Tag Archives: animal research

70 year old professor retires and closes lab, PETA claims victory

The retirement of a highly respected senior neuroscientist at the center of a sustained recent publicity campaign by an animal rights group generated a victory claim on Friday when PETA realized that their target had retired. The retirement came after a productive and award-winning 40 year research and teaching career. University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscience Professor Tom Yin’s research led to breakthroughs in understanding how the brain processes and localizes sounds. The highly cited research was continuously funded by the US National Institutes of Health because it contributed fundamentally important new knowledge that is the necessary building block for advances in medicine and science that involves hearing. We have written about Professor Yin’s research previously, for more information see here, here, here.

Yin’s sound localization research was the target of a sustained and multi-dimensional attack by PETA over the past three years. The campaign had provided rich opportunities for stunts, attracted celebrities, generated media attention, and undoubtedly brought in many donors for animal rights groups.

Metro bus displaying PETA ad. Image: Wisconsin State Journal.

Metro bus displaying PETA ad. Image: Wisconsin State Journal.

The scientist’s retirement is unlikely to provide obstacles to PETA’s continued success in using the research for fundraising appeals, as was indicated by the group’s immediate response. Despite the obvious fact that the retirement of a 70 year old scientist is expected, rather than unusual, PETA promptly claimed responsibility and announced that they had secured a victorious end to their campaign.

PETA’s tactic may well serve as a model to other groups because it offers a solid opportunity to claim effectiveness of their campaigns. If so, we might expect to see other scientists seemingly within the realm of retirement age appear as targets of major campaigns that involve bus ads, celebrities, and stunts that misrepresent the research. (Or perhaps they could simply claim all retired scientists did so not as a result of age, or the natural conclusion of long and productive careers, but rather in response to campaigns by those opposed to the research.)

Despite the scientist’s retirement and the lab closing, it seems unlikely that PETA will retire the photos of research animals and misleading claims about Yin’s work that were the center of PETA’s campaign. It is more likely that the campaign will continue to be used by PETA to attract attention and donors, with the promise of more victories in ending research.

PETA also took a page from other animal rights groups that claim credit for the retirement of research animals, despite the fact that it is the scientists and research institutions that find adoptive homes and retire the animals. Like many research institutions, the University of Wisconsin-Madison finds adoptive homes for animals that are no longer in research and whose care and safety can be assured in a home setting. In this case, four of the five cats that were part of Professor Yin’s research were retired into private homes. This is in stark contrast to the PETA policy at its Norfolk, VA shelter of killing on average 2000 dogs and cats per year (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/peta-finds-itself-on-receiving-end-of-others-anger.html)

The university, like other research facilities, does not use those adoptions as a vehicle for media attention. By contrast, retired research animals are often featured as centerpieces in fundraising campaigns by animal rights groups. We have written about this previously in the context of a controversial campaign by Beagle Freedom, in which the animal rights group appropriates credit for research facilities’ successful adoption programs. In general, the focus of the adoption programs is on successfully placing the animals. Even the NIH and federal government, while providing over $30 million for retirement of research chimpanzees and committed to tens of millions more for their lifetime support, do so without sustained high-profile media campaigns. Similarly there are rarely press releases from the UW-Madison announcing the animal adoptions or the lab closing due to the scientist’s retirement.

PETA seized the opportunity for their own press release and claim of victory after they realized what had happened. How did they find out? Simply by reading the records that the university regularly sends to PETA and other animal rights groups in response to their regular open records requests. PETA was no doubt pleased by their discovery. Not only could they claim victory for the retirement of the 70 year old scientist, they could also continue to claim PETA themselves were responsible for the research animals’ retirement.

The victory claim is PETA’s central rationale for continued used of the images and claims that were at the center of their campaign. There is little doubt that they will not be retired; rather they are likely to be used for a long time to convey the impression of a success. The question is whether those who hear the victory claim might wonder whether there is anything surprising about the retirement of a 70 year old scientist. Others might be curious enough to learn more about the remarkable accomplishments of that scientist over his 40 year career (see here for more information). In light of current campaigns against other scientists, the question will also become whether PETA has highlighted a new path that paves the way for higher likelihood of being able to claim an unearned victory.

