Tag Archives: science

I Pro-Test for Science

Please leave your messages of support including your full name in the comment section at the bottom of the page (no sign up necessary). We must show our fellow scientists that they have our support. Names in the comment section will be added to the signatures at the bottom of the post.

When researchers are harassed and intimidated for carrying out their work, we must consider the whole scientific community to be under threat. We may not always be available to stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues, but we can still offer our strength and support from afar.

At UCLA, the scientists and their community are standing up to end the home demonstrations that have targeted their colleagues for many years.  As Professor David Jentsch writes

For more than a decade, the streets in front of the homes of UCLA researchers have been the scene of regular, brutal, vitriolic and hate-filled campaigns by animal rights hooligans. …  We have decided to act, with our voices, our messages of scientific progress and – most importantly – with the unity of our community.

Speaking of the successful first counter-demonstration at a home protest Professor Dario Ringach writes:

… it should not come as a surprise to anyone that after a decade of harassment, intimidation and threats,  we have decided to mount counter-demonstrations when these animal right terrorists show up at our homes.

These activists now have the shameless audacity to play the victim of this encounter. Incapable of understanding the message, they are now recruiting more misguided individuals to join them in their fanatical crusade and come back to harass us at our homes on February 15th.

We will be there to meet them once more and convey one simple message,

We are not going to take it anymore!

Colleagues and friends – please take a moment to leave a message of support for the brave UCLA scientists who have been subjected to fire bombs, home harassment, threats to their children, and relentless fear-campaigns for over a decade by animal rights activists, yet continue their work to advance science.  It may be difficult to imagine what this is like, and easy to imagine is an issue that is someone else’s– one that will never be yours– but it is not. It is an attack on public interest in scientific progress, in medical progress, civil dialogue, and democratic ideals. Our community is often silent in the face of attacks. We can change that and we really must.

I am Pro-Test

For those who think that this is about animal welfare, about specific types of research, about whether or not invasive research in nonhuman animals is justified, or about some other distinction among the wide range of issues concerning captive animals, it really is not.

We ask you to please read David Jentsch and Dario Ringach’s posts (here, here, here), watch this video, and get better look at what is happening.

These are our colleagues and scientists who bravely defend their work, who engage in public dialogue, who lend their voices to serious, fact-based consideration of ethical issues. Consider whether you really believe that the actions taken by the animal rights groups represent a best path forward.  If you do not, please take a minute to comment in support of the UCLA scientists and share with others who can be there to stand with them. Even if you cannot be in LA to stand with them, you can offer a comment in support and let the public know that home harassment is the wrong path.

Please leave a comment including your full name to be added to the list below.

We should all be Pro-Test. Now it’s time to say so.

Speaking of Research

Counter-demonstration. When: February 15, 10:15am sharp!
Where: Franz Hall Lobby @ UCLA (near Hilgard and Westholme)  http://maps.ucla.edu/campus/

Signatures:

