Monthly Archives: April 2014

Website Updates – Expanding Information

We’ve been slowly updating some of the static pages of our website.

Ever wondered how it all began? Check out our History of Speaking of Research page. Want to know debunk pseudoscientific myths by activists? Check out our expanding list of them on the Animal Rights Pseudoscience page (previously called “Bad Science”). Want to know about similar campaigns? We recently expanded our information on Pro-Test movements across the world.

We are also trying to bring you the latest statistics on animal research in different countries. We already have the US, UK and now the EU, but would like to add more. If you have the statistics for other countries around the world, please send them to us.

What else would you like to see on the website? More pictures? More information on regulations or medical benefits? More information on animal rights groups? Please leave a comment or otherwise contact us.

Macaques are common in neuroscience. Image Credit: CNPRC/Speaking of Research

Macaques get a tasty treat. Image Credit: CNPRC/Speaking of Research

Speaking on Reddit

Reddit is a website dedicated to curating links on different topics. If you can imagine it, there is a probably a /subreddit/ (Reddit category) about it – everything from /WorldNews/ to /PicturesofIanSleeping/ (which is a mix of bizarre and outright creepy). Links are then voted up or down by the readers to help others work out what is worth reading, and what isn’t.

Reddit is also a remarkably good place to find interesting science – including about animal research. So here are my top 5 Reddits:

/Science/ (5.4 million subscribers)

A thread for interesting peer-reviewed research (either the journal articles, or news summaries of the research). There is plenty of stories of animal research discoveries every day. They also do regular AMAs (Ask Me Anything) with scientists. Most recently Prof Peggy Mason, who does research into empathy in rats, conducted an hour long AMA where she answered questions (among many others) on rats’ ability to identify each other, and the existence of psychopathic rats.

/AnimalResearch/ (94 subscribers)

A very new subreddit dedicated to discussing recent animal research. It also posts a weekly image entitled “This Week in Animal Research” (see below), looking at some of the biggest breakthroughs of the week made possible thanks to animal research.

The Week in Animal Research

/AskScience/ (2.4 million subscribers)

A place for people to ask their scientific questions to a group of scientifically minded peers. Questions cover all manner of scientific interest, though animal research comes up semi-regularly such as this question on “what really happens” in animal testing facilities.

/EverythingScience/ (12,000 subscribers)

Created to fill a gap in /Science/ for science stories that are not directly based on peer-review research (most science news stories, sadly). It also includes more videos and images about science.

/IAmA/ (5.3 million subscribers)

IAmA is a subreddit for people with something uncommon about them (their job, hobby, achievements etc) to be asked questions. It contains a mix of scientists, sportsmen, and others as well as the occasional big-name celebrity (e.g. IAmA from President Obama, Richard Attenborough and Tim Berners-Lee [For any NBC anchors – he’s the guy that invented the internet]). IAmAs typically last one hour or so.

Time to get involved. The discussion on animal research is happening across the internet, and Reddit is one of the bigger communities. So it’s time for you to join in. Somewhere there will be a subreddit for you.  Though it’s probably not this one.

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.

Voice Your Support for Animal Transport

Quick Summary. FBR have a petition to support Air France who continue to be one of the few airlines willing to transport primates for research. Please support them by signing the petition.

For several years animal rights activists have targeted the airlines which transport animals for medical, veterinary and scientific research. They have had a lot of success, with few companies willing to transport animals. In the words of Nature:

The pressures on primate researchers have taken many forms. In the United States, for example, commercial airlines have effectively ceased all primate shipments by air within the country, making it difficult for researchers to transport animals. Many airlines in Europe have taken similar steps, but Air France continues to provide service.

In March, China Southern Airlines announced it would cease transporting primates. This leaves Air France as one of the few international airlines that continue to transport animals.

