our researchers are not engaged in any of them at the moment. If a proposed research project at [the University of Toronto] required the use of non-human primates and was scientifically and ethically justified, then we would endeavor to support it.”

While we welcome this statement we are less than totally satisfied by it, as we are aware of several research programs under the direction of UT researchers  that are very likely to require the use of non-human primates in the near future, including the stroke research discussed in the Nature News article and also research on other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. It may be the case that no research protocols involving non-human primates  are currently before the UT Office of Research Ethics, but there is every chance that in the coming months one or more will be submitted, even if the actual work will be done at the labs of an affiliated institute such as the Toronto Western Research Institute rather than UT itself. Will UT then issue another statement further clarifying their position?

A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA)

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public spheres.  A committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to consider the issue held a number of meetings and is expected to report its findings to the NIH by the end of this year. Legislation to end great ape research, also introduced in 2007 and 2009 (H.R. 1513: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011;  S. 810: Great Ape  Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011; GAPA), was again introduced last Spring.

Discussion of human relationships with the great apes, their role in research—past, present, and future—and our responsibility for their continued care deserve thoughtful, well-informed consideration by both the scientific community and the public.  One of the primary goals of Speaking of Research is to contribute to dialogue about animal research and to provide factual information that is sometimes missing from the public conversation.

In the case of chimpanzee research, their housing and care, and the GAPA legislation, it seems clear that there is uneven understanding of the current situation in the U.S., as well as lack of attention to the details and consequences of the proposed legislation were it to be enacted.  There has been significant and widespread discussion of whether chimpanzee research should continue.  What has received far less attention is what should happen to the chimpanzees should invasive research not continue. We take a closer look at GAPA here and also welcome others’ thoughts on the future of chimpanzee research, care, and housing in the U.S..

First up is the question of what exactly would be banned under GAPA.  The legislation is pitched as a measure to end invasive research with chimpanzees.  Much of the media coverage and discussion of chimpanzees in research also makes specific reference to invasive studies.

But what exactly does that mean?  The general definition given by the legislation is:

“The term ‘invasive research’ means any research that may cause death, injury,         pain, distress, fear, or trauma to a great ape, including—

– the testing of any drug or intentional exposure to a substance that may be detrimental to the health or psychological well-being of a great ape;

– research that involves penetrating or cutting the body or removing body parts, restraining, tranquilizing, or anesthetizing a great ape; or

– isolation, social deprivation, or other experimental manipulations that may be detrimental to the health or psychological well-being of a great ape.

Exclusions include:

– close observation of natural or voluntary behavior of a great ape, if the research does not require an anesthetic or sedation event to collect data or record observations;

– the temporary separation of a great ape from the social group of the great ape, leaving and returning by the own volition of the great ape;

– post-mortem examination of a great ape that was not killed for the purpose of examination or research; and the administration of a physical exam by a licensed veterinarian or physician conducted for the well-being of the individual great ape.

Physical Exam is defined as:

A physical exam conducted for the well-being of an individual great ape, as described in clause14 (i)(IV), may include the collection of biological samples to further the well-being of the individual great ape, the social group of the great ape, or the great ape species.”

It seems likely that when most people think of invasive research with chimpanzees they would probably consider studies that involve surgery or infectious disease.  Looking at the text above, it appears obvious that these would be precluded under GAPA.

What is less clear is whether noninvasive studies would also be disallowed under GAPA. Why?

First, because it precludes “research that involves … anesthetizing a great ape” something that is typically necessary to ensure both human and animal safety for studies that use noninvasive techniques such as neuroimaging (ex. magnetic resonance imaging, MRI; positron emission tomography, PET). Studies using MRI and PET with nonhuman primates are aimed at a wide spectrum of research addressing questions that range from evolutionary consideration of brain-behavior relationships to uncovering the effects of aging and factors that contribute to individual differences in health. Are these the types of studies—using equipment and techniques that are commonly used with humans– that typically come to mind as invasive studies? Probably not.