 

Primate research and twenty years of stem cell firsts

This guest post is by Jordana Lenon, B.S., B.A., Senior Editor, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and University of Wisconsin-Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center. The research will also be featured this evening in a public talk at UW-Madison’s Wednesday Nite at the Lab. WN@tL: “Twenty Years of Stem Cell Milestones at the UW.”  Details and link are below. Update 1/8/15:  Dr. William Murphy’s talk  can now be viewed at:  http://www.biotech.wisc.edu/webcams?lecture=20150107_1900

As we enter 2015, the 20th anniversary of the first successful isolation and culture of primate pluripotent stem cells in the world, it’s time to look back and see how far we’ve come. Thanks to a young reproductive biologist who came from the University of Pennsylvania’s VMD/PhD program to the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1991, and to those whose research his groundbreaking discoveries informed, the fields of cell biology and regenerative medicine will never be the same.

stem cell colonies

Pluripotent stem cells are right now being used around the world to grow different types of cells—heart muscle cells, brain cells, pancreatic cells, liver cells, retinal cells, blood cells, bone cells, immune cells and much more.

Cultures of these cells are right now being used to test new drugs for toxicity and effectiveness.

More and more of these powerful cells are right now moving out of the lab and into preclinical (animal) trials and early human clinical trials to treat disease. The results are being published in peer-reviewed scientific journal articles on stem cell transplant, injection and infusion, reprogramming, immunology, virology and tissue engineering.

Pluripotent stem cells and their derivatives are right now being studied to learn more about reproduction and development, birth defects, and the genetic origins of disease.

Embryonic, induced pluripotent, tissue specific (adult), and other types of stem cells and genetically reprogrammed cells are all being used by researchers due to the open and collaborative environment of scientific and medical enterprises in the U.S. and around the world.

All of this is happening right now because of discoveries made 20 years ago by researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.

Here is a brief timeline of stem cell breakthroughs by WNPRC scientists:

  • 1995-James Thomson becomes the first to successfully isolate and culture rhesus monkey embyronic stem cells (ES cells) at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center (PNAS)
  • 1996-Thomson repeats this feat with common marmoset ES cells (Biol Reprod).
  • 1998-Thomson publishes the neural differentiation of rhesus ES cells (APMIS).
  • 1998-Thomson’s famous breakthrough growing human ES (hES) cells is published in Science. (This research occurred off campus, with private funding.)

Many subsequent stem cell “firsts” were accomplished by scientists who conducted lengthy training with James Thomson or Ted Golos, reproduction and development scientists at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. These highlights include the following accomplishments by Primate Center researchers:

  • 2003-WNPRC Post-doctoral trainee Thomas Zwaka achieves homologous recombination with hES cells. A method for recombining segments of DNA within stem cells, the technique makes it possible to manipulate any part of the human genome to study gene function and mimic human disease in the laboratory dish (Nature Biotechnology).
  • 2004-WNPRC Post-doctoral trainee Behzad Gerami-Naini develops an hES model that mimics the formation of the placenta, giving researchers a new window on early development (Endocrinology).
  • 2005- WNPRC scientist Igor Slukvin and post-doc Maxim Vodyanik become the first to culture lymphocytes and dendritic cells from human ES cells (Blood, J Immunol).
  • 2005-WiCell’s Ren-He Xu, who completed his post-doctoral research at the WNPRC, grows hES cells in the absence of mouse-derived feeder cells (Nature Methods).
  • 2006-WiCell’s Tenneille Ludwig, a graduate student/post-doc/assistant scientist through the Primate Center with Barry Bavister, then James Thomson, formulates a media that supports hES cells without the need for contaminating animal products (Nature Biotechnology). Co-authoring the work is another former Primate Center post-doc, Mark Levenstein.
  • 2007-Junying Yu, WNPRC and Genome Center, in Jamie Thomson’s lab, grows induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. (Science). These are genetically reprogrammed mature cells that act like embryonic stem cells, but without the need to destroy the embryo.

