Tag Archives: understanding animal research

The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research Arrives

Seventy-two organizations  have signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, committing to improving their communication surrounding the animal research they (or their members) conduct or fund. Signatories undertaken to fulfil the Concordat’s four commitments:

  1. We will be clear about when, how and why we use animals in research

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

  3. We will be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals

  4. We will report on progress annually and share our experiences

Read the full Concordat.

The signatories include universities (e.g. Oxford and Cambridge), charities (e.g. Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation), Pharmaceuticals (e.g.. Pfizer and AstraZeneca), Learned societies (e.g. The Royal Society and The Physiological Society) and major funding bodies (e.g. The Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council).

Concordat on Openness Declaration on Openness

Signatories to the Concordat on Openness

It is important to realise that this openness is not new. Many of the signatories have been active in explaining the animal research they do. In January this year the University of Oxford invited the BBC to film inside its primate facility. Last year, Alzheimer’s Research UK produced both an informative animal research leaflet and a fantastic website showing its dementia lab, including discussion of animals used. These are just a few examples.

Dominic Wells. who studies neuromuscular diseases at the Royal Veterinary College (a signatory), told Nature that the Concordat probably makes the United Kingdom “the most open place in the world” regarding animal research. Adding, “I do feel we’re leading the way on this.”

The story of the Concordat started in 2012 when Ipsos-Mori polls showed that 40% of the British public would like more information about animal research. This led to the Declaration on Openness in Animal Research in which forty organizations agreed to develop a Concordat to set out how they should provide more information about their research programmes. This Concordat has now been realised, with many extra organizations signing their commitment to it.

Speaking about the Concordat, Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research and Chair of the Working Group, said:

For many years, the only ‘information’ or images that the public could access about animal research were provided by organisations opposed to the use of animals in scientific progress. This is why many people still think that animal research means testing cosmetics and tobacco, despite the fact that these have been banned in the UK for more than 15 years. The Concordat is an excellent opportunity to dispel these myths and give the public a chance to see the ground-breaking research that is being done on its behalf.

The responses by animal rights groups in The Guardian have been fairly muted. The BUAV condemned the Concordat, saying: “Informed public debate is essential but it cannot happen without meaningful information being available. … What they should not do is tell the public that this is the same thing as genuine transparency. The concordat approach is simply transparency on their terms“. The hypocrisy of their statement is clear when you remember that in 2010 the BUAV called fora change in the law to allow people to find out what is happening to animals and why“.

Why is a group that purports to want greater openness criticising a commitment by research institutions to do just that? Could it be that as the research community puts out more and more information about when, how and why they do animal research, the less space there is for groups like the BUAV to fill the shrinking void with their misinformation and pseudoscience.

Speaking of Research support the aims of greater openness in animal research and so applaud the efforts being made in the UK to improve communication between the research community and the public. We look forward to seeing how institutions will be moving forward with their commitments.

Speaking of Research

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.

Forty Reasons to Act. Five Minutes to do it.

The Science Action Network, which includes Speaking of Research, have been working hard to help dispel some of the animal rights myths across the web. Thanks to your help we have rebalanced many of the online discussions about animal research, for example, in the Independent (UK national newspaper) there was a poorly constructed argument about why mouse models can’t be useful for cancer. The Science Action Network got to work tweeting out this #ARnonsense (Twitter hashtag used to alert people about animal rights nonsense that needs commenting on). Currently there are twice as many comments explaining the merit of mouse models as those opposing animal tests, and twice as many votes disagreeing with the article as agreeing with it (95 to 42 at time of writing). There is still time for you to add your own votes and comments.

Now Understanding Animal Research have created “Forty Reasons Why We Need Animals in Research“. This allows people to mix and match statements to make their own argument for animal research that they can use online:

Combined with the @AnimalresearchRT, which lists all the #ARnonsense currently needing a response, you have the directions and tools for finding and responding to the mistruths of those who misrepresent animal research. All that is needed if for you to spend 5 minutes per week acting on it.

UAR have all this information, including lists of #ARnonsense, on one page of their website for you to share easily among your friends and colleagues.

Act now!

Here are three things you could do in the next 5 minutes:

Vote that you agree with animal research on this poll.

Leave a comment and vote that you disagree with this article.

