Monthly Archives: October 2015

Things to see at the 66th AALAS National Meeting

Phoenix AALASThere’s plenty to see at the 66th AALAS National Meeting, which starts on Sunday. Here are a few sessions, booths and activities we think are worth your while during your stay in Phoenix, Arizona.

Speaking of Research Poster!

We have submitted a poster (P155) this year for AALAS. So make sure you come and check it out.

Speaking of Research (SR) aims to provide accurate information about the importance of animal research in medical and veterinary science. Informed discussion is imperative to understanding differing points of view, but all too often the voice advocating the value of ethically conducted scientific research involving animals is absent. Scientists and laboratory animal science professionals (LASP) each have a crucial role in educating the general public and policy makers regarding the importance of this work. Scientists are able to provide unique insights about how and why they use animal models. Why is it important? How will animals and humans benefit from the knowledge that is gained? LASP are able to communicate the conditions in which the animals in scientific studies live. How are they cared for? Who looks after them? Are they treated with compassion and respect? SR believes that animal research should be conducted with the utmost care, responsibility, and respect towards the animals. […] SR believes that accurate information is necessary to underpin honest discussion surrounding the role of animals in science.

Crisis Planning Seminar (Monday, 8am, Room 120BC)

Is your institution’s crisis plan gathering dust on the top of some bookshelf? When did you last rehearse how you would react in the event of an infiltration by animal rights activists, records being leaked to reporters, research animals being “liberated”, or protests at the home of a researcher?

Chck out the seminar on Preparing for an Animal Activism Crisis: Lessons Learned on Monday morningThe session will look at examples of good and bad crisis handling in other sectors before focusing on what we can learn from crisis situations faced by animal research organisations in Europe and the US.

While there is very little we can do to anticipate how or when a crisis will arise, the fundamental principles of crisis management are the same. It is essential that we are prepared in an emergency, have clear guidelines as to how to operate during the crisis, and understand how to create a healthy operating environment afterwards.

For a topic as controversial and emotive as animal research, we also must plan in advance how we will reach out in a crisis to our various publics: the local community, reporters, elected officials, regulators, and others. This session will draw on first-hand experience of those working in research facilities in the United States and Europe that have faced such crises, and from experts in crisis communications for animal research. The session will outline the steps needed to prepare for a crisis, how to manage the crisis in the short term, and how to ensure that the reputations of institutions and researchers do not suffer long-term damage.

The seminar is chaired by Lynn Anderson (Covance) and facilitated by Jacquie Calnan of Americans for Medical Progress.The presenters are Wendy Jarrett, CEO of Understanding Animal Research; Kirk Leech of the European Animal Research Association; Friedhelm Vogel from Covance and Jim Newman of MD Anderson Cancer Center (who will speak about his experiences while at OHSU/ONPRC).

Openness and Animal Research: Making our Conversations Meaningful (Tuesday, 1pm, Room 131C, Workshop 17)

Bella Williams, supported by Wendy Jarrett, from Understanding Animal Research will be running an afternoon workshop to explore the issue of Openness around the use of animals in research. There has been a recent buzz about openness and transparency where animal research is concerned. But what does that mean, how does it work in practice, and will anyone believe that organisations are telling the truth? Both Bella and Wendy have been a key part of the development of the Concordat on Openness on Animals in Research, so if you want to learn more about it then book your place on this workshop now.

The 2014 Openness Awards celebrated efforts to encourage better communication about animal research

The 2014 Openness Awards celebrated efforts to encourage better communication about animal research

In the UK openness took a giant leap forward in 2014 with the launch of the Concordat on Openness in Animal Research. The Concordat had been developed over 18 months and included several rounds of consultation with public and stakeholders (including those opposed to animal research). Openness is something that everyone appears to want, no matter which side of the animal research “debate” they sit on. However, openness means different things to different people. So how do we define openness in a way that is meaningful? What do we need to tell people?

Booths – FBR (231) and AMP (232)

Two booths to check out of animal research advocacy groups which are working hard to support the research community in the US.

Foundation for Biomedical Research – Booth 231 in Exhibit Hall

Americans for Medical Progress – Booth 232 in the Exhibit Hall.