Whether anesthetizing a chimpanzee is an invasive procedure or one that is stressful is not clear-cut and is a question likely to generate a wide range of views among those with first-hand chimpanzee experience.  In part, it depends upon whether animals are trained to voluntarily, calmly, and cooperatively receive injections—something that is a best practice successfully implemented at many chimpanzee research facilities.  This video, shared with us by Dr. Steven Schapiro and the Michael E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research  serves as an excellent illustration of the practice.

The video shows a chimpanzee voluntarily, and without coercion, working with his human caregivers to give a sample of blood in exactly the manner of a human blood donor. The chimpanzees shown here are part of a training program led by a long-time leading expert in behavior and primatology, Dr. Schapiro. The video shows a chimpanzee who voluntarily places and holds his arm in a tube to provide a technician with access to draw blood. The chimpanzee is not restrained and is not coerced. The technician cues the chimpanzee with a “clicker” which provides an audible cue to signal the animal. The chimpanzee remains calm throughout the process and receives treats. The curious and calm approach and observation by another chimpanzee also tells us that the entire process is one that is not stressful to the animals.

Much of the language surrounding GAPA appears to be designed to convey a very different impression of the care of chimpanzees housed in research settings. We believe that a more honest discussion of chimpanzees in research should include consideration of the full range of housing and behavioral management, including acknowledgement of best practices such as those illustrated in this video and practiced in a wide range of settings.

The second question about what GAPA would preclude surrounds behavioral and cognitive research.  Many of these studies depend upon testing animals individually by temporarily separating them from their groups. GAPA asserts that such studies would be allowed only under very stringent—and possibly impractical—conditions. The chimpanzee could be temporarily separated from his/her group, but only if it were able to leave and return by its own volition.

For example, consider a recent study of prosocial behavior in chimpanzees by Frans de Waal and colleagues that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.  This study was positively featured on a Scientific American blog that also endorses GAPA. The study was conducted by bringing pairs of animals into a testing room containing tokens that they could exchange with the experimenter for a food reward. Their choices could result in both animals receiving food, or in a “selfish” outcome. The methods section doesn’t specify whether the animals were free to leave and enter the test room at their own volition, but it appears that they were not. If not, would we consider it invasive research?

A third question is whether GAPA would preclude studies that depend upon collection of biological samples that are acquired while animals are anesthetized for physical exams.  The language surrounding this is somewhat ambiguous, as it allows the sample collection if it is to “further the well-being of the individual great ape, the social group of the great ape, or the great ape species.”  What is not ambiguous is that, as written, GAPA would preclude even a simple blood draw—something humans routinely receive as part of medical care or even research—outside of an annual physical exam.

In sum, the issue of defining invasive research and the parameters of what should be allowed is clearly a complex issue. That complexity should be acknowledged in discussions of the future of chimpanzee research.  Virtually all of the procedures used in biomedical research involving chimpanzees that are regarded as invasive procedures are used in human beings in providing medical care.  The GAPA regards these procedures as acceptable if performed for the benefit of the individual great ape to provide care to that animal, but it is unacceptable if it is performed to gain knowledge that will improve the care of human beings or other great apes.

Similarly challenging are a range of other issues presented by consideration of the future of chimpanzees in the U.S., including decisions about their housing and care, as well as the source of long-term funding.

One premise of GAPA is that “research laboratory environments involving invasive research cannot meet the complex physical, social, and psychological needs of great apes.”  Sanctuaries are offered as the alternative for housing, yet little of the public discussion has focused on rigorous comparison of sanctuaries and research facilities in terms of either care offered or cost.

Finally, in this year’s iteration, the legislation has added language about “cost-savings” that appears to be based in analysis provided by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  Whether the cost-savings claim is accurate or not remains open for debate.  Each of these issues will be covered in more detail in subsequent posts.

Whether the current legislation about great ape research passes or not, at this time it is perhaps more apparent than ever before that public interest in discussing the welfare of these animals is high. We hope that this interest carries over to serious discussion about the full range of issues and not only those that lend themselves to short-interest and emotive campaigns.

Allyson J. Bennett

*Disclosure – some of my collaborative research has involved behavioral and neuroimaging studies in laboratory chimpanzees.