Researchers at all of the National Primate Research Centers continue to make advances in this remarkable field of research and medicine. A few more milestones include the following:

  • 2007- Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Center successfully converted adult rhesus monkey skin cells to embryonic stem cells using somatic cell nuclear transfer (Nature)
  • 2012- Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Center generation chimeric rhesus monkeys using embryonic cells (Cell)
  • 2012-Alice Tarantal at the California NPRC successfully transplants human embryonic stem cells differentiated toward kidney lineages into fetal rhesus macaques.
  • 2013-Qiang Shi at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and Gerald Shatten at the University of Pittsburgh – and previously with the Oregon National Primate Research Center and Wisconsin National Primate Research Center – genetically programs baboon embryonic stem cells to restore a severely damaged artery.
  • 2013-Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Center produces human embryonic stem cells through therapeutic cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer (Cell)

NPRC Stem Cell Timeline 01.06.15

Before all of this happened, we must note that non-primate mammalian embryonic stem cells were first successfully isolated and cultured in 1981, by Martin Evans and Matthew Kaufman at the University of Cambridge, England. That breakthrough occurred almost 35 years ago. Jamie Thomson studied mouse embryonic stem cells in Pennsylvania before working on primate cells.

Even before that, in 1961, Ernest McCulloch and James Till at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Canada discovered the first adult stem cells, also called somatic stem cells or tissue-specific stem cells, in human bone marrow. That was 55 years ago.

So first it was human stem cells, then mouse, then monkey, then back to humans again. Science speaks back and forth. It reaches into the past, makes promises in the present, and comes to fruition in the future.

In every early talk I saw Jamie Thomson give about his seminal stem cell discoveries in the late 1990s and early 2000s – to staff, scientists, to the public, to Congress, to the news media – he would explain why he came to UW-Madison in the early 1990s to try to advance embryonic stem cell research. In large part, he said, it was because we had a National Primate Research Center here at UW-Madison, and also that we had leading experts in transplant and surgery at our medical school. After he joined the WNPRC as a staff pathologist and set up his lab, first he used rhesus and then marmoset embryos before expanding to cultures using human IVF patient-donated embryos off campus with private funding from Geron Corporation in Menlo Park, California.

Human And Mouse EmbryoIn these early talks, Jamie included images (see above) showing how very differently the mouse blastocyst (a days-old embryo, before implantation stage) is structured from the nonhuman primate and human primate blastocysts concerning germ layer organization and early development (ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm). He also was able to show for the first time how differently stem cells derived from these early embryos grow in culture. In contrast to the mouse ES cells, the monkey cells, especially those of the rhesus monkey, grow in culture almost identically to human cells.

At the time, Thomson predicted that more scientists would study human ES cells in their labs over monkey ES cells, if human ES cells could become more standardized and available. Yet he emphasized that the NPRCs and nonhuman primate models would continue to play a critical role in this research, especially when it would advance to the point when animal models would be needed for preclinical research before attempting to transplant cells and tissues grown from ES cells. Both predictions have come true.

Jamie closed his talks, and still does, with this quotation:

“In the long run, the greatest legacy for human ES cells may be not as a source of tissue for transplantation medicine, but as a basic research tool to understand the human body.”

This simply and elegantly reminds us how basic research works: Many medical advances another 20 years from now will have an important link to the discoveries of today, which have their underpinnings in that early research in Jamie Thomson’s lab 20 years ago. It will become easy to forget where it all started, when many diseases of today, if not completely cured, will become so preventable, treatable and manageable that those diagnosed with them will spend more time living their lives than thinking about how to survive another day.

Just as I did not have to worry about polio, and my children did not have to worry about chicken pox, my grandchildren will hopefully see a world where leukemia, blindness, diabetes and mental illness do not have the disabling effects or claim as many young lives as they do today.

