Monthly Archives: September 2013

Learning From Locusts

Fifty years ago President Kennedy established the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development:

. . . We will look to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for a concentrated attack on the unsolved health problems of children and of mother-infant relationships. This legislation will encourage imaginative research into the complex processes of human development from conception to old age. . . For the first time, we will have an institute to promote studies directed at the entire life process rather than toward specific diseases or illnesses.
—John F. Kennedy, October 17, 1962

The founding vision was to support world class research into human development spanning the entire lifetime, with an emphasis on pregnancy as well as intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Congress named the institute after Eunice Kennedy Shriver in honor of her advocacy for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

The mission of the NICHD is to ensure that every person is born healthy and wanted, that women suffer no harmful effects from reproductive processes, and that all children have the chance to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives, free from disease or disability, and to ensure the health, productivity, independence, and well-being of all people through optimal rehabilitation.


To accomplish this mission,  NIHCD broadly supports laboratory, clinical and epidemiological research.  It is not always obvious how laboratory research relates to human health care, and given the description of the NICHD mission, insect studies, for example, may not be the first kind of research that springs to mind as fitting the bill.  The following video explains why locust research is relevant to humans, and why what we learn about the sense of smell is important to our understanding of neural networks, with implications for neural disorders.

Megan Wyeth

SYR: Animal Research and MS

This is the first post in the “Speaking of Your Research” series of posts. This post is by Dr Nicole Kerlero de Rosbo, who stood up in front of hundreds of people at the first Pro-Test Italia rally and explained why animal research would continue to be an important part of research in multiple sclerosis. In this guest post she discusses the role of animals in MS studies.

I first heard of multiple sclerosis (MS) when doing my PhD at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. At that time, 30 years ago, I was a biochemist studying possible mechanisms involved in the degradation of myelin, the sheath that envelops nerves.NerveMS is a devastating chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system where myelin is attacked by cells of the patient’s own immune system, which leads to its degradation and degeneration of the “demyelinated” nerves. It affects young people and can progress through to severe neurological impairment and paralysis. There are two main forms or phases in MS, one, termed “relapsing-remitting” where the patients recuperate between bouts of the disease, and the other with progressive worsening of the neurological symptoms. There is no cure for MS and, until about 20 years ago, there were not many treatment choices that could alleviate the symptoms and/or slow down the deterioration.

From the very beginning of my research career, I have worked with animal models of MS, first in rats and then in mice when, a few years after my PhD I went to work at the Weizmann Institute of Science, an international research institute in Israel. There we developed a new mouse model for MS that was to become the model used throughout the world for chronic progressive MS. In the past twenty-five years, I have seen the emergence of several new therapeutics that can significantly alleviate disease burden for MS patients, even if they are not actual cures (and several more promising novel therapies are currently under development). All of these were first elaborated on the basis of in vitro observations and subsequently developed in the animal models. Without animal models, we would not have had the knowledge we have acquired on the immunological and pathological aspect of MS that has led to the generation of targeted therapies.

I have worked on MS research in many countries around the world, always with the view that our observations in vitro must be per force validated  in the animal model. I shall continue to defend the use of the relevant animal models in MS research and ensure that my students have the necessary knowledge to choose the appropriate model. In all institutions I have worked, from Australia, USA, Israel New Zealand and several European countries, the animal ethics have been extremely stringent, as essential to ensure the best treatment for the animals by trained researchers. I do not believe that we would have the knowledge and therapeutic tools for MS that we have now without using different animal models, especially those developed in mice.

Dr Nicole Kerlero De Rosbo

Are you willing to pen a few words about your research for SR? Read our “Speaking of Your Research” post for some suggested guidelines and tips on writing a brief post about your work.

Pro-Test Italia Stand Strong for Research

At 3pm the organisers of Pro-Test Italia arrived outside the Italian parliament building in Rome. Banners were unfurled, and balloons were blown up in preparation of the many scientists and students who would be attending the second ever Pro-Test Italia demonstration.

By 3.30pm, around 500 people had gathered to show their support for lifesaving animal research, and to reject the activities of animal rights extremists, who have been damaging research in Italy.

Pro-Test Italia rally success

The speaker list included politicians from almost every major political party including:

It was great to see people cheering for all politicians, whether they  were from a political party people supported or not. The key fact was that all these politicians were taking the time to make a stand in defence of research.

Further speeches were made by individuals who had previously spoken at the first Pro-Test Italia rally, including Dr Alessandro Papale, Dr Nadia Malavasi and Dr Giuliano Grignaschi. Once again, these speakers were able to rile up the crowd with their powerful messages of science.

There were also many new faces making an appearance to explain the importance of animal research to medical progress.