Other posts on chimpanzee research:

On the cost of retiring chimpanzees and federal legislation aimed at ending chimpanzee research:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/12/08/what-cost-savings-a-closer-look-at-the-great-ape-protection-and-cost-savings-act-of-2011/

http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/12/11/animal-rights-bill-under-consideration-in-the-senate/

Guest post by primatologist Dr. Joseph Erwin:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/10/13/guest-post-efforts-to-ban-chimpanzee-research-are-misguided/

On the IOM chimpanzee panel:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/08/12/facts-must-inform-discussion-of-future-of-chimpanzee-research/

Amerijet Stands Firm, AR Activists Continue to Deceive

Speaking of Research is delighted to see the reasoned and strong stance taken by a target of an animal activist campaign in Florida.

Several months ago we wrote about an ongoing campaign against a Florida scientific supply company, Primate Products, Inc. Animal activists had used leaked photographs of injured monkeys to generate wild and poorly educated speculation about animal treatment. In news reports the company president explained that the monkeys had been socially-housed, had engaged in fighting with each other, and had been injured. The photographs show animals that are sedated in order to safely and humanely receive veterinary treatment for serious injuries that are in the process of healing.

As reported by us here and by Ed Silverman at Pharmalot, the federal agency charged with oversight, the United States Department of Agriculture, performed an investigation in response to the allegations made by PeTA and other animal activist groups. The USDA inspection report confirmed that no non-compliant items were identified during the inspection on September 20, 2010.

Regardless of the facts, the story was used to fuel a sustained campaign that has included hostile demonstrations at the private family homes of individuals who work for the company, as well as at the business itself. Now the campaign has extended to another company, an airline that—amongst its other business activities– transports research animals. Animal activist groups have pressured Amerijet to stop transport of animals to research facilities with protests at both the homes of Amerijet employees and at the business.

Despite the targeting of Amerijet’s employees, the company has not bowed under this pressure. Amerijet’s CEO, David G. Basset, responded to animal activists with a strong statement that can be read here in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times blog. In the letter, Basset discusses the reasons that his company will “stand by our decision to transport animals and will continue in the future to serve the needs of our customers for animal transport.”

Basset also speaks out against threatening actions and calls upon the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida to denounce these tactics:

 Unfortunately, we believe the tactics that have been engaged in or that are planned for the near future by some individuals or groups that have targeted Amerijet are the sort of animal rights extremist actions that federal laws, including the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, are intended to protect law-abiding citizens against – including our employees and customers. We have made the decision to continue to transport animals after careful consideration, and we will not be deterred by what we consider to be unlawful threats, harassment or intimidation of our employees or customers or acts of vandalism or property damage. Instead, we are prepared to defend our employees, our customers, and our business to the full extent of the law.

You have called upon us to consider our position regarding transporting animals, and we have done so thoughtfully and believe we have responded to you honestly and forthrightly despite our differences of opinion. We now ask you to consider the actions and anticipated actions of individuals and groups that ARFF appears to have aligned itself with against Amerijet. We call upon you to publicly denounce any tactic that may intimidate, harass, or cause fear among our employees or our customers simply because they do not agree with those who hold a contrary view.”

Speaking of Research applauds Amerijet and David Basset for standing by their principles and for providing a thoughtful response that shares the reasons for their decision.  We also hope that the local Florida media that have written about this story will seek out additional facts in order to provide accurate representation to the public. As it stands, for the Broward-Palm Beach New Times to continue to post the leaked monkey photographs without acknowledging either the explanations of their content, or subsequent USDA inspection reports which found no deficiencies at the company is both inaccurate and misleading.

Uncritical repetition of animal activists’ claims is hardly good journalism, a point made well by science blogger DrugMonkey in response to initial coverage of the leaked photos. And as science blogger Isis the Scientist wrote in a post titled “A Picture May Be Worth 1,000 Words, But They May Not Be The Truth”:

This made me think of my recent foray into the realm of anaphylaxis.  If you walked into an emergency room and took a picture, without context or a base of knowledge from which to evaluate the photo, any number of horrendous stories could be concocted around the photo and sold to the public.”  (Go over to Isis’ blog to read more and view the photo that makes the point so well.)