Allyson J Bennett
Tom Holder
Chris Magee
Pamela Bass
David Jentsch
Dario Ringach
Jacquie Calnan
Paul Browne
David Bienus
Andy Fell
Jim Newman
Prof Doris Doudet
Gene Rukavina
Prof Bill Yates
Christa Helms
Jeff Weiner
Justin McNulty
Alice Ra’anan
Jordana Lenon
Jae Redfern
Melissa Luck
Claudia Soi
Kevin Elliott
Brian L Ermeling
Teresa Woodger
Joanna Bryson
John Capitanio
Dennis J Foster
Juan Carlos Marvizon
António Carlos Pinto Oliveira
Dawn Abney
Michael Brunt
Wayne Patterson
Greg Frank
Jim Sackett
Davide Giana
Paulo Binda
Emiliano Broggi
Marco Onorato
Cardani Carlo
Pasquele Franzese
Diana Gordon
Janet R Schofding
Rick Lane
Lorinda Wright
Jamie Lewis
Judy Barnett
Martha Maxwell
Stacy LeBlanc
Deborah Donohue
Paula Clifford
Cindy Buckmaster
Diana Li
Ashley Weaver
Jayne Mackta
Giordana Bruno Michela
Agata Cesaretti
Enrico Migliorini
Kim Froeschl
Daniele Mangiardi
Liz Guice
Myrian Morato
Patricia Zerbini
Michael Savidge
Jefferson Childs
Kimberley Phillips
Anne Deschamps
Dario Parazzoli
Robert M. Parker
Agnes Collino
Alberto Ferrari
Igor Comunale
Kristina Nielsen
Marco Delli Zotti
Megan Wyeth
Carolina Garcia de Alba
Andrea Devigili
Erin Severs
Patricia Foley
Mary Zelinski
Alison Weiss
Savanna Chesworth
Christy Carter
Joel Ortiz
William Levick
Lauren Renner
David Andrade Carbajal
Federico Simonetti
Daniele Melani
Dwayne Godwin
Howard Winet
Jeremy Bailoo
Stephan Roeskam
Mary-Ann Griffiths
Carolyn Pelham
Francesca Digiesi
Nicola Bordin
Dianna Laurent
Joe Erwin
Jennifer Picard
Vicki Campbell
Erin Vogelsong
Bob Schrock
Silvia Armuzzi
Elizabeth Harley
Wendy Jarrett
Barbara Rechman
Daria Giovannoni
Patricia Atkins
Scott Hall
Vickie Risbrough
Liam Messin
Brian McMillen
John Meredith
Aleksandra Gondek
Tehya Johnson
Nancy Marks
Leonardo Murgiano
David Markshak
William Horn
John J Eppig
Mila Marvizon
David Robinson
Steven Lloyd
Shari Birnbaum
Matthew Jorgensen
Karen Maegley
Barry Bradford
Corinna Ross
Stephen Harvey
Deborah Otteson
Bette Cessna
Steven Wise
Michael Conn
Gregory Cote
James MacMillan
Suzanne Lavalla
Lisa Peterson
Jennifer Perkins
Richard Nyhof
Beth Laurent
Gabriele Lubach
Michele A. Basso
Cindy Chrisler
Jian Wu
Mahmoud Loghman-Adham
Claire Edwards
Daniel T. Cannon
Emil Venz
Hyeyoung Kim
Jon E. Levine
Ken Linder
Kathy Linder
Matt Thornton
Margaret Maloney
Regina Correa-Murphy
Kristine Wadosky
Victor Lavis
David Fulford
Josiane Broussard
Fabio De Maio
Rachel J. Smith, PhD
Trinka Adamson
Cobie Brinkman
Emily Slocum
Michael J. Garrison
Tom Greene
Jenny Kalishman
Marcia Putnam

‘Progress for Science’ finds itself on the receiving end

Harassment and intimidation are not forms of progressive, social activism.

Regrettably, it is common for animal right activists, who consistently fail to articulate a cogent argument to the public, to recruit such tactics with the goal of imposing their views on those they disagree with.

This past weekend, the animal rights group ‘Progress for Science,’  descended once again on the neighborhood of a UCLA professor with the only intention of harassing her, her family and neighbors, by brandishing their spiteful language, libelous chants, and false imagery.

Such is the treatment some UCLA faculty, their families and neighbors, have endured for many years now. Everyone’s patience has limits and, on this occasion, a group of ~45 members of the UCLA community, including scientists, students, staff, and supporters, welcomed the group with a simple message —

Your harassment, threats and lies are not going to be tolerated any more.

The UCLA community gathering for a counter-demonstration.

The UCLA community gathering for a counter-demonstration.

This time around Progress for Science was placed in the unusual position of having to be on the receiving end. It was a refreshing change, and they did not appear to be very comfortable listening to what others had to say. Their members had been promised the opportunity to scream to the four winds their ignorance and hate. Instead, they were confronted with reason, facts and challenges to their anti-social behavior.

We wondered if the group would make use of this opportunity to engage in public debate. Perhaps they would try to learn the reasons that society has to charge its scientists with advancing medical knowledge and human health?  Or maybe they would simply put forward their own challenges in front of us?