  • Kirk Leech, Interim Director of the European Animal Research Campaigns Centre
  • Dr Elizabeth Dejana, Director of vascular biology at the IFOM laboratory
  • Dr Michele Cilli, Chief Veterinarian at the San Martino National Cancer Research Center
  • Dr Lucio Pastore, Group Leader at CEINGE-Biotecnologie Avanzate
  • Prof Gilberto Corbellini, Mina Welby and Avv. Filomena Gallo. all from the Luca Coscioni Association,

The event was closed by Daria Giovannoni, President of Pro-Test Italia, who appealed to the Health Minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, saying that we cannot currently continue medical research without animals. The crowd then released their balloons all at once to symbolise what would happen to research if the new laws stands – it would simply float away to other countries (some of whom have lower standards of animal welfare).

Front Page La Stampa Pro-Test Italia

“Italian Researchers: This way, they are forcing us to emigrate”

Once again Pro-Test Italia made their voice heard, as shown by their front page coverage in La Stampa, and we wish them the best of luck in changing the tide of the animal research debate in Italy.

Pro-Test Italia Balloons float away

As Italy prepares to rally for science, science rallies for Italy!

Tomorrow scientists from all over Italy will travel to Rome to join Pro-Test Italia in a rally to save medical research in Italy.

At the rally, which will be held in Rome’s via Colonna Antonina (Montecitorio), from 15.30 until 18.30, speakers from several of Italy’s leading research organizations will join politicians from all major parties and members of Pro-Test Italia. There they will unite to send a message to the Italian people and government that “There is no future without research!” and that they must reject damaging amendments to EU directive 2010/63/EU on animal research, amendments that threaten many promising areas of medical research, and actually contravene the EU directive itself!

We have written before about the dire impact that these amendments will have on research in Italy if they are implemented, but also of the opportunity that the Italian government has to prevent this from happening. For a great introduction to the situation in Italy, watch this video produced by members of the group  Italia Unita Per La Corretta Informazione Scientifica.

Among those backing the Pro-Test Italia rally are some of the most prestigious scientific associations, institutes and advocates in Italy, including the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, Gruppo 2003, Associazione Ricercatori San Raffaele,  the Italian Association of Biotechnologists, the Italian Association for Laboratory Animal Science, Sindacato Veterinari Liberi Professionisti (Italian veterinary professionals association) and the Associazione Luca Coscioni, and with their support Pro-Test Italia will add more voices to those of more than 3,000 scientists from Italy’s leading medical research charities who recently called on the government to save medical research from bad laws.

But it’s not just Italian scientists that are backing Pro-Test Italia, the Basel Declaration Society, European Mind and Metabolism Association, and the European Animal Research Campaign Centre and UK advocacy group Understanding Animal Research issued a statement of support for Pro-Test Italia.

UAR – Pro-Test Italia Statement

EARCC – Pro-Test Italia Statement

Scientific organizations in the USA are also rallying in support of Pro-Test Italia. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the USA’s largest coalition of biomedical researchers, which represents 27 scientific societies and over 110,000 researchers from around the world, issued a strong statement of support for their Italian colleagues and Pro-Test Italia on the eve of the rally.

FASEB Pro-test Italia Rally Statement

The American Physiological Society (APS), an organization whose membership of over 10,000 health professionals and scientists is dedicated to devoted to fostering education, scientific research, and dissemination of information in the physiological sciences, also added their voice in support of Italian science.

APS statement on Pro-Test Italia rally

So as Pro-Test Italia gather in Rome they will be giving a voice not just to their fellow Italians, but also to scientists and supporters of medical progress around the world who have watched the developing crisis in Italy with growing concern.

Follow events tomorrow on the Facebook groups of Pro-Test Italia and Speaking of Research, and on twitter by following the hashtag #iostoconlaricerca (I’m for research).

We wish our friends in Pro-Test Italia well as they prepare for tomorrow’s rally for the future of Italian science, the hopes of many thousands of scientists, physicians and patients across Italy – and indeed the world – are with them.

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.

Pro-Test Italia to rally for science in Rome!

There is no future without research!

That is the stark message that Pro-Test Italia will be taking to the streets of Rome on Thursday 19th September 2013, when will be staging their 2nd major rally in support of animal research and medical progress.


The need for such a rally could not be more urgent. Despite the success of Pro-Test Italia’s first rally in Milan in June- which sent a strong message that vandalism of scientific research would not be tolerated – there has been little to the cheerful about in the news from Italy in the months since. Last month the Italian Parliament approved a series of amendments – referred to as Article 13 – to the to EU directive 2010/63/EU on animal research.

In an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica, Niccolò Contucci, director general of leading Italian cancer research charity AIRC, was clear about the impact the proposed amendments would have.