Air France have a strong statement to this effect:

Air France Cargo ensures that all biomedical research involving the use of animals in laboratories with which the airline works is fully in line with current legislation and the regulations drawn up by scientific organizations specializing in animal welfare:
Air France Cargo refuses transportation if the testing protocols do not conform to these regulations and visits all customers to make sure this is the case. Air France Cargo also monitors the supplier, who must comply with the breeding rules in force.
The European Directive 86/609 from 8 September 2010 states that “the use of live animals remains necessary to protect human and animal health and the environment.” In particular, “the use of nonhuman primates in scientific procedures is necessary for biomedical research”.

Nonetheless, the Airline continue to suffer protests and illegal activity from animal rights activists.The Biteback website, which details illegal activities by the ALF, mentions several offices vandalised in March 2014 and December 2013.

Attack on Air France Offices, December 2013

Attack on Air France Offices, December 2013

The Foundation for Biomedical Research has produced a petition to support Air France. The petition reads as follows.

I am signing this petition to commend Air France for its valiant commitment to transporting laboratory animals for biomedical research. While many airlines have acquiesced to animal rights groups’ demands to end the shipment of lab animals, Air France has remained steadfast in its support of the scientific community.

Scientific and medical research with animal models is essential for the discovery of cures, treatments and therapies for diseases affecting both people and animals. While the majority of this research is conducted with rodents that are bred specifically for research, other animal models are essential to study specific diseases because of their biological and physiological makeup.

Because of the genetic similarities they share with people, nonhuman primates play an invaluable role in the study of devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV/AIDS and malaria, which affects 26 million, 7.4 million, 34 million and 216 million people respectively worldwide. In the study of these four diseases alone, 283 million people’s lives depend on the lifesaving research that scientists are currently conducting with the help of nonhuman primates.

Ending the commercial shipment of nonhuman primates will stall vital biomedical research projects that are currently underway and increase costs for scientists and institutions that are conducting this time-sensitive research.  Funds that could be invested in lifesaving research projects will be diverted to charter private flights for these animals.

Safe, reliable air transportation is an essential element of medical and scientific advancements across the globe. When research animals are not available to research centers, R&D projects are suspended or discontinued, leading to significant delays in the development of new treatments to improve human health.

I am most grateful that Air France has stood firm in its commitment to continue the shipment of lab animals and for standing with the biomedical research community in the fight against disease. Thank you for standing up for research and saving human and animal lives.

FBR note that due to the high traffic of the petition, some people are receiving error messages, but they should be assured that their responses have been received.

So please sign the petition today and show your support for Air France as they bravely stand against animal rights extremism.

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.

STEM Fair: Why Talking to Children about Research is Important

On March 21st, the Park Forest Middle School in State College, PA held its annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fair.  Approximately 500 students in the 6th through 8th grades participated.  As part of this program, the Animal Resource Program at Penn State University set up a table to talk about the use of animal models in research.  The AALAS Foundation generously provided many outreach materials such as puzzles, hand-outs, and CD’s.   The stall also displayed a variety of environmental enrichment items for various species from mice to primates.

This is the third year the Animal Resources Program have participated in the STEM Fair and besides the environmental enrichment items they also have a game developed by Americans for Medical Progress (AMP).  The Research Trivia Game consists of a game board and various trivia questions.  These can be found on the AALAS Foundation website.  Groups of children are given a statement about a type of research animal whose picture is on the game board.  Those that get the answer right win a prize.  This year winners received a stuffed animal generously supplied by Carter 2 Systems, Inc. and Charles River. Additionally, there were goodies from Bio-Serv, the AALAS Foundation, and other vendors associated with animal research.  The fact that the prizes ran out and someone had to make a mad dash to the local super market to buy some candy to hand out suggests the table was popular.

Trivia game Americans for Medical Progress

Excerpt from the Trivia Game: Would you have got the answer?