***

_______________________________________________________

WN@tL “Twenty Years of Stem Cell Milestones at the UW”

http://www.uwalumni.com/event/wntl-twenty-years-of-stem-cell-milestones-at-the-uw/

January 7 – 7:00PM – 8:15PM CT
Location: UW Biotechnology Center 425 Henry Mall, Room 1111, Madison, WI 53706
Cost: Free

Speaker: William L. Murphy, Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Centerwnatl_williammurphy

Don’t miss this fascinating talk covering stem cell milestones at the UW. Professor Murphy will talk about the work of his team at the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, where they are creating biological materials that could radically change how doctors treat a wide range of diseases.

Bio: Murphy is the Harvey D. Spangler Professor of Engineering and a co-director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center. His work includes developing biomaterials for stem cell research. Specifically, Murphy uses biomaterials to define stem cell microenvironments and develop new approaches for drug delivery and gene therapy. His lab also uses bio-inspired approaches to address a variety of regenerative medicine challenges, including stem-cell differentiation, tissue regeneration and controlled drug delivery. Murphy has published more than 100 scientific manuscripts and filed more than 20 patent applications.

Beagle Freedom Project Uses Former Research Dogs to Spotlight its Anti-Research Campaign

Today’s guest post  is by Dr. Cindy Buckmaster, chair of Americans for Medical Progress.

Activists at the Beagle Freedom Project (BFP) continue to gather support for their agenda to end animal-based research – and some in the research community are unknowingly helping them.

Many of you have seen recent TV news items or read news articles that feature beagles said to have been saved from laboratories where they never had a toy, played with other dogs, or experienced kindness and love from people in research settings. The Beagle Freedom Project uses the limitations of the news media to create this one-sided and false impression of the lives of research dogs.

Individuals at research institutions interested in rehoming post-study animals are approached by adopters representing themselves as private citizens, eager to adopt dogs retired from research. These applicants don’t indicate that they are working with the Beagle Freedom Project. We know of several institutions that have fallen prey to this misrepresentation by the BFP: within days of adoption, their freely released animals are listed as ‘rescued’ by BFP, along with the activists’ usual anti-research propaganda.

As Chair of the Board of Directors of Americans for Medical Progress, as well as an animal lover and someone who directs an animal care program for a major research center in the US, I would like to tell you the real story.

dog, animal testing, animal experiment

Beagle in research

These dogs are NOT ‘rescued’ from research facilities. They’re voluntarily released by the lab animal caregivers who love and cherish them. Research institutions have been rehoming dogs for years, over forty in some cases, without ‘help’ from the Beagle Freedom Project.  That’s how BFP acquired these dogs to begin with: they adopted them from research animal caregivers who were fooled into believing that the adopters’ only intention was to provide research dogs with a good home. The truth is that these dogs were adopted for use as props to support an animal rights agenda that is harmful to public health and safety.

Readers should be aware that BFP is led by animal rights activists, including Kevin Chase (formerly Kevin Kjonaas) who was convicted and served several years in prison for violating the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Kevin Kjonaas is the Director of Operations of BFP. The Founder and President of BFP is Shannon Keith. Ms. Keith was one of Kevin’s defense attorneys during his domestic terrorism trial. She also produced and directed “Behind the Mask”, a film released in 2006 that glorifies the Animal Liberation Front, a group known for illegal animal rights activity.

The bottom line is this: BFP personnel and associates misrepresent their intentions to the research institutions they target and then deceive the public about the condition and treatment of dogs in research. Why? To demonize the scientific quest for cures that you and I demand.

The welfare and well-being of research animals and our animal care programs are inspected and evaluated by local and federal authorities multiple times per year. Moreover, most of us VOLUNTEER for an intense accreditation review by international experts every three years to ensure that we are providing our animals with the best quality of life possible. A review of the photos and video BFP itself offers of recently released dogs reveals the truth behind BPF’s deception. The dogs’ body condition and coats are gorgeous because they receive top notch nutrition and veterinary care while they are with us. They’re friendly because they have enjoyed socialization and playtime with other dogs and with our caretakers who adore them. The public fails to see this with their own eyes because they have been brainwashed by animal rights extremists for decades…and they seem to prefer drama over the truth.