Vote on this poll.

Why do we use Genetically Modified animals?

This excellent 3 minute video, produced by Understanding Animal Research, shows how the use of genetically modified animals can benefit modern medicine – in this instance, to create a method of screening for certain bacteria.

We look forward to more videos from UAR.

p.s. please give the video a “thumbs up” so that it can spread far and wide and improve people’s understanding of animal research.

Public Opinion and the Importance of Transparency in the UK

The UK has a long history of animal rights activism and many might expect the public to be a difficult crowd to win over. However over the years the British public have expressed overwhelming support for the use of animal experiments for medical purposes. In 2010 90% were conditional acceptors (that is agreeing with medical research provided suffering is minimised and there are no alternative methods – all of which must be true if a project is to be licensed in the UK) and 60% were unconditional accepts.

So it was with some disappointment that the release of the latest Ipsos MORI polls which show a 5% drop in conditional accepts to 85%, and a 5% drop in unconditional accepts to 55%. To put in perspective, the British public still firmly support the humane, regulated use of animal research in concordance with the use of the 3Rs. It was notable that the survey found that support for animal research and enthusiasm for science was highest among those with higher levels of educational attainment, which should noth be surprising as the Ipsos MORI report notes that “Greater knowledge of science tends to garner more favourability towards it – so ABs [a higher socioeconomic group] are more positive about science’s role (84%), just as they claim to be best informed about scientific developments”.

Nonetheless, David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, attended a press conference on the release of the statistics stating that animal research forms a small but vital component of bio-medical research. He also offered examples of some of the UK Medical Research Council funded work in dementia that involved animal work.

So how have research institutions and advocacy groups responded to the (albeit small) drop in support by the public? With action!

Understanding Animal Research have organised the “Declaration on Openness on Animal Research,” signed by 41 institutions including medical research charities (inc. Cancer Research UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK), Universities (inc. Oxford and Cambridge), Pharmaceuticals (inc. GSK and AstraZeneca) and other institutions. Those signatories have agreed:

The life sciences sector is at the forefront of developing ground breaking treatments and cures which transform the lives of humans and animals. To do this we need to increase understanding of normal biological functions and disease. Where possible, we use cells grown in a lab, computer models and human volunteers. When this isn’t possible, research may involve animals. When we need to use animals, we strive to reduce the number needed, and seek to develop viable alternatives.

Public acceptance of the use of animals in research has been strong over the last decade. Public scrutiny has also played an essential role in building the world-leading ethical framework that supports our research and ensures it meets the highest welfare standards, only using animals where no alternative exists.

Confidence in our research rests on the scientific community embracing an open approach and taking part in an ongoing conversation about why and how animals are used in research and the benefits of this. We need to continue to develop open dialogue between the research community and the public.

We, the undersigned, commit to work together to establish a Concordat that will develop principles of openness,

It is fantastic to see institutions agreeing to do more to explain to the public why and how animal research is carried out. We, at Speaking of Research, hope that many more institutions get on board with this Concordat. With almost two thirds of the general public claiming to be poorly informed about animal research, it is important that science institutions do more to fill these gaps in public understanding, let animal rights groups attempt to plug the gap themselves (leading to many of the common myths of research being propagated). After all, the Ipsos-MORI poll shows very clearly that the better informed people are about the role played by animal research in medical science, the more likely they are to support it.

In the meantime Speaking of Research continue to play their part in informing people around the world about animal research. A major campaign at the moment is the Science Action Network, which we urge you to get involved in.

Introducing the Science Action Network

Speaking of Research and Understanding Animal Research (UAR) are proud to announce a new joint initiative – the Science Action Network. We aim to enable scientists to network together to provide both authority and public weight on discussions surrounding animal research.

The Science Action Network

Brushing your teeth – 25 minutes per week.
Queuing – 75 minutes per week.
Blinking – 5 hours per week.
Time taken to play your part in defending biomedical research – just 5 minutes every week, less time than it takes to refuel your car

Understanding Animal Research is setting up a new Science Action Network to encourage you to respond to misinformation about animal research.

Animal research remains a hot topic, with many spurious and misinformed claims made by animal rights groups and frequent mistakes made by journalists- such as claiming that animal testing could currently be replaced by alternative methods.