None of that happened. They already know that neither science nor ethics are on their side. Instead, the bullies decided to play the role of the victim — a fabrication that will likely be used to justify future abuses.  They all stood in a line at the curb, quietly, opting not to engage in any shape or form, stopping only to pray (for the animals in laboratories, never for sick humans in hospitals) and to occasionally flash back a peace sign at us.

Members of “Progress for Science” standing in line. Missing from the picture is Tyler Lang, who was rather busy videotaping close-ups of faces of the UCLA group. Mr Lang was recently released from 3 months in prison after a plea deal. He left behind in jail his companion Kevin Olliff, another animal rights extremist who previously served time for his harassment of UCLA faculty.

A peace sign?!  Nobody will be fooled. These are not pacifists exercising their non-violent activism. Such egregious attempt at evoking any comparison with Gandhi is nothing but an additional insult to anyone who has ever participated in serious social activism. Experts who are familiar with animal right extremism find their language and behavior more closely aligned with those of self-righteous, religious fanatics rather than those of progressive, social activists.

So make no mistake — Progress for Science and its members embrace the violence directed towards scientists from within the animal rights movement. The group knows very well that scientists across UC schools have been the subject of animal right extremism that included the firebombing of our homes and threats to our children. Their leader and founder of the group, Carol Glasser, has expressed nothing short of admiration for such criminals.

In the above YouTube video you can see what Carol Glasser had to say about violence from within the animal rights movement [Note: a previously edited version of this video has been removed as filmmaker Denis Hennelly claimed copyright of the video]:

Whatever we are doing as a movement is not working, it is not saving animal lives. I think it is a waste of our time to demonize people who put their own life, their own  safety, their own health, and their own freedom at risk, because they can’t imagine another way to help the animals.  It is total bullshit of us, to point a finger and demonize them.

In other words, if you cannot be creative enough about your activism go ahead and firebomb a house — she approves.  She laters adds:

Nothing we do works.  We are losing.  The animals are losing.  I don’t think anyone of us should be demonizing anyone else who is actually trying to save a life. 

It is only the ignorance of their minds and the hate of their hearts that shields them from the truth: it is science and those that support it who save both human and animal lives. Not a coward in a ski mask blowing up cars and homes in the middle of the night.  It is people like Jonas Salk who are the true heroes of our society.  Only those armed with a corrupt moral theory could equate the work of a scientist who eradicated Polio form the face of the Earth to a Nazi doctor. In the opinion of these zealots, Jonas Salk, who used monkeys in his research, would have been a legitimate target of fire-bombing if he had been alive today.

So don’t be fooled by the misnomer.

Progress for Science is against Science… for only then one can explain their denial of overwhelming scientific consensus (92%) that the use of animals remains a vital part of medical research. Rejecting such strong consensus would be equivalent to rejecting similar ones on evolution or climate change.

Progress for Science is against Progress… for only then one can explain their refusal to acknowledge the clear medical benefits that have resulted from animal research for humans and animals alike, and the millions of lives saved.

Progress for Science is against compassion… for only then one can explain the lack of any moral concern for sick, fellow human beings, opting instead to blame these same patients for what they wrongly argue are mere lifestyle choices.

Progress for Science is entitled to its scientific ignorance and ethical bankruptcy.  They have the right to embarrass themselves in public by publicizing their views. But they will no longer be allowed to harass and intimidate the UCLA community and our neighbors without a proper response from our community.

Today, we walk hand in hand.
Today, we are not alone.
Today, we are not afraid.
We shall overcome their hate and threats.

___________
Note: My colleague David Jentsch offers his perspective on these events here.

Addendum:

A family portrait of animal right extremists:

Activists pictures include Carol Glasser (Progress for Science), Jerry Vlasak (ALPO), Peter Young, Nicoal Sheen (ALPO), Pamelyn Ferdin (SHAC), Shannon Keith (SHAC), Greg Kelly (Band of Mercy) and Steve Best.

