Tag Archives: understanding animal research

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

Dogs in Medical Research

A video clip from Understanding Animal Research, a UK organisation which tries to tackle some of the misunderstandings about animal research. This kind of open advocacy which allows people to see the conditions of animals in labs is an important step in winning and keeping public support for lifesaving medical research.

Notice the use of clicker training to get the animals to do simple tasks such as jump on the weighing scales – this reduces any stress that might be caused by trying to force the beagle to do this unwillingly. This is just one of the many enrichment techniques used to improve animal welfare in laboratories around the world.

An excellent example of the value of dogs in biomedical research is provided by a BBC report “‘Heart shrinking’ trial to combat heart failure to begin” on the launch of a multi-centre trial (see clinicaltrials.gov for details) to evaluate whether electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve can reduce cardiac hypertrophy and arrhythmia, and improve heart function in patients with heart failure. The BBC report acknowledges that “The technique is being trialled in humans after it was shown to keep rats and dogs alive for longer” and links to a 2003 paper which found that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve increases survival in a rat model of cardiac hypertrophy.

This  technique is based on a discovery made in 1984 (1), when scientists showed that an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system – part of the nervous system that acts as a control system functioning and is comprised of parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – has a critical role in the induction of lethal ventricular arrhythmias in dogs following heart attack, with an increase in SNS activity leading to abnormal heart rate, heart tissue growth, and heart failure. Over the past decades several drugs have been developed to treat heart failure by reducing heart tissue growth – the ‘heart shrinking’ referred to in the BBC report – and heart rate, for example Ivabradine whose development we discussed recently, but more recently another approach has received attention, modulating the PSNS through stimulation of the vagus nerve in order to rebalance the autonomic nervous system inputs into the heart.

Following a series of studies which demonstrated that stimulation of the vagus nerve could prevent death and improve heart function in a variety rat and dog models of cardiac dysfunction and heart failure (including the study mentioned by the BBC above), scientists demonstrated in that the beneficial effect of vagus nerve stimulation was additive when combined with drugs to treat heart failure in dogs. An open access review of these studies published in 2010 (2) by Professor Peter J Schwartz of the University of Pavia notes that:

An impressive aspect of these experimental studies is that they provide an unusually uniform picture of significant positive effects produced by chronic vagal stimulation in the failing heart. Furthermore, they also provide evidence for the important concept that the mechanism(s) underlying the protective effect of vagal stimulation involve something at least in part independent of the heart rate slowing.”

This result supported a decision to launch the first small phase I clinical trial of this technique in patients with heart failure, led by Professor Schwartz (3), which demonstrated the safety of the technique, and provided early hints of its effectiveness in 8 human patients. The much larger study whose launch was by the BBC uses a device manufactured by Boston Scientific rather than the BioControl Medical device used in the earlier study led by Prof. Schwartz, but is development was equally dependent on the same careful research in dog models of cardiac disease and heart failure.

It’s just one of many examples of why lab such as the one  in the Understanding Animal Research video are so valued by the medical research community.

Regards

Tom Holder

1)      Schwartz PJ, Billman GE, Stone HL. “Autonomic mechanisms in ventricular fibrillation induced by myocardial ischemia during exercise in dogs with healed myocardial infarction. An experimental preparation for sudden cardiac death.” Circulation. 1984 Apr;69(4):790-800.PubMed: 6697463

2)      Schwartz PJ.”Vagal stimulation for heart diseases: from animals to men. – An example of translational cardiology.-.” Circ J. 2011;75(1):20-7. PubMed: 21127379.

3)      Schwartz PJ, De Ferrari GM, Sanzo A, Landolina M, Rordorf R, Raineri C, Campana C, Revera M, Ajmone-Marsan N, Tavazzi L, Odero A. “Long term vagal stimulation in patients with advanced heart failure: first experience in man.” Eur J Heart Fail. 2008 Sep;10(9):884-91. PubMed 18760668

Schwartz, P. (2011). Vagal Stimulation for Heart Diseases: From Animals to Men Circulation Journal, 75 (1), 20-27 DOI: 10.1253/circj.CJ-10-1019

 

Fish for Science

Back in February I wrote about the prominent  role of Zebrafish in the British Heart Foundation’s Mending Broken Hearts campaign, an initiative that not only highlighted fascinating developments in regenerative medicine but also the degree to which the public attitude towards animal research has shifted in the past decade.

One reason for the change in attitudes towards animal research in the UK has been an increasing willingness on the part of scientists to discuss their work with the public. Today I learned from our friends Understanding Animal Research (UAR) of a great example of  what public engagement is all about, and once again zebrafish are the stars of the show. UAR have awarded their very first Wednesday Winner award to the The MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics at the University of Sheffield for their new Fish for Science website.

The Fish for Scence website provides an excellent introduction to the role of zebrafish in biomedical research, including – amongst many topics discussed - why they’re used , what diseases are studied, and the techniques used to study them. They also have links to resources where more detailed information about the role of model organisms, and in particular zebrafish, in biomedical research.

It’s a website that should serve as an inspiration to any research laboratory that is considering how to develop its program of outreach activities and improve the public understanding of science, and a worthy Wednesday Winner!

Paul Browne