Tell me something: Why would people who allegedly care so little about these dogs, as BPF claims, offer them for adoption? It’s not a trivial process. Records of animal health and release have to be generated, and adopters have to be located and screened. If our institutions really wanted to hide their ‘dirty little research secrets’, why wouldn’t they just euthanize all of these dogs, rather than risk ‘exposure’ by offering them to the public, as has been suggested by BFP?

Our dogs are offered for adoption because we love them and are grateful for their contributions to human and animal well-being. We want these heroes to live long, healthy, fun lives with loving adopters who have the patience and information needed to help them adjust to their new families. What is heartbreaking is that some of our institutions have closed their adoption programs because they were either exploited directly by BFP, or they don’t know who to trust anymore.

When are you and I going to hold the Beagle Freedom Project accountable for caring more about its agenda than our precious heroes?!

We all love these dogs and we all wish that they weren’t still necessary for the development of treatments and cures for conditions like cancer, Hepatitis C and Ebola. For now, they are still needed. Until we find a better way – and we are working on it – this research will continue to improve the lives of our friends, families and pets. The public is grossly misinformed about the care of animals in biomedical research and thus, unwittingly, people are supporting agendas that will harm them and their loved ones. Our faith is with our fellow citizens – but they must hear both sides of this issue, presented fairly. The media has an especially critical role in getting this right and they have, in most cases, fallen short of the mark. I am hopeful that they will do better by our citizens in the future.

Cindy Buckmaster, PhD, CMAR, RLATG; Chair, Americans for Medical Progress

See also:

http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/11/26/jerry-the-beagle-and-the-liberation-that-wasnt/

Twelve months of Speaking of Research

Speaking of Research joins others in a year-end wrap up post.  As Drug Monkey says: “The rules for this blog meme are quite simple. Post the link and first sentence from the first blog entry for each month of the past year. I originally did this meme, after seeing similar posted by Janet Stemwedel and John Lynch. … If you blog, I encourage you to do your own year-end wrap up post.”

January: “2013 was a tough year for science in Italy, witnessing the theft by animal rights extremists of animals from a medical research laboratory in Milan and the passing by the Italian Parliament of a law that threatens the future of medical research in Italy.”

February: “We will be counter-demonstrating.”

March: “The animal rights group “Progress for Science” (P4S) made one more appearance last night to harass a UCLA professor at his home.”

April: “Last month Speaking of Research (SR) committee member Michael Brunt took part in an outreach lecture at the annual Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT) 2014 conference.”

May: “A common argument from animal rights organizations is that animal models cannot tell us anything useful about human medicine, that animal research is outdated, and should be replaced with other methods.”

June: “Today the British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mirror published a truly execrable piece of animal rights propaganda dressed up as journalism, in an article attacking neuroscience research undertaken using cats at University College London.”

July: “The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has reported on the 2013 animal testing statistics, which were recently released by the Health Ministry’s Council for Experimentation of Animals.”

August: “We have written thousands of tweets about animal research since we opened our accounts a little over five years ago.”

September: “Your scientific activism is only a click away. A new petition in Change.org urges the U. S. Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, to voice support for the humane, and regulated use of animals in medical research.”

October: “The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has campaigned against the use of animals in research since 1898.”

November: “Seven Nobel Laureates and the Presidents of seven major Israeli universities and research institutes are the signatories of an unprecedented letter that calls for to government to refrain to impose any additional limitations on the use of animals in research.”

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

1 hour explain animal testing

Five Ways to Help

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

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

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

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

1 hour explain animal testing

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Webmaster

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

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

Kind Regards

<insert name>

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

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

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

sharing speaking of research

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

Send us a picture [10 minutes]

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

Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

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

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

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

Join us [It’s up to you!]

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

Remember

Science Needs You

What makes a good animal research statement?

Recently we created a list (still in progress) of the public facing statements institutions have on their website about their animal research. The quality of these statements and associated web pages are of mixed quality. In the second half of this post we assess ten top life science universities (according to the THE World Ranking) for how well they explain animal research on their websites.

In the UK, we ranked 13 out of 56 listed institutions as having exemplary pages relating to their animal research. In the US only 2 of the 47 could be considered exemplary. We lack enough statements from other countries to be able to draw any conclusions from there.