Activists pictures include Carol Glasser (Progress for Science), Jerry Vlasak (ALPO), Peter Young, Nicoal Sheen (ALPO), Pamelyn Ferdin (SHAC), Shannon Keith (SHAC), Greg Kelly (Band of Mercy) and Steve Best (University of Texas, El Paso).

Cancer Immunotherapy: A breakthrough made through animal research

The prestigious journal Science has published its top 10 Breakthroughs of the Year 2013, and top of the list is a development that promises to have a huge impact on the lives of millions of people in the coming decades – Cancer Immunotherapy.

The article focuses on three particular therapies that have recently shown great
promise in clinical trials – chimeric antigen receptors, anti-CTLA4 therapy, and anti-PD1 therapy – all of which highlight the fact that his is a field
where animal research is making an absolutely critical contribution.

Regular readers will remember that we discussed how studies in mouse xenograft models of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) contributed to the development of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy that has now shown very promising results in clinical trials against ALL and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and as Science reports is now being evaluated against many other cancers.

The Science news article on cancer immunotherapy notes that a mouse study published in Science provided key evidence that antibodies that target the protein CTLA-4 – a receptor that acts to suppress the activate the T cells of the immune system – can increase the effectiveness of the immune system in eliminating tumor cells.

Similarly – as discussed in this open access review – the development of anti-PD1 immunotherapy started when was found that PD-1 knockout mice developed autoimmmune disorders, indicating that PD-1 played a role in regulating the immune response. Subsequent preclinical studies in a variety of mouse cancer models demonstrated that administration of antibodies against PD-1 greatly increased the ability of the immune system to attack the tumors, even well established and metastatic tumors.

Laboratory Mice are the most common species used in research

Cancer Immunotherapy – adding even more accomplishments to an already impressive CV!

The examples of CAR, Anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD1 therapies highlight how the field of cancer immunotherapy is maturing, but it is a field which has already delivered some important therapies.  For, example back in 2009 Emma Stokes wrote an article for this blog on the discovery and development of Rituximab, a chimeric antibody therapy that has revolutionized the treatment of B-cell cancers such as Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This work has not stood still either, last week the BBC reported on the successful trial of a new chimeric antibody therapy named GA101 in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and other B-cell conditions. GA101 targets the same protein – CD20 – as Rituximab, but was designed to induce a more powerful anti-cancer activity with fewer adverse effects. The abstract of the 2010 paper reporting on the preclinical research leading to the development of GA101 highlights the role played by studies in mouse models of cancer and in monkeys.

CD20 is an important target for the treatment of B-cell malignancies, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as autoimmune disorders. B-cell depletion therapy using monoclonal antibodies against CD20, such as rituximab, has revolutionized the treatment of these disorders, greatly improving overall survival in patients. Here, we report the development of GA101 as the first Fc-engineered, type II humanized IgG1 antibody against CD20. Relative to rituximab, GA101 has increased direct and immune effector cell-mediated cytotoxicity and exhibits superior activity in cellular assays and whole blood B-cell depletion assays. In human lymphoma xenograft models, GA101 exhibits superior antitumor activity, resulting in the induction of complete tumor remission and increased overall survival. In nonhuman primates, GA101 demonstrates superior B cell–depleting activity in lymphoid tissue, including in lymph nodes and spleen. Taken together, these results provide compelling evidence for the development of GA101 as a promising new therapy for the treatment of B-cell disorders.”

Of course there are another 9 breakthroughs on Science’s list, and it’s notable that several others involve animal research. One of these is CRISPR, a technique that allows scientists to modify the genes of organisms in vivo or cells in vitro with unprecedented precision, and more recently showed potential in mouse studies as a therapy for genetic disorders. Another is CLARITY, a technique that renders brain tissue transparent so that it can be studied in more detail than has previously been possible, and which joins a range of new techniques that are part of a revolution in neuroscience. Of course there was also the news of the first human stem cells created through cloning by Professor Mitalipov at Oregon Health and Science University, a pioneering scientist whose work we have discussed on several occasions.