We need your help to provide accurate information about animal research – commenting on news articles, emailing misinformed editors and voting on polls – we want to make sure that those speaking for research are those who understand the research.

So we are asking you for just 5 minutes of your time each week to respond to claims made by animal rights groups. By following us on Twitter (@animalevidence) and Facebook (Understanding Animal Research) you can be updated on the latest misinformation alerts, as well as submitting your own by using the #ARnonsense (Animal Rights nonsense) hashtag on Twitter.

We look forward to working together with you in this campaign.

It is particularly important that you share this campaign with as many people as you can. Keep checking the #ARnonsense hashtag regularly (If you copy the link it will work for people who aren’t signed up to Twitter – alternatively use http://tinyurl.com/ARnonsense) and remember to use the hashtag yourself to alert the community to the misrepresentation of animal research.

Together we can start to push back the tide of animal rights nonsense. We fully recommend people using the information on both the SR and UAR websites in their efforts to debunk spurious animal rights claims and remember to use the “bad science” section of our website.

Speaking of Research &
Understanding Animal Research

Parkinson’s Patient Meet the Marmosets

Understanding Animal Research has produced a fantastic video (below) showing Geoff Butcher, a Parkinson’s patient, going to a medical research laboratory to discuss some of the latest animal research models used to treat his disease. Parkinson’s affects over 120,000 people in the UK, and over 1 million people in the US, with many millions more touched by its effects through friends and family.

When some drug users in California taking a synthetic heroin they started to develop Parkinsonsonian-like symptoms. Further studies showed the chemical MPTP was responsible for this. This discovery has allowed scientists to use MPTP to create a better model for Parkinson’s. The added advantage of this model is that it is non-progressive, the animals’ Parkinsononian symptoms do not get worse over time. In the video it is remarked:

Geoff: They (the marmosets) actually seem quite happy
Scientist: They do. We think it’s a very good model because the animals are actually able to maintain themselves without any drug treatment

This allows the scientists to try and develop treatments for Parkinson’s disease without needing to recreate the full suffering that exists within human Parkinson’s patients.

You can check out more similar videos on UAR’s animal evidence Youtube page.

Understanding Cyborg Jellyfish

While I was on vacation I missed a fascinating story about how scientists at Harvard University and Caltech have created an artificial jellyfish – termed a medusoid – using rat heart cells on a silicone matrix in order to demonstrate that it is possible to reverse-engineer a muscular pump, as described in this informative report on CBC News.

This isn’t the first time scientists have created artificial tissue that can mimic the rythmic pumping of the heart, we noted in 2011 that Professor Harald Ott and Dr. Doris Taylor at the University of Minnesota engineered a a rat heart that was able to sustain its own contractions and respond to physiological stimuli, but the strategy used to develop the synthetic jellyfish may help to accelerate the development of the artificial heart to the point where it can  be evaluated by transplantation into live animals. The synthetic jellyfish may also prove very useful in screening for the effects of drugs or other chemicals on the heart prior to live animal studies, as it can more accurately reflect heart physiology than current in vitro models, while at the same time being a lot simpler (and hence easier and cheaper to produce and maintain) than a complete artificial heart.

In an article entitles “March of the cyborgs” on the Understanding Animal Research News blog, Martin Turner puts this latest development into the context of other recent advances in regenerative medicine, such as bioengineered trachea transplantation, and notes that:

Whole organs pose greater challenges, but by combining living matter with other materials using techniques gained from projects such as the cyborg jellyfish, scientists might be able to bypass many of the obstacles posed by a purely biological system.

The cyborg jellyfish might seem fanciful and frivolous, but it’s small, incremental advances that lead to great innovations. With that in mind, the jellyfish’s creators are attempting their next, more complex creature. But we might have to wait another four years to find out what it will be.

It’s an excellent point, while the field of regenerative medicine is progressing very rapidly – progress which is needless to say dependent to a large extent on animal research – there is a danger that expectations may run too far ahead of what is technically possible.  We are beginning to see tissue engineering enter the clinic, but it will be years, if not decades, before it becomes a standard part of medicine. Investing in science is all about the long haul; if we wish to reap the rewards 10 or 20 years from now, we must be willing to support the basic and applied research that is being done in labs today.

Paul Browne