Monthly Archives: April 2010

“What Drives ‘animal researchers’ Like Me?”

As World Week for Animals in Laboratories (a week of animal rights misinformation) comes to a close, we have a guest post from Nancy Haigwood, director at Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC). This piece reflects well the frustration felt by many scientists about animal rights activists misrepresent the noble cause of scientists who work on lifesaving research. Tom

I’m a health researcher who studies animals in order to develop new treatments and cures. When you hear protesters claiming that research animals are mistreated, they are yelling about me.

So what drives “animal researchers” like me?

Simply put, our view is that because animal studies lead to improved human health, they should be considered acceptable – provided the studies are highly regulated, the animals are well cared for, and suffering is not allowed. This is not a unique view. It’s also shared by the National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What have these guiding principles resulted in? Here are advancements from various labs in the past three weeks alone:

  • Mouse research has revealed how a genetic mutation may cause Parkinson’s disease (link)
  • Research in ducks has revealed a gene that might potentially shield humans from the flu (link)
  • Researchers studying mice learned that insulin-producing cells can be reborn in the body – a significant finding for those with Type One diabetes (link)
  • A blood-flow study in zebrafish has highlighted a possible method for suppressing cancer tumor growth
  • A mouse study suggests a new theory for the cause of Down syndrome: missing proteins in the brain (link)
  • A rodent study reveals that the anti-nausea drug Dramamine could be used during a heart attack to prevent heart damage.
  • And finally, as The Oregonian reported on April 2, monkey studies here at OHSU have solved one of the key mysteries about infections resulting from the virus cytomegalovirus (CMV), a disease that causes brain damage to 8,000 newborns each year.

Animal activists often reject these kinds of discoveries claiming that animal studies are outdated and that all of these breakthroughs could be made in test tubes or with computer models. But in reality, no test tube can simulate the complex immune response of an animal and no computer can mimic a real, breathing lung. Before we can try therapies in real human patients we must study a similar living system first.

In response to our studies, local organizers of World Week for Animals in Laboratories have promised us a wide range of activities. They’ve announced plans of legal protests but also some more menacing-sounding acts too.

According to a Web posting by the anonymous Portland Animal Defense League, the week will include “daytime demos” (we’ve learned that’s usually code for harassing a researcher’s family at home), “office demos” (code for invading a lab or office) and a “surprise action.” The activists also plan to protest the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies which raises funds to prevent premature births and their devastating impacts to a child who comes too early.

I fully understand and support each person’s right to legally protest when they have concerns. But Illegal actions are different. OHSU researchers have had our homes and cars vandalized. Our children have been terrorized by masked individuals who show up on our doorsteps. We’ve received threats from the Animal Liberation Front that our houses will be firebombed.

As Portlanders, we take pride in the city’s activist culture. However, surely we all agree that harassment, stalking and death threats have no place in our city. Especially when the core issue – health research – benefits so many.

Nancy L. Haigwood, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist/Director, Oregon National Primate Research Center
Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute
Professor, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology
Oregon Health & Science University

Laying the foundations of medical research

For the past couple of weeks a debate has been raging on the Opposing Views website between Speaking of Research’s Dario Ringach and the anti-vivisectionist Ray Greek. It has been a debate shaped by Dr. Greek’s attempts to persuade readers to agree with his very narrow concept of what prediction means in biology and his frankly impoverished view on the role of basic research in advancing medical science, and to oblige those debating them to accept a playing field rigged to set them at a disadvantage.  Judging by Dario’s most recent opinion piece and an article written a couple of days ago on the role of basic research Dr. Greek failed in this attempt.

British biochemist Sir Tim Hunt, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2001.