The choice of cancer immunotherapy, and indeed of this list as a whole, is a reminder at the end of what has been a very difficult year for science in several countries across the world of the extraordinary progress that is being made, and why it is vital to support the scientists who make it happen. As we bid farewell to 2013 and greet 2014 we can only guess at what new discoveries and breakthroughs the year will bring, but we also know that now – perhaps more than any time in recent history – we need to join together across the world to stand up for science!

Paul Browne

The Day Italy United for Science – 8 June 2013

It seemed like a crazy plan when we first heard about it from our friends in Pro-Test Italia at the end of April, to organize a day of events in cities across Italy to campaign for correct scientific information, and to do so in less than 6 weeks…and with a starting budget of precisely nothing.

On Saturday 8 June 2013 the seemingly impossible didn’t just happen, it was a triumph!

In 16 cities across Italy some 1,500 people joined in “Italia Unita Per La Corretta Informazione Scientifica” to hear and spread the message that the culture of dishonesty that has afflicted the public discourse on scientific issues in Italian society must end.

An appropriate setting for the talks and discussion in Padua.

An appropriate setting for the talks and discussion in Padua.

Events ranged from talks and debates with audiences in the hundreds in conference rooms and lecture theatres in Milan and Padua, to a smaller “Cafe Scientifique” style discussion in Naples and Trieste.

Hundreds attended the lectures and discussions in Milan

Hundreds attended the lectures and discussions in Milan

Time to talk science in Milan

Time to talk science in Milan

The topics discussed by over 50 scientific experts who spoke at these events reflected the wide variety of issues of concern to those who value science in Italy, including vaccination, GM crops, stem cell therapies, seismology, chemtrails, alternative medicine,  and of course animal research. Discussions were often lively, with many audience members joining the speakers to challenge anti-scientific claims.

Talking science in the library in Naples

Talking science in the library in Naples

In addition to these public talks and discussions scientific activists held flash mobs in several cities to highlight the way that science is often sidelined in Italy, and how this has to change if a better future for the country is to be secured. As La Republica and Science Insider report these included 30 scientists who gathered to silently display placards and banners on the famous Spanish Steps in Rome.

The days leading up to and following June 8 saw discussion of the events in Italian newspapers, science magazines and blogs, many of which are listed on the Italia Unita Per La Scienza website, and the TV stations LA7 and D1 Television also ran reports on them. These discussions highlighted the fact that this is the first time that scientists across Italy have joined together in such a public way to call for better scientific information, but it was also clear that among the many subjects tackled it was animal research that caught the media’s attention. It is perhaps not surprising, Pro-Test Italia  and its members played a lead role in organizing the day of action, and animal research was discussed at most of the talks.

It won’t come as a much of a surprise then to learn that animal rights activists sought to disrupt, and even to stop, several of the planned events from taking place.  Needless to say they failed in almost every case, but their behaviour is an interesting aspect of last Saturday’s events that we will have come back to in another post.

June 8 was the brainchild of Pro-Test Italia members Giulia Corsini and Federico Baglioni, but making the event a success was a task that involved more than 200 researchers and scientific activists across Italy, most of them young, all of them volunteers, working together to put the day’s events together at only a few week’s notice. Among the scientific groups joining Pro-Test Italia in to help organise and support the day were Fondazione IDIS – Città della Scienza, Associazione Luca Coscioni, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Coordinamento Nazionale Studenti di Biotecnologie, Osservatorio Malattie Rare and more than 20 others. This may be the most important legacy of June 8; it brought together for the first time passionate and committed individuals and organizations from around Italy, and from a wide range of scientific backgrounds, to unite against misinformation, unite for science, and above all unite for the future of their country.

Federico, a biotechnology graduate with a passion for education who writes for the biotechnology magazine Prometheus and also discuss a wide range of life sciences topics on his personal blog, noted how the day of action marked the birth of a new movement in Italian society.

For the first time students and scientists from all parts of Italy have united to fight together against scientific disinformation. Much more needs to be done, but we are here, and this is just the beginning.