The Park Forest Middle School has student representing a diverse background and with that their perceptions on the use of animals in research and in general.  Many are the children of the farmers in the surrounding area.  These students tend to have seen the direct benefits of animal research in the form of antibiotics for their livestock, better formulated feed, and general veterinary care.  There are also students whose parents work Penn State University or in business around the university.  These students have a mixed impression of animal research.  Many students who visited the booth, while not necessarily opposed to biomedical research using animal models, were not aware of all that is done regarding animal welfare.  They were surprised at the number of different enrichment devices used to allow the animals to exhibit normal behaviors.  For example, providing nesting materials for mice or foraging boards for primates.  The students also seemed to enjoy learning about the how different animals have been used to advance our knowledge or find cures for diseases.  While most of the students professed to “liking” animals, there were none that suggested they were opposed to animal research.

Stem Fair

It’s vitally important that we in the scientific research community participate in these types of outreach opportunities.  PETA has long targeted children from grade school through high school.  It’s imperative that we continue and build presenting the truth about the work we do to this age group. This is when they begin forming their ideas about not only what types of jobs they’d like to have, but how they view issues.  If all they hear is the animal rights side of things, then we’ve lost a key moment to present the truth.  It’s also important because we need to reach out to the next generation of researchers, animal caretakers, those that will work for the various vendors, and veterinary staff.  Many students who visited the booth talked to had no idea that this type of work existed.  We need caring and compassionate people to continue the work of the research community.  Those who visited the booth were shown a Whyville page that has various games related to animal research geared towards middle school kids.  The AALAS Foundation has also recently launched the CARE website that has information about working in the field and links to pages such as the 4Research page.

Kids are genuinely interested in the type of work the research community does do, and it’s important that we get out and talk about it to them.  Besides providing good and interesting information to the kids, it’s a lot of fun!

David Bienus

For more information on outreach initiatives read:

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.

Speaking of Addiction Research

J. David Jentsch is a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the recipient of the 2010 Joseph Cochin Young Investigator Award from the College on the Problems of Drug Dependence and the 2011 Jacob P Waletzky Award for Innovative Research in Drug and Alcohol Abuse from the Society for Neuroscience. He is a member of the Speaking of Research Committee and writes his own blog: the Unlikelyactivist.

This post is the full version of a piece originally written for under the title “A Scientist Comes Out Swinging at PETA’s Addiction Research Stance”.

Biomedical research seeks to expose biological principles and mechanisms that cause disease in order to advance from a time where medications and treatments were discovered by chance to one where we reason our way to solutions for human and animal health through scientific discovery. Since the founding of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1974 (only 40 years ago), immense progress has been made into understanding, at the level of brain cells and molecules, why some drugs are addictive, why some people are particularly prone to addictive behaviors and how to treat drug use disorders. One of the reasons that so much progress has been made so quickly is that animal models for drug abuse are remarkably accurate and informative.

In the clearest example of all, if you place a laboratory rat into a chamber and allow it to trigger delivery of cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine, alcohol, heroin, etc., into their bloodstream by voluntarily pressing a button, they will do so. Rats will seek out and voluntarily “self-administer” drugs of abuse, just like people do, precisely because of the remarkable similarity in the reward pathways in the human and rat brain, as well as due to the fact that these drugs act upon brain chemicals in nearly identical ways in rodents and humans. Moreover, if you allow rats to consume the drug daily over a long period of time, a subset of them will progressively become “dependent” upon the drug, just the same way a subset of people that abuse drugs do. Dependence is indicated by the fact that the subject loses control over their drug use and continues to use the drug, despite efforts to abstain. Because of these incredible parallels between humans and animals, we now understand the mechanisms by which drugs of abuse produce reward at a deep level, as well as how these agents encourage drug-seeking and –taking behaviors. For example, we now know how parts of the brain like the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and prefrontal cortex participate in the development of drug-taking behaviors, and we know how crucial brain chemicals like dopamine and glutamate are to these phenomena. This information would not have been possible without responsible and humane research involving a variety of animal models – ranging from invertebrates (fruit flies, roundworms) to rodents (rats and mice) to non-human primates (mostly monkeys).