Many British institutions have recently updated their pages on animal research as part of their commitment to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK. So far in the UK, 85 organisations “involved with life science in the UK” have become signatories to the Concordat. Signatories pledged to:

Commitment 2:

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

  • Within one year of signing up to the Concordat we will make a policy statement about the use of animals in research available via our websites, to provide clear information about the nature of our own involvement with animal research and its role in the wider context of our research aims…

British and American institutions can learn a lot from some of the best practices of the most open organisations. Below we provide six suggestions for improving a website.

Step 1: Have a statement about animal research!

This one seems obvious, but many institutions fail at this most basic hurdle. Of the Top 10 Universities in the World for Life Sciences (according to Times Higher Education 2014-15), MIT (Massachuetts Institute of Technology) either do not have any statement explaining that they do animal research and why, or have hidden it so well on their website that it may as well not exist.

A statement should provide some indication of why there are animal experiments being conducted at the university. It should be written in a style which is suitable for consumption by the general public (many institutions place a short statement on animal research on their IACUC page, which is not intended for the public).

Step 2: Provide additional information about why and how animal research is conducted

A good statement should not only inform the public that an institution conducts animal research and why, it should provide an indication of what animal research is conducted and the welfare considerations and tight regulations involved. For example, the University of Cambridge (#3 for Life Sciences) explains that animal research has been and continues to be important for developing treatments, that it is only done where there is no alternative, that it is strictly regulated with welfare being a high priority and when it is done. This is before you read any of the accompanying pages (including an FAQ, case studies of current animal research at Cambridge, their policies etc.). Cambridge University’s statement on animal research begins with this:

Research using animals has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the understanding, treatment and cure of major human and animal health problems; including cancer, heart disease, polio, diabetes and neurological diseases and disorders. While new methods have enabled scientists and medical researchers to reduce studies involving animals, some work must continue for further fundamental advances to be made.

The University of Cambridge only uses animals in research where there are no alternatives. In fact, the law demands that where a non-animal approach exists, it should be used. The principles of reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research (the ’3Rs’) underpin all related work carried out at the University; ensuring that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined and regularly reviewed to maximise welfare.

To support your information, include a link to other websites which provide information on animal research. Perhaps add the following:

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following resources:

Step 3: Make the statement page easy to find

There is no point creating a lovely set of resources about your animal research is no one can find it. There are three main ways people look for this information. The first is to Google phrases like “<institution> animal research” or “<institution> animal testing” or “<institution> animal experiments”. The desired page should really be first or second on the Google list if it intends to be read. The second way people search is the search bar on the institution’s website, and the third method is to try and browse through the menu system on  a University’s main page. Consider the ease with which people can find across all three.

Below looks at what position on Google their animal research statement comes when googling the following phrases (a dash means they were not in the top 8 search results)

 Institution <institution> animal research <institution> animal testing <institution> animal experiments
Harvard - - 2
MIT - - -
Cambridge 1 1 1
Oxford 1 1 1
Stanford 1 3 2
CalTech 1 1 1
Yale 1 1 1
Princeton 1 1 2
Johns Hopkins 2 5 4
Imperial 1 1 1

While six of the universities rank 1st for at least two of the phrases, the top two institutions – MIT and Harvard – fail to rank for most phrases on Google.

Step 4: Provide case studies which explain an institution’s animal research

Case studies are a great way of helping members of the public understand why animal research is done at a university. Case studies allow the public to better understand how the use of animals fits into the research process.

If a newspaper picks up a story (perhaps sent by an animal rights group) about an institution’s animal research, it can be helpful if a journalist can find examples of the types of research and research areas that a research facility is engaged in.

Of our top 10 Life Science universities, only Cambridge and Oxford universities provided Case Studies.

Step 5: Provide statistics on the use of animals in research

Numbers are not everything – they do not contextualise the size of an institution’s biomedical research department relative to other universities – they do not tell you how much work is being done using alternative methods – they can mislead people if one experiment, one year, happens to require a lot more animals BUT if you don’t publish them, someone else will – and you can be damn sure there will be even less context.