Well done Pro-Test Italia on holding another highly successful event so soon after your rally for animal research in Milan, you’ve certainly got people’s attention now, so keep up the excellent work!

Speaking of Research

Challenging Scientific Dishonesty Across Italy

With the Pro-Test Italia rally only 2 weeks away, there is a growing movement against the widespread misrepresentation of science in Italy. To counter this, two members of Pro-Test Italia – Giulia and Federico – have set up “Italy United against Scientific Disinformation“. They will hold a set of public talks around Italy on June 8th 2013, one week after Pro-Test Italia hold a rally in defence of medical research using animals. Click on the image below to share it on Facebook.

Italia Unita Per La Corretta Informazione ScientificaThe new organisation intends to debunk scientific misinformation wherever it exists. This includes issues surrounding vaccinations (and the myth that it causes Autism), stem cell research and of course the use of animals in biomedical research.

The group provided Speaking of Research with the following message:

“Italy United against Scientific Disinformation” is a mega-project. A very ambitious grass-roots initiative, it is the brain child of two young members of Pro-Test Italia , who worked together to reach out to the community, and found that there are many good people who share their ideals and were willing to join them.

Starting with a budget of zero, and in record time, the project already involves events in several Italian cities and volunteers from all over Italy, with more joining every day.

At the heart of this movement are young science enthusiasts, who are fed up with the way that the Italian public are being manipulated.

Are you fed up with how science is condemned by ordinary people, who prefer to be carried away by phantasmagorical conspiracy theories, despite all the contrary evidence?

If the problem was limited to merely erroneous beliefs it would be tolerable, but in Italy legislative measures are often taken based on mistaken beliefs, so research also suffers many limitations (funding cuts, incorrect regulations and so on). As a result of this we witness daily the phenomenon of brain drain, which afflicts our country severely.

Science is our future. Everything starts with the correct scientific information, but in Italy this is sadly absent from public discourse.

Young people have thus decided to involve their universities and their teachers, to involve associations, to call on the experts, who together will expose the most common misconceptions in this country!

On June 8 we will all unite against misinformation, unite for science, and above all unite for the future of our country.

Giulia and Federico

Contacts: italiaxlascienza@live.com

Events are planned all over Italy

Events are planned all over Italy

So stand up and be counted in support of science. Such events will no doubt play an important part in the developing public dialogue about how Italian politics and media interact with important scientific issues.

Speaking of Research

Are scientists sadists?

Scientists working with animals are often accused by animal rights activists of being ‘monsters’, ‘murderers’, ‘sadists’ and worse.  On the other side, animal rights leaders see themselves standing on a moral pedestal above the rest of the population, while simultaneously inciting to violence against fellow human beings they have never met.  The contradiction is lost on them.

Their appalling allegations don’t deserve a reply.  And yet I was asked recently by a colleague to answer the recurring claim that, somehow, scientists must enjoy harming animals in their research.

The brief answer is… of course not.

Scientists don’t enjoy harming animals. To enjoy means, literally, to take pleasure in, to get a thrill out of, to be entertained by, to relish, to savor or to delight in. I never felt any of these emotions during an experiment nor I have ever met anyone who has. In fact, the opposite is the norm. Typical emotions reported cover the range from sadness, anxiousness, nervousness, uncertainty, to uneasiness. All involved,  the scientists, the students, the veterinarians and animal technicians, acknowledge that there is a personal, emotional toll that results from this work. Those that are directly involved in the daily care of animals explain that their primary motivation is their love of animals and their wish to see them treated as well as possible.

One reason for these mixed feelings comes from the recognition that harm is done to the animals, despite doing everything possible to minimize their pain and suffering. A second reason is due to the inherent uncertainty in scientific work. Put simply, there is no guarantee that the harm caused in any one individual experiment will lead to palpable advancements. In science, one cannot determine ahead of time which lines of research are necessarily going to lead to medical breakthroughs. Decisions to approve and fund an experiment are based on expert opinion based on what studies show most promise, based on well-defined hypotheses and preliminary data, but there are no guarantees.