Rat Rodent Addiction Animal Testing Research

It is reasonable to ask why, given these advances and the value of animal models, we have not yet cured addictions. The answer is simple. When NIDA was founded 40 years ago, we actually knew very little about the basic biology of the brain and its relationship to drug abuse. Decades of basic research were required before we knew enough about the brain pathways involved in reward to further understand how drugs acted on these pathways and changed them in response to long-term drug intake. Decades of basic research, still on-going, was and remains required to identify all the genes, molecules and cell processes that drugs act on but which were unknown to us as recently as 10 years ago. Basic research continues in an attempt to fully describe how the hundreds of billions of nerve cells in the brain work together to create behavior and how the tens of thousands of genes in our genome affect the function of our bodies. Coupled with amazing advances in the technology needed to study the brain, this knowledge from basic research will yield unprecedented progress towards treating addictions, as well as other disorders of the brain (from Alzheimer’s Disease to schizophrenia) will be possible.

So, what has research into the biology of addictions done for us so far? In a recent blog post, Katherine Roe from PeTA claims that only one new medication has been approved for the treatment of alcoholism/alcohol use disorders based upon animal research in recent years, that it has only “limited” effect and that animal research has “green-lighted” decades of failed medication trials. Not only are each of these statements factually wrong, the truth that is subverted by her points actually demands more animal research, not less.

Firstly, there are actually three medications approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorders (one is old and two are new). One new drug naltrexone (that blocks opioid systems in brain) was approved in 1994; in 2004, the FDA approved another medication (acamprosate). Both specifically target brain chemical systems discovered to be important to alcohol’s effects though animal research. In addition, the development of both medicines required animal research since they act on molecules in brain that might be unknown at all without basic research studies in rodents and non-human primates.

Secondly, referring to the efficacy of these medicines as limited seems to misunderstand the nature of pharmacology. These medications do not effectively treat everyone that is medicated with them – but then, no drug used for any disease does. That’s not the way pharmacology works. That said, for tens of thousands of people with alcohol use disorders around the world, they achieve and maintain abstinence thanks to one or both of these medications: something that wouldn’t be possible for them without the medicines. For those people, animal research on alcohol addiction has literally saved their lives.

Thirdly, the fact of the matter is that the desperate need for medications for drug and alcohol abuse has led both NIDA and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) to undertake many clinical trials for medications before there was adequate evidence for efficacy in animal models. Many of the failed clinical trials involved these kinds of medicines. Therefore, if one is concerned about the failure of clinical trials (and we certainly should be), we should be calling for more investment in research, including in research involving animal models. Saying that animal research had “green-lighted” every single medication is simply and unequivocally wrong.

It is for all these reasons that the drug abuse research community is incredibly supportive of animal-based research. The pre-eminent professional society in this area – the College on the Problems of Drug Dependence – which includes epidemiologists, neuroscientists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and policy experts has published a statement clarifying their position on animal research:

There is an urgent need to know more about psychoactive drugs, particularly those features that lead some individuals to escalate initial use into regular use or dependence.  Research with laboratory animals will play a key role in these and related efforts… The College on Problems of Drug Dependence recognizes the value and importance of drug abuse research involving laboratory animals and supports the humane use of animals in research that has the potential to benefit human health and society. Such research plays a vital role in acquisition of the new knowledge needed to understand and reduce drug abuse and its associated problems.

Because drug and alcohol abuse are diseases with far-ranging health effects, contributing to death from overdose, cancer, stroke and metabolic disease, all of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a clear interest in seeing research end addictions. Animal activists’ claims that former NIH director Elias Zerhouni has spoken against the value of animal research are misleading given that he has recently made his opinion clear:

I understand that some have interpreted these comments to mean that I think that animals are no longer necessary in medical research. This is certainly not what I meant. In fact, animal models and other surrogates of human disease are necessary — but not sufficient — for the successful development of new treatments. In short, animal models remain essential to the basic research that seeks to understand the complexities of disease mechanism.