Freedom of Information laws in both the US and UK can allow animal rights groups to force the numbers out of institutions, and then use it for a press release condemning the university. However, newspapers are far less likely to run with the story if those statistics are available clearly on the website – it becomes less of an exclusive, and more of a non-story of “animal rights group emails readily available statistics on a website to a newspaper”. All responses to number-related enquiries should then simply direct people to the section of the website that hold them.

Good statistical information will include a breakdown of the number of animals by species, preferably including information on the use of non-AWA covered species such as mice, rats and even fish.

The UK institutions again come up trumps, with all three of its institutions on the top 10 providing some statistics. Cambridge provides its 2013 statistics alongside an explanation of why animal use is rising. Imperial College provide information on the number of animals used in both 2012 and 2013 including all vertebrate species. Oxford only provides information on the number of primates held, and the number undergoing procedures. This probably reflects a long time media interest in primate research at Oxford.

Step 6: Provide images and/or videos showing your animal facility

The best images include animals, but any image that can help dispel the idea of a blood-spattered basement with maniacal scientists is a step in the right direction.

Oxford are the only institution in the top 10 which provides any pictures, but let’s face it, it’s better having this:

Oxford University animal research

Than letting people think it looks like this:

PETA's MMA game depiction of animal research.

PETA’s MMA game depiction of animal research.

So all said and done, how do our top ten universities stack up on our six steps?

Institution Statement? More Info? Google? Case Studies? Statistics? Images / Videos?
Harvard
MIT
Cambridge
Oxford
Stanford
CalTech
Yale
Princeton
John Hopkins
Imperial

Communication on animal research is still new to many institutions,and we believe the website is a great place to start. Here we provide six steps to help universities provide more information to the public.

We encourage institutions to add a link to Speaking of Research so that the public can be better informed about why we need animals to help  medical, veterinary and scientific progress continue.

Speaking of Research

What does your institution say about its animal research?

There was a time when institutions conducting animal research would deny that they did so (some still do!). Thankfully most research institutions have started down the path of openness. The first step, for many of these institutions, is to put a statement on their website explaining why animal research is necessary. As an institution moves towards greater transparency they may include case studies, statistics about their animal use, and information about their animal welfare.

Speaking of Research is compiling a list of statements from institutions about their animal research. We have picked either their public-facing statement, or, where appropriate, their public-facing animal research information page.

If university’s do not stand up and explain why they conduct animal research, then why should anyone else support this work? Scientists want to know their institution values their research – a public statement of support is the first step towards that goal.

Please check if your institution is included by searching (Ctrl+F) the list, which is ordered by country. If not, have we simply missed the page – in which case send us the link. Or does it not have one, in which case we recommend emailing the appropriate senior administrators and encourage them to write one.

Oxford University's Statement on Animal Research

Oxford University’s Statement on Animal Research (Click to Enlarge)

Openness at Oxford

Oxford University was once a primary target of animal rights extremists in the UK. In 2005, activists set fire to student-run university boathouses, at an estimated cost of £500,000. More bombs were placed in 2006 and 2007. The University was also the centre of the grassroots pro-research student movement, Pro-Test, which defended the building of a new, improved, animal research facility. If any university had an excuse to try and hide their animal research, it would be them – thankfully, they’re having none of it.

The “Animal Research” pages are excellent. explaining why animal research is essential for the world-leading medical and scientific work being done by the institution. Oxford provide case studies (with videos and pictures) explaining why they use animals for specific pieces of research, they have details of how animal welfare is monitored and improved, they have details of the regulations, and they provide a great overview which includes common questions about research.

Around half the diseases in the world have no treatment. Understanding how the body works and how diseases progress, and finding cures, vaccines or treatments, can take many years of painstaking work using a wide range of research techniques. There is overwhelming scientific consensus worldwide that some research using animals is still essential for medical progress.

We hope that all institutions become more open about the role of animals in research and why their institution conducts such studies. The more open we are, the better public understanding about animal research is, and the more we show that we have nothing to hide.

So check if your institution has a statement on animal research, and if not – ask them why.