At the same time there is no denying that animal research has produced tremendous benefits. There is universal consensus among scientists that failure to do this type of work will bring many areas of medical research to a complete halt.  Importantly, and relevant to the ethical debate, there is a shared conviction that halting such research, as requested by animal rights activists and organizations like PeTA and HSUS, would result in much harm to human and non-human animals alike.

It is a failure of animal rights activists to persistently ignore this part of the ethical equation that that works against any meaningful conversation. Instead, they prefer to stick to the tenet that “do no harm” is an absolute moral principle that admits no exceptions. They find comfort living in an utopian black/white moral universe devoid of moral dilemmas, where “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy”.

The refusal of animal rights activists to acknowledge the benefits of past work, and their failure to recognize the tremendous harm one would inflict by stopping the use of animals in medical research, leads one to ask — Who exactly is being cruel?

Dario Ringach

Speaking of 2012: A year in Summary

It has been a fantastic year for Speaking of Research, reflected in the fact that the website traffic has more than doubled (130% growth and still rising). Thus trying to summarise will be the 127th post of the year thanks to the commitment of our committee. An extra special thanks has to go to four of our most regular authors – Allyson Bennett, Dario Ringach, Paul Browne and Tom Holder.

This year has provided many posts on the ethics and welfare discussions surrounding animal research – starting with the very first post of 2012 on the meaning of “being humane”. We also discussed the ethics of negative results, why not doing research is morally wrong, why animal rights groups are wrong to use marginal case arguments (e.g. cognitively impaired people), the idea of graded moral status, and the relevance of moral intelligence. Another common theme was that of Free Speech and how it can be used to stifle the free speech of others. Parallels were made with how anti-abortion extremists create a climate of fear among their opposition.

Science has always been at the centre of the Speaking of Research website. Among many topics we have written about early successes with using stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue, how cooling the body could improve life chances of stroke victims, huge leaps forward in facial transplant surgery, using Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis to prevent genetic diseases in IVF embryos, several  different advances in paralysis treatment (in dogs as well), new treatments for TB, a new Meningitis B vaccine, and how human embryonic stem cells have helped gerbils’ hearing. Breath. Oh, and both the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to work requiring animal models.

GM mice have made crucial contributions to our understanding of Fragile X syndrome. Image courtesy of Understanding Animal Research.

We discussed how GM mice are helping research Fragile X Syndrome

Other than scientific advances, we also spend a fair amount of time debunking common animal rights crank myths such as surrounding Adverse Drug Reactions, that research is just about money and . SR has helped defend a number of organisations from animal rights misinformation, including Cardiff University’s research on kittens, UW Madison’s research on cats, and the University of British Columbia’s research on monkeys. We have called on people to build their own networks for science to counter the animal rights nonsense (#ARnonsense) they propagate online.

Speaking of Research has always taken a strong stance against animal rights extremism, posting about Camille Marino’s threats, arrest and prosecution as well as Stephen Best’s war against fellow activists, baseless legal threats against us, and why he may have breached ethical standards on academic conduct.

A number of outreach initiatives started this year including Speaking Honestly – Animal Research Education (SHARE), Brainfacts.org, and Keep Research Afloat. Many organisations could still do more as was shown by the statements about research from pharmaceuticals and charities. However, we must congratulate those institutions, like Leicester University, that did outreach right. Of course one of the biggest outreach stories of the year was one we covered only last week, the launch of Pro-Test Italia!

Our own outreach efforts have included a series of guest postings, starting with David Abbott’s post on polycystic ovary syndrome. This precipitated the “Many Voices Speaking of Research” series of guest posts [See post 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7].

So to finish our roundup with a bit of fun, go and play our hugely popular Animal Rights Bingo game.

Merry Christmas Mouse

So Happy Holidays, and have a great New Year!