Overall, opposition to animal research on addictions seems to require a deep misunderstanding of basic science research, of the state of current scientific understanding of addictions and their treatment and of basic principles of biology, like pharmacology. It also defies the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and drug abuse treatment community that emphasizes the critical need for more research, including animal-based research, in that effort.

J. David Jentsch

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.

Better Mice, Better Research, Better Results

This guest post was written by Mark Wanner from The Jackson Laboratory. He has previously written a guest post for us in 2013 responding to an article in the New York Times. This article is adapted from his earlier post on the The Jackson Laboratory blog, Genetics and your health, here. This focuses on a recent Nature commentary by Steve Perrin, which has been misunderstood by many in the animal rights community. Mark also discusses ways of improving the accuracy of the mouse model.

In February 2013, I wrote a post about the use of mice in preclinical research. It was largely in response to a New York Times article about a scientific paper that impugned data obtained from mice used in trauma and sepsis research. The NYT article in turn implied that research using mouse models for human disease was pretty much useless, or misleading at best.

Laboratory Mice animal testing

My counterpoint at the time was that research using inbred mouse strains (or in this case a single inbred mouse strain), while valuable for understanding basic biology, can be very difficult to translate to human medicine for a variety of reasons. It also does nothing to address human genetic variation and the accompanying variability of responses to any one therapy or drug.

So can mice be good experimental models for human disease? Yes, they certainly can, but it’s imperative that changes be made on a broad scale to preclinical (both biomedical and pharmaceutical) research. That’s something that scientists at The Jackson Laboratory have long advocated, and now it’s the point of a comment piece in Nature published in late March titled “Preclinical research: Make mouse studies work” that has generated significant coverage and discussion.

Noise in the data

In the commentary, Steve Perrin, chief scientific officer at the ALS Therapy Development Institute, describes how findings in mice have failed to translate to more effective ALS therapies. Unlike the NYT article, however, Perrin doesn’t imply that mice are necessarily a poor disease model system. He instead asserts that much preclinical research uses mice quite poorly, with specific examples from the ALS field.

Perrin has ample reason to broadcast his concerns. He’s working with a patient population that is inexorably dying. As he says, “patients with progressive terminal illnesses may have just one shot at an unproven but promising treatment.” Sadly, trials of about a dozen treatments that showed survival benefits in a mouse model yielded only one that “succeeded” in human patients in recent years. And even that one, a drug called Riluzole, had minimal benefits.

With the stakes so high, you would think that any experimental therapy that reaches the clinical trial stage would have robust animal data backing it up. That is often not the case, however. As Erika Check Hayden points out in a follow-up piece in Nature News, a particular ALS mouse model that carries a mutation in a protein called TDP43, has a disease phenotype that is quite different from that of humans: “TDP43 mice usually died of bowel obstructions, whereas humans with the disease tend to succumb to muscle wasting, which often results in the inability to breathe.”

TDP43 is but one example of what Perrin calls “noise,” preclinical data that may look good but provides no insights into clinical realities because the research was not sufficiently careful or rigorous. Care and rigor don’t come easily, however, especially for the behind-the-scenes work of developing and characterizing the mouse models needed before good research can even begin. Perrin acknowledges in conclusion: “This is unglamorous work that will never directly lead to a breakthrough or therapy, and is hard to mesh with the aims of a typical grant proposal or graduate student training programme. However, without these investments, more patients and funds will be squandered on clinical trials that are uninformative and disappointing.” Or, as Derek Lowe states more bluntly in a commentary on his “In the Pipeline” blog, which covers the pharma industry: “Crappy animal data is far worse than no animal data at all. . . . If you don’t pay very close attention, and have people who know what to pay attention to, you could be wasting time, money, and animals to generate data that will go on to waste still more of all three.”