Among all the discussion was one comment that directed readers to an excellent example of the value of basic research and the how study of animal models made many key discoveries possible. Earlier this week the BBC aired a program in their Beautiful Minds series featuring Sir Tim Hunt, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001 for his research on how the cell cycle – through which cells grow and divide – is controlled.  Sir Tim’s work focused on the role of a family of proteins known as cyclins and as the Beautiful Minds program explains the initial breakthrough came from studies of the fluctuations in the pattern of protein expression during the cell cycle in sea urchin eggs.  This discovery was followed swiftly by the demonstration that cyclins were also present in yeast, clams and frogs, allowing Sir Tim and his colleagues to predict that they would have a role in regulating the cell cycle in many species,  including humans, a prediction that was soon confirmed to be true (1).

This program is a reminder that while discussion of animal research tends to focus on animals such as mice, rats and monkeys a lot is being learned about the fundamentals of our physiology through research on more humble model organisms, a diverse collection that includes not just sea urchins and clams but also nematode worms and flies .  These animals, along with other model organisms such as yeast and bacteria, enable us to study how living things work at a very fundamental level, laying the theoretical foundations for future applied and translational research that yields innovative treatments for disease and injury. At the same time, researchers studying other aspects of physiology often require higher mammals. The study of complex brain functions, including vision, hearing, memory, attention and motor planning, as well as how these functions fail in diseases of the central nervous system, is a prime example of this.

If you haven’t watched the Beautiful Minds series yet I strongly urge you to do so, the programs provide a fascinating (if not always flattering) insight into how science works.  And don’t delay: they are only available to view on the BBC iPlayer for another 7 days!

Paul Browne

1)      Pines J.  and Hunter T. “Isolation of a human cyclin cDNA: evidence for cyclin mRNA and protein regulation in the cell cycle and for interaction with p34cdc2.” Cell Volume 58(5), Pages 833-846 (1989)  PubMed: 2570636

April 2010 Rally – The Video!

Committee member, Gene Rukavina, has produced a video of the Pro-Test for Science 2010 rally, which attracted hundreds of people in defence of lifesaving medical research on April 8th 2010.

We encourage others around the US to follow Pro-Test for Science’s lead, and to actively get the message out to the general public – animal research saves lives.

A Noble cause: Protecting babies brains with Xenon

Back in October I wrote about how animal research has enabled the development of brain cooling as a treatment to reduce brain damage in babies who had suffered oxygen starvation during birth. This is a problem that affects tens of thousands of babies every year, and frequently results in death or long-term disability. Brain cooling is already beginning to have an impact in the clinic, but a recent report on the BBC website shows how scientists are already improving on it by adding the inhalation of the gas xenon to the therapy .  The first clinical trial on a baby born at St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol was a success and more trials are now planned, an achievement that rests on a decade of research in rats and pigs.

Riley Joyce, the first baby to receive the new treatment. Image courtesy of the University of Bristol.

Xenon is a rare gas which is best known for its use in street lamps, but it has also recently been approved as an anaesthetic  and lacks many of the side effects associated with more commonly used anaesthetics such as nitrous oxide .  A decade ago researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) became interested in the potential of xenon to protect the nervous system after in vitro studies showed that it blocks a cell surface receptor  – the NMDA receptor – whose activation can lead to the death of nerve cells. It was however not clear if xenon would have neuroprotective effects in vivo, since many other molecules that antagonize the NMDA receptor also have neurotoxic effects that cancel out the benefits of blocking it.

To resolve this question the ICL scientists studied whether the neurotoxic effects of injecting a chemical that binds and activates the NMDA receptor on the brains of rats could be blocked by inhalation of xenon.  Their results demonstrated that xenon had a far better neuroprotective effect than other NMDA receptor blockers such as nitrous oxide and ketamine (1), and prompted several other scientists to begin animal studies evaluating whether xenon could be used to prevent brain damage after oxygen starvation.

One of those scientists is Professor Marianne Thoresen , whose work on brain cooling I discussed earlier. Her team at the University of Bristol performed a series of studies of the effect of combining hypothermia with xenon treatment in a newborn rat model of ischemia followed by hypoxia that recreates the effects of oxygen starvation in human babies (2,3). They observed that not only did the addition of xenon therapy double the effectiveness of hypothermia in preventing brain injury, but also that these benefits were still clear when rats had reached adulthood. This was studied through analysis of brain tissues and by using tests that examined the rats ability to manipulate food pellets in a puzzle were used to measure fine motor dexterity. The combination of the two therapies were found to be additive, Xenon therapy without cooling was far less effective, especially in the long term.