 Last year Italians entrusted to us 100 million Euros for us to invest in the fight against cancer. Who do we give those funds to now? A foreign researchers? Some basic research can work with computer science and in vitro studies, but in applied research there are unfortunately no alternatives to laboratory animals .”

There is still a chance to stop these amendments being implemented. As we discussed in a post on this blog last month many politicians began to belatedly realise the damage the amendments would do to many crucial fields of medical research, from transplant science to cancer research, and while impending penalties from the EU meant that the bill transposing the EU directive into Italian law was passed along with the amendment.

Fortunately in doing so the parliament gave the Italian government considerable freedom in implementing them, and the government now has the opportunity to reject the most damaging amendments as they actually contravene the EU directive itself!

So what will the government do?

Well, there are some encouraging signs. As the bill was passed the Italian Health minister stated that she accepted the advice of the parliamentary commission and several orders-of-the-day made by deputies during the debate on Article 13, that some of the amendments are highly problematic both legally and scientifically. Since then, and with the encouragement of several of the largest Italian medical research charities, including the AIRC (cancer research), Telethon Institute (research into genetic disorders) and AISM (multiple sclerosis), over 3,000 Italian scientists have written to the government to oppose the amendments. In the past fortnight Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, announced that two scientists would be among the four newly appointed senators for life –  a position to which only two scientists have ever previously been appointed. One of these two scientists is Elena Cattaneo, who heads the Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Milan, and whose research includes the study of mouse and zebrafish models of disease. In a statement that demonstrated very clearly his appreciation of the dire circumstances facing Italian science, President Napolitano commented on Professor Cattaneo’s appointment that:

…choosing her is meant as an appreciation and an encouragement for many Italians of the new generations who commit themselves, amid difficulties, to scientific research”

So there is a chance for Italian science to avoid going over the cliff, but it will take a concerted effort by supporters of medical research in Italy to make sure that its future is secured. This is where the Pro-Test Italia rally in Rome fits in, it is the perfect opportunity to let Italy’s political classes know how many people value the role of animal research in advancing medicine, and are ready to fight to defend it.

If you will be in Rome or its neighbourhood on Thursday 19th September, or have colleagues or friends who will be there, we strongly encourage you to join the crowd in support of medical progress at the rally, which will be held in via Colonna Antonina (Montecitorio), from 15.30 and 18.30.

You can find out more about the plans for the rally, which is being backed by several leading Italian and European research institutes and scientific associations, on the Pro-Test Italia website (in Italian) and on the Facebook page for the event.

It’s time for science in Italy to make a stand! Pro-Test Italia will be there, will you?

Speaking of Research

Trial of gene therapy in heart failure launches following success in rats and pigs.

Heart failure is a deadly condition that affects about two out of every hundred adults in the USA, and occurs when the heart is unable to provide sufficient pump action to maintain blood flow to meet the needs of the body. Among the more common causes are heart attacks and hypertension, but less frequently it can also be caused by viral infections or autoimmune diseases.

While the therapies available for heart failure have improved a lot in recent years thanks to the development of drugs such as Ivabradine, heart failure is still a major cause of death and disability, particularly among the over 65’s. As you might expect scientists around the world are developing several innovative approaches to treating heart failure – the British Heart Foundation’s “Mending Broken Hearts” appeal is an excellent example of the concerted effort now underway – and we have highlighted on this blog and our Facebook page  techniques ranging from electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve to collagen patches that stimulate tissue repair.

To those animal research has added another: Gene Therapy!

Image courtesy of Imperial College London

Image courtesy of Imperial College London

Yesterday the BBC reported the recent launch in the UK of a Clinical trial of gene therapy for heart failure, and Professor Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation, who funded much of the basic and applied research leading up to this trial, noted the promise that this approach holds:

Whilst drugs can offer some relief, there is currently no way of restoring function to the heart for those suffering with heart failure. This early clinical study is the culmination of years of BHF funded laboratory research and offers real promise.

“Gene therapy is one of the new frontiers in heart science and is a great example of the cutting edge technologies that the BHF is using to fight heart failure. Gene therapy aims to improve the function of weak heart muscle cells, whereas our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal is aimed at finding ways to replace dead heart muscle cells after a heart attack. Both approaches are novel and both offer great potential for the future.””

This trial, which is being run by researchers at Imperial College London and the Royal Brompton Hospital, is part of a multinational multicentre trial of 200 patients – CUPID-2b – which seeks to assess whether injection into heart tissue of a adeno-associated virus 1-based gene therapy vector driving expression of the enzyme SERCA2a can repair damaged heart tissue and improve cardiac function. The reasoning behind this is that as a calcium transport protein SERCA2a plays a key role in maintaining the correct balance of calcium ions in heart muscle cells, and studies in both human heart failure patients and animal models of heart failure the amount of SERCA2a is lower than normal. A combination of studies in human heart muscle tissue and animal models of heart failure over several years demonstrated that this decrease is associated with calcium overload, an abnormal heart rhythm and tissue damage, suggesting that increasing the amount of SERCA2a in the injured heart tissue may reverse the damage.

