Confronting AR Accusations at a Local and National Level

Charities are regularly targeted by animal rights groups. Currently Animal Aid have been targeting some of the UKs biggest medical research charities including the British Heart Foundation (strong proponents of animal-based research), Cancer Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Parkinson’s UK. It was refreshing to see these charities responding to this national press by providing comments about the importance of animal research to their work (see also previous post on this):

Cancer Research UK – “We have strict ethical policies in relation to animals and follow rigorous government guidelines to ensure that animals are only used where there’s no alternative. Millions of people are alive thanks to life-saving treatments for cancer.”
British Heart Foundation – “Research funded by the BHF advances our understanding of the heart and circulatory system in order to improve our ability to prevent, diagnose, monitor and treat cardiovascular disease – saving and improving the lives of those people affected.”
Alzheimer’s Society – “Our research aims to move us closer to a cure and improve the quality of life of people with dementia. We strive to ensure that alternatives are used where possible, that the minimum number of animals are used and that researchers keep to the highest welfare standards.”
Parkinson’s UK – “Experiments involving accurate animal models of Parkinson’s are the key to improved drug screening and swifter movement into clinical trials involving humans for the best drugs that will allow people with Parkinson’s to lead a normal life, free from its symptoms.”

Nonetheless, many charities shy away from dealing with local press accusations, worrying that they may attract more attention, or simply that ignoring them will make the problem go away. So when Animal Aid made a verbal attack on Parkinson’s UK in a local Derby newspaper, it was a nice change to see the organisation respond with an equal measure of vigour.

IN her letter “Campaign seeks an end to research on animals” (Derby Telegraph, September 9) Dawn Spencer, of Animal Aid, makes a number of claims that cannot pass unchallenged.

Ms Spencer claimed that Parkinson’s UK does not wish people to find out how much we spend on research involving animals. I am happy to be open about this. Some 40% of the £4.6m we spend on research each year is on projects involving animals.

Our research work is governed by some of the toughest restrictions in the world, enforced by the Home Office. Details of our UK-funded research are on our website and the research strategy which specifies the development of new models is publicly available. Our policy is also on our website.

Ms Spencer said that “people wanted… alternative research using tissue cells”. We fund the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank, which supplies donated human brain tissue for Parkinson’s research. However, the use of human tissue is not appropriate in every case.

She comments that “animal experiments can be unreliable and… misleading”. We know that research involving animals has been demonstrated to help to identify improved treatments, help us gain a greater understanding of the causes of the Parkinson’s and ultimately lead to the development of a cure.

Since the 1970s, the lives of millions of people with Parkinson’s have been transformed by taking the drug levodopa, which would not have been developed without the insights gained from research involving animals.

People who give money to Parkinson’s UK can choose to support other areas as we also fund campaigning and support to improve life for everyone affected by Parkinson’s. We’ll keep doing that until we find a cure.

Dr Kieran Breen
Director of research and innovation
Parkinson’s UK

Well done Dr. Breen for this clear and concise reply to Animal Aid.

For those charities considering speaking up in defence of life-saving medical research using animals, I recommend the follwing resources:

1. Understanding Animal Research – A Researchers’ Guide to Communication
2. Association of Medical Research Charities – Medical Research Charities and Animal Studies
3. Understanding Animal Research – Funding Animal Research: Communications Guidelines for Charities

There is no excuse for standing on the sidelines – it is time everyone stood up and spoke of the importance of animal testing.