Driving change

For decades, The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) has worked to improve the efficacy of its mouse models for preclinical research. It has long recognized the limitations inherent in working with only one or two strains of inbred mice—imagine testing a drug in only one or two people!—and has spearheaded the development of mouse populations (Collaborative Cross and Diversity Outbred) that provide effective models of human genetic variation. It works to fully characterize both the genotypes and phenotypes of the mouse strains it distributes and to share the data with the research community. It has been at the forefront of developing mice that express human disease genes and/or recreate the human immune response.

“JAX has provided leadership from the beginning, even before disease foundations and funding agencies realized this was a problem,” says Associate Professor Greg Cox, Ph.D., who studies neuromuscular degeneration, including forms of ALS, at JAX. “It is nice to finally hear the message coming from someone other than the ‘fanatical’ mouse biologists. It is up to us to make sure that poorly designed mouse genetics experiments stop, both for the sake of good biology and for future decisions regarding clinical applications of the research.”

So how do you design experiments well? Perrin lists four ways to fight “noise.” The first three are basic ways to correctly manage research animal populations—exclude irrelevant animals (i.e. unrelated mortality), balance for gender and split littermates—but the fourth, track genes, may be the most vital. If you don’t know the animals’ precise genotypes and as much as you can about normal and disease phenotypes, it’s just about impossible to generate relevant data. Differences between background strain genetics can yield highly misleading results, making correct strain characterization essential. Also, inheritance between generations needs to be carefully tracked.

Another way to significantly improve the power of preclinical research is to use mouse panels that reflect human genetic diversity rather than one or two inbred strains. As long ago as 2009, JAX Professor Ken Paigen and collaborators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill effectively implemented a new approach to testing drugs for potential toxicity. Paigen and colleagues tested acetaminophen, the commonly used NSAID, on 40 different mouse models chosen specifically for their strain genetics. The research revealed several gene variations associated with toxic reactions, which the researchers then matched with those in human patients experiencing adverse reactions to the drug. Such screening, which could also provide essential information regarding the effects of genetic variation on efficacy and general side effects, is not part of the current standard drug testing process.

Perrin calls for a community effort to generate the mouse models needed to undertake effective preclinical research. JAX has already served as a vital hub to several such efforts, collecting, curating and distributing mouse strains useful for research into many diseases. These mouse repositories provide researchers access to quality control, standardization and mouse genetics expertise unattainable without a central resource of this nature.

Last July I wrote about the pervasiveness of positive bias in preclinical research findings and the associated problems. Now Perrin’s commentary indicates that such positive bias is based on generally poor data. More thought and care are not only important for preclinical research, they’re absolutely necessary. Using mice in a way that provides valuable, translatable preclinical data takes far more up-front time and money, investments that can be difficult to justify in competitive pharma and academic settings. But the costs of not doing good research—and generating “crappy” animal data—are immeasurable on both financial and human scales.

Mark Wanner

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.

Background Briefing on Animal Research in Canada

In February we announced the publication of our US Background Briefing on animal research. Today we are publishing our Canadian counterpart briefing. We hope this will offer journalists, editors and broadcasters who may need to discuss this issue, a handy overview of the facts. Our two-page summary provides key information including the number of animals used for research purposes, the laws and regulations surrounding animal research, and some key questions people have.

Download the Background Briefing on Animal Research in Canada

As with our previous briefing, we encourage those working in universities, pharmaceuticals, and other research institutions, to help share this document when contacting or responding to journalists about research stories relating to their institution. By attaching this background briefing to proactive stories, or reactive statements, it can help ensure that your research is understood within the context of the wider research environment.

Animal Research Canada

We permit anyone to redistribute this briefing providing it remain unchanged, and in whole, with credit to Speaking of Research.

We would like to produce more of these for different countries in the future, to add to our American and Canadian briefings. Those wishing to see a similar briefing for the UK should consult the Science Media Centre’s “Briefing Notes on the Use of Animals in Research”. We thank the Science Media Centre for offering their support in producing our briefings.

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.