Speaking of Research

Cancer Stem Cells: Mouse studies lead to paradigm shift in cancer research

For the past 15 years one of the most intriguing ideas in cancer research has been that the growth and spread of most – if not all – cancers is driven by cancer stem cells. The hypothesis is that only a tiny proportion of cancer cells, cancer stem cells, have the stem cell-like ability to proliferate indefinitely to produce cells that can differentiate into other cancer cell types. It suggests that the reason why cancer often returns after apparently being eradicated is that while the therapy (surgery/radiation/chemotherapy) may remove the differentiated cancer cells it fails to remove all the cancer stem cells, whose subsequent proliferation results in the cancer’s return.

Multicolored intestine tissue in genetically modified mice allows scientists to track which cells give rise to tumors.
Credit: A. G. Schepers et al., Science (2012) DOI: 10.1126/science.1224676

Today 3 teams of scientists have announced important results that provide the strongest evidence to date that cancer stem cells are indeed at the heart of cancer proliferation.

The first evidence that only a small minority of cancer cells may have the ability to proliferate indefinitely came from a study of leukemia cells in 1997, when Dr Dominique Bonnet and Dr John Dick, then both working at the University of Toronto, observed that when they injected a variety of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cell populations obtained from human biopsy into immunodeficient mice and analyzed which cells gave rise to leukemia cells in the mice, and found that regardless of the characteristics of injected AML cells the cells that initiated the leukemic cell populations in the mice always expressed the cell surface marker CD34 and lacked the cell surface marker CD38, a key characteristic of stem cells.

Since then similar observations have been made for a wide variety of cancer types, and scientists have discovered important new facts about cancer stem cells, for example in 2009 we discussed how scientists at Stanford University had used genetic modification of bone marrow stem cells to show that leukemia stem cells were very similar to embryonic stem cells.  However, these studies all involved the transplantation of cancer cells into mice, and there has always been some concern that the manipulation of these cells during their isolation from humans and sorting into specific populations before injection into mice may have affected their behavior.

Today, three independent studies of mouse models of brain, skin and intestinal tumours, led respectively by Dr Luis Parada at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dr Benjamin Simmons of the Gurdon Institute and Dr Cédric Blanpain of the Free University of Brussels, and Dr Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute, and published in the prestigious scientific journals Nature and Science,  provide the first evidence that cancer stem cells do arise during tumour formation in intact organs, and drive tumour formation.

What these studies all share is that they were able to do this because rather than injecting cancer cells into the mice they used genetically modified mice in which cancer develops spontaneously. Using additional genetic modification to label certain types of cells they were able to track the different cell types involved in the growth and spread of cancer, and even assess the differing effects of standard cancer therapies and therapies that included drugs that specifically target cancer stem cells.

There is an excellent discussion of the three projects and their implications for cancer research in Nature News, and Science Now also offers a informative prespective on the work.  From its very first paragraphthe Nature News article highlights how these studies provide crucial information that could not be obtained through other methods:

Cancer researchers can sequence tumour cells’ genomes, scan them for strange gene activity, profile their contents for telltale proteins and study their growth in laboratory dishes. What they have not been able to do is track errant cells doing what is more relevant to patients: forming tumours. Now three groups studying tumours in mice have done exactly that. Their results support the ideas that a small subset of cells drives tumour growth and that curing cancer may require those cells to be eliminated.”

Commenting in an article in the LA Times, Dr. Owen Witte of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Center was clear about what these results mean for cancer research.

People can stop arguing…Now they can say, ‘OK, the cells are here. We now need to know how to treat them.’ ”

And “how to treat them” will not be an easy problem to solve, perhaps drugs that target the cancer stem cells or prevent their development may be the answer, but as the Nature News, Science Now and LA Times articles stress we don’t yet know enough about the origins of cancer stem cells to be sure which approach will work.

What is true is that thanks to advanced animal research methods a huge gap in our knowledge of how cancer develops and spreads – a gap that we only recently realised existed – has been filled. As research accelerates to turn this new knowledge into effective cancer therapies we can be certain of one thing; animal research will continue to provide key insights that turn hypothesis into cures.

Paul Browne