This was not the end of Bristol team’s work, Xenon is a rare and expensive gas and xenon therapy in newborn humans would require treatment for several hours. Designing a respirator that could deliver xenon with minimal waste was a key goal for the group if this therapy was to enter widespread use in hospitals.  Led by Dr. John Dingley they designed a closed-circuit xenon delivery system which optimises gas delivery so that the patient receives a sufficient dose while minimizing xenon consumption, and demonstrated that it worked safely and efficiently for 16 hours in a newborn pig model of ischemia and hypoxia (4).  With solid evidence from studies in rats for the benefits of combining cooling and xenon therapy, and the development of an effective delivery system for Xenon in pigs, the Bristol team were ready to begin human trials.

By coincidence the National Geographic Channel aired a program last night entitled Genius Hog which examined the contribution that pigs make to medical research – a brilliant beast indeed!

Paul Browne

1)      Ma D. et al. “Neuroprotective and neurotoxic properties of the `inert’ gas, xenon” British Journal of Anaesthesia Volume 89(5), Pages 739-746 (2002) PubMed: 12170064

2)      Dingley J et al. “Xenon provides short-term neuroprotection in neonatal rats when administered after hypoxia–ischemia. “ Stroke Volume 37, Pages 501–506 (2006) DOI:10.1161/01.STR.0000198867.31134.ac

3)      Thoresen M et al. “Cooling combined with immediate or delayed xenon inhalation provides equivalent long-term neuroprotection after neonatal hypoxia-ischemia”  J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. Volume 29(4), Pages 707-714 (2009) DOI: 10.1038/jcbfm.2008.163

4)      Chakkarapani E. Et al. “A closed-circuit neonatal xenon delivery system: a technical and practical neuroprotection feasibility study in newborn pigs.” Anesth Analg. Volume 109(2), Pages 451-460 (2009) DOI: 10.1213/ane.0b013e3181aa9550

Speaking of Regulations

Regulations of research has always been an important issue for animal welfarists (as opposed to animal rights activists who start on a fundamentally different set of assumptions). Many people do not realize that there are strict protocols that monitor and regulate research. For this reason we have created a new page dedicated to the regulations surrounding the use of animals in laboratories. This covers the role of the Institutional Official, the Attending Veterinarian, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and other regulatory requirements.

Some activists suggest that because the animal welfare act does not cover mice and rats, that 95% of research is essentially unregulated. This could not be further from the truth, and the regulations page will help explain how the various institutional frameworks fit together to ensure the highest standards of care to all animals – be it mouse or monkey.

We hope to continue to further expand this section in the future.

Regards

Tom Holder

Speaking out for Speaking of Research

Below is a report of a talk given by Dr. Arnold L. Goldman, a private practise vet who offered to give a talk about animal research at a school on behalf of Speaking of Research. SR regularly receives requests by students and teachers to talk to scientists, and we rely on the efforts of scientists to volunteer some of their time to give these talks. The US is a big place, and the more people offering to give talks, the better coverage we have. If you would be willing to be contacted in the future about giving a talk at a local school then please email tom@speakingofresearch.com, giving your contact details and your location.

On Thursday, April 8, 2010, the same day as the Pro-Test for Science rally at UCLA, Dr. Arnold L. Goldman, a veterinarian from Canton, CT, gave a presentation on behalf of Speaking of Research, to 75 high school seniors in North Stonington, CT. Dr. Goldman’s presentation was intended as a counterpoint to the anti-research stance of animal rights groups and was the concluding element of a senior project undertaken by senior Meredith Milligan of Wheeler High School in North Stonington.