In 2010 paper was published reporting on the first clinical trial of this therapy1 (available to read for free), whose primary goal was to assess the safety of the technique, and it noted that studies in animal models of heart failure provided vital evidence underpinning the decision to move it into clinical trials.

In preclinical HF models in rodents,(20) pigs,(18) and sheep,(21) increasing the level of SERCA2a using recombinant AAV vectors was well tolerated and restoration of SERCA2a levels resulted in significant improvement in cardiac function and energetics, even when the underlying pathophysiology or insult (eg, mitral valve rupture or pacing induced heart failure) was not corrected. Based on these findings, this first-in-human Phase 1/2 Calcium Upregulation by Percutaneous Administration of Gene Therapy in Cardiac Disease (CUPID) trial(4) aims to restore levels of this key enzyme in HF patients via gene transfer of the SERCA2a cDNA by delivering a recombinant AAV (AAV1/SERCA2a) via percutaneous intra-coronary infusion.”

These studies, first in short- term studies in rats published in 2007 and subsequently longer duration studies in pigs and sheep published in 2008, indicated that this therapy was safe, could restore SERCA2a to normal levels, promoted heart muscle repair and improved heart function.

It’s just one more example of how animal research is contribution to the exciting field of gene therapy, and to advances in treating heart failure.

Paul Browne

1)      Jaski BE, Jessup ML, Mancini DM, Cappola TP, Pauly DF, Greenberg B, Borow K, Dittrich H, Zsebo KM, Hajjar RJ; Calcium Up-Regulation by Percutaneous Administration of Gene Therapy In Cardiac Disease (CUPID) Trial Investigators. “Calcium upregulation by percutaneous administration of gene therapy in cardiac disease (CUPID Trial), a first-in-human phase 1/2 clinical trial.” J Card Fail. 2009 Apr;15(3):171-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cardfail.2009.01.013. PMCID: PMC2752875

Speaking of Your Research…

In 2008, Speaking of Research was set up to urge more scientists, particularly in the US, to talk about the research they conducted. While advocacy groups have an important role in helping to educate the media, policy makers and general public on the role of animals in research, the most powerful voice on this issue continues to be that of the scientist.

While advocacy groups can talk about the general benefits of animal research, scientists are able to point to specific areas of their own research which have relied on animal research. While advocacy groups can talk generally about why animal use continues to be needed, researchers are able to talk specifically about why their research could be not done without the careful and humane use of animal models. While advocacy groups can talk about this contentious issue, researchers are able to normalize it.

Normalizing this issue is no mean feat. It requires scientists to be prepared to talk about the role of animals in their research, and in the research that precedes their own (for those involved in the more publicised clinical research). It requires the university and industry press offices to be prepared to include mention of the animals in their press releases. It will then only be a matter of time before journalists, in turn, include these mentions of animals in their own articles.

There are around 5.9 million scientists (and engineers) in the US alone, of which around 250,000 are involved in Life Sciences. A large number of these use animals in research. Speaking of Research challenges 52 scientists, a minute fraction of the total, to spend 2 hours this year writing a short article about their own research and why it requires animals. If this challenge is met we could publish one article every week for a year!

There has never been a better time to get involved in Science Communication. More scientists than ever before are talking about the research they do across the internet, and it’s time that those involved in animal research join the trend.

If Frederick Banting was alive, I'm sure he'd be writing about his research for us.

If Frederick Banting were alive, I’m sure he’d be writing about his research for us.

Welcome to the Speaking of My Research series of posts.

The guidelines are simple:

–          Articles should preferably be between 400 and 1500 words (much shorter than a grant proposal!)
–          Articles should include a picture if possible (No copyrighted images please)
–          Articles should be signed. If you are uncomfortable with using your name, provide a pseudonym*
–         Articles should be written in a manner accessible by non-scientists (we can help with this)
–          Articles should cover some of the following questions:

  • What does your research involve?
  • What are you researching? What applications might your research have in the future?
  • Why do you need to use animal models, why not alternatives?
  • How do you specifically consider the welfare needs of the animals?

The Speaking of Research committee is more than willing to offer help and advice to support you writing your article. Please email us on

* There is no evidence that animal rights groups have targeted scientists because they spoke out in favour of research. Indeed, extremists prefer to target those who would quietly fold rather than those who would condemn their would-be targeters.