The Broward-Palm Beach New Times might consider this and examine more closely the claims made by activist groups before repeating them.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

Speaking of Research

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

The Basel Declaration: Standing up for Medical Progress

Top European scientists have pledged to engage in more public dialogue, openness, and education about animal research. Concerned about threats to the future of medical research, the scientists met recently and drafted a declaration that affirms commitment to responsible research and animal welfare and calls for increased effort to facilitate public understanding of the essential role that animal studies play in contributing to scientific and medical progress.  The call for “trust, transparency, and communication on animal research” was adopted by the first Basel conference “Research at a Crossroads” November 29th.  The Declaration can be found here, along with an invitation to sign up to it.

Prof. Michael Hengartner, Prof. Dieter Imboden and Prof. Stefan Treue sign the declaration

The Declaration underscores the importance of a wide range of animal research, from basic research that seeks to understand fundamental biological processes, to applied research that seeks to turn such knowledge into new medical treatments, and the critical ongoing need for this work:

“Over the last 100 years biomedical research has contributed substantially to our understanding of biological processes and thus to an increase in life expectancy and improvement in the quality of life of humans and animals. However, the list of challenges and new opportunities remains long.

Without research using animals, it will not be possible to overcome the social and humanitarian challenges posed by these problems. Despite new and refined alternative methods, animal experiments will remain essential in the foreseeable future for biomedical research.”

The Declaration makes clear that:

“Biomedical research in particular cannot be separated into ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research; it is a continuum stretching from studies of fundamental physiological processes to an understanding of the principles of disease and the development of therapies.”

A Nature report on the meeting and an accompanying editorial highlight the crucial considerations underlying the scientists’ call for action, including not only the actions of extremists, but also the broad consequences of failing to build understanding of animal research:

Biomedical scientists in Germany perceive a separate crisis — increasing legislative restrictions that make it more difficult to carry out animal experiments. Hearing little to the contrary from researchers themselves, the public tends to assume that animal experiments are an unnecessary evil, so politicians respond with more restrictions.”

That problem was a major motivation for the Basel Declaration — drafted and signed at a meeting in Basel, Switzerland, last week (see page 742). Its signatories pledge to engage in open debate with the public about their work on animal experiments, to stress the high ethical standards to which they adhere and to explain why they have to do it. They intend, for example, to visit local schools or to mention that their research used animals when speaking to the press about new results.”

Such efforts have already yielded dividends; the Nature report notes how a determined effort over the past decade by scientists in the United Kingdom to inform the public about the reality of animal research resulted in greatly increased support for it.

Speaking of Research applauds this effort and joins in urging others not only to sign on to the declaration, but also to act on the pledge to continue to increase efforts in outreach, education, and engagement.

In fact, there are many groups and sources for information and conversation to which scientists can turn to for advice on outreach. They include advocacy groups and collaborative networks such as Understanding Animal Research, Americans for Medical Progress, States United for Biomedical Research, and the Foundation for Biomedical Research. They also include scientific societies such as the American Physiological Society, Society for Neuroscience, American Association of Laboratory Animal Science, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.  Many academic institutions have actively built outreach and education programs that offer good models for others.

Speaking of Research also offers information, tools and support for those who choose to contribute to public discussion of animal research.  There are many resources and avenues to support individuals who want to learn more and identify a range of effective ways to contribute to the public discussion of animal research.

Before we finish we’d like to draw your attention to an excellent example of the importance of basic animal research, Christina Agapakis writes on the Oscillator blog about a fascinating study which used gene therapy to restore vision in blind mice.  This news comes only a few weeks after scientists in Germany reported that they had used a vision chip containing 1,500 light-sensitive elements to partially restore sight in patients who were blind due to damage to the light-sensitive cells in their eyes.  In an open access paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team who carried out this important clinical study highlight the importance of in vivo studies in rats, cats, and pigs, and in vitro studies using isolated chicken retinas, in establishing both the theoretical basis for this study, and subsequently in determining the safety of the implant they developed. These advances in vision research suggest that devices available to help blind people see in the 21st century will soon eclipse those that Star Trek predicted for the 24th century!

This is of course exactly the kind of groundbreaking biomedical research that the Basel declaration seeks to defend.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D*. and Paul Browne, Ph.D.

Speaking of Research

*The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.