Speaking after Ms. Stefanie Clark, a youth programs coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Dr. Goldman’s presentation successfully countered HSUS arguments against biomedical research in animals. While the HSUS presentation focused on covertly obtained video footage of primates in captivity obviously intended to shock the young audience, as well as failing to distinguish product safety testing from biomedical research, Dr. Goldman presented a balanced overview.

Dr. Arnold Goldman

Using information provided by Speaking of Research, Americans for Medical Progress and the American Physiological Society, as well as his own materials, Dr. Goldman detailed the facts about biomedical research in animals. His presentation included a discussion of the moral and ethical dilemmas that exist in animal research, the actual numbers of animals used, the efforts of scientists to reduce those numbers, the myth that animal research is currently replacable, and the myth that animal data is not relevant to humans.

Dr. Goldman also went into detail about a personal experience with development of a vaccine for canine melanoma, a deadly and previously untreatable cancer, which involved one of his patients. This vaccine, originally developed using mouse DNA, eventually underwent successful clinical trials in dogs, including Dr. Goldman’s patient. The dog lived almost 2000 days beyond the expected and died from an unrelated problem. Thereafter, the vaccine’s amazing success led to clinical trials in people with melanoma, where similar success has also been achieved. The students appeared to grasp the truth that while animals used in research should be treated with respect, there is a duty to society to strive to cure disease and that these cures may help animals as well as people.

Dr. Goldman is in private practice and is also a director of Americans For Medical Progress, pro-research educational non-profit.

Speaking of Research thank Dr. Goldman for putting his time into this important cause, and urge more scientists to contact us offering to help (it is luck of the draw when we are invited to speak in schools, and where those schools will be).

Coverage of the Pro-Test for Science rally 2010

The Pro-Test for Science rally (yesterday) was a huge success, and here is a selection of the coverage from it.

First up, Nature introduced the rally as:

A rally in defense of scientists who use animals in research drew between 300-400 supporters to the campus of the University of California Los Angeles today.

The UCLA Newsroom gave a great summary of the event in their posting. They also clearly showed what was at stake as they talked about the importance of research in animals:

Animal research at UCLA alone has led to lifesaving medical breakthroughs in cancer, stroke, organ transplants and many other areas. There is overwhelming agreement among physicians and scientists worldwide that laboratory animals provide irreplaceable and invaluable models for human systems. Research involving laboratory animals at UCLA is heavily monitored and subject to stringent and multiple federal laws and university regulations.

The Daily Bruin covered the event, noting some fantastic comments from those marching:

UCLA researchers, students and faculty were among the hundreds of protestors advocating for animal research who, despite coming out for different reasons, marched alongside each other.

“I participate in animal research, so obviously people threatening directly impacts the research we are doing, so it is important to show our solidarity,” said first-year psychology doctoral student Kimberly Beach.

Stephanie Groman, a graduate student in psychology, came out to protest as more than just a researcher.
“Amongst other reasons, my family has been afflicted with cancer, and both of my parents are survivors of cancer because of animal research done on chemotherapy treatments that have allowed them to live longer”.

Janet Stemwedel (Adventures in Ethics and Science) made an important comment that such rallies should not be limited to researchers:

You don’t need to be someone who conducts animal research to take this kind of stand, just someone who recognizes the ways that animal research helps us take care of some of the most vulnerable members of the human community.

Abel Pharmboy (Terra Sigillata Blog) mentioned the rally, adding how important animal research is to every person – including himself (he is also calling for people to add their own similar stories to his blog):

Bear in mind also that virtually every single prescription drug sold across the world has required animal research and testing for their development. Every single drug.
Animal testing was required for me to receive the antibiotics, anti-inflammatory steroids, and bronchodilators needed for me to recover from my long bout of pneumonia this year.
Animal testing was required for the vaccines and drugs needed by our beloved family dog.
Animal testing was required for the organ transplant that has allowed my wife to have her mother and my daughter to have her grandmother for the last eight years.
Animal testing is the reason that my mother is a 25-year breast cancer survivor.

There were also mentions of the rally on the blogs from DrugMonkey, Scicurious (Neuotopia), and Nick Anthis (Scientific Activist).