Both booths will be offering a variety of resources and educational materials to support researchers in their efforts to explain how and why they must conduct medical, veterinary and scientific research on animals. Take the opportunity to chat to staff there about how you can help.

So make sure you get the most out of your trip to the AALAS 66th National Meeting.

UK Government Minister says animal research is ‘vital tool’ for developing new treatments

Patrick Grady, the shadow Scottish National Party spokesman on International Development, recently asked the Government in parliamentary question, on 26th October 2015, if they would “issue a response to EDM 373, Applying Results of Experiments on Animals to Humans.”

Early Day Motion’s (EDMs) are regularly used by lobbyists to push their agenda, however their actual impact is minimal. EDM373 is the product of campaigning group, For Life on Earth which runs under a multitude of names including Patients Campaigning for Cures, NO to Animal Experiments, Oppose B&K Universal, Speaking of human based research and more. The group is inspired by the writing of Dr Ray Greek, and his Trans-Species Modeling Theory (a theory that few have heard of and even fewer subscribe to).

The EDM is the third time the motion has been made in three years (in 2014/15 it was EDM22, in 2013/14 it was EDM263) – with essentially the same message:

That this House notes the science-based campaign, For Life On Earth, which is critical of avoidable experiments on animals; further notes the new initiative, Patients Campaigning For Cures, which opposes animal models on medical grounds; is alarmed that scientific studies reveal that the widespread claimed ability of animals to predict human responses to drugs and disease is demonstrably false; acknowledges that over 90 per cent of drugs which test well in animals harm or otherwise fail humans, and that ignoring this has delayed cures including penicillin; notes that using animals to model humans contradicts currently accepted science, including evolutionary biology and genetics, which supports personalised medical care; further acknowledges the proclamation of the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research to develop communications with the media and public; and calls for thorough, properly moderated public scientific debate on the misleading and costly practice of trying to apply results from animal experiments to human patients.

So we have the usual myths about 90% failure rates, penicillin, and delays in other treatments. There is also typical Ray Greek-inspired fluff about “currently accepted science”. Their demands for a debate might be reasonable (though debating and science are very different kettles of fish), though the conditions being set on the terms for this debate are not (see the last response from Understanding Animal Research on this subject).

Thankfully, the UK Government wasn’t falling for it. Jo Johnson MP, British Minister of State for Universities and Science, gave a strong response to the parliamentary question.

The Government considers that the carefully regulated use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving the understanding of how biological systems work and in the development of safe new medicines, treatments and technologies.

At the same time, the Government believes that animals should only be used when there is no practicable alternative and it actively supports and funds the development and dissemination of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research (the 3Rs), in particular through funding for the National Centre for the 3Rs, and also through ongoing UK-led efforts to encourage greater global uptake of the 3Rs.

Advances in biomedical science and technologies – including stem cell research, in vitro systems that mimic the function of human organs, imaging and new computer modelling techniques – are all providing new opportunities to reduce reliance on the use of animals in research. As part of this, Innovate UK is awarding £4m this year to fund collaborative projects with industry to support the development and application of new non-animal technologies.

EU and UK law requires safety testing on animals before human trials for new medicines can begin and animal research still plays an important role in providing vital safety information for potential new medicines.

The Early Day Motion (EDM 373) rightly draws attention to the UK life science sector’s Concordat on openness in animal research which was launched last year, and provides new opportunities for transparency and debate in this area.

Jo Johnson MP tours Cardiff University

Jo Johnson MP tours Cardiff University

Importance of animal research, use and development of alternatives and strict regulations are all mentioned in the response.

This question comes days after the UK Government released the annual statistics on animal research showing a slight dip in the number of procedures carried out.

Speaking of Research

One step closer to a vaccine for cytomegalovirus: Monkeys transmit CMV the same way as humans

Today’s guest post is by Jordana Lenon, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and Kathy West, California National Primate Research Center.

PregnantWomanResearchers at Duke and Tulane take the lead, the National Primate Research Centers provide critical resources and expertise in this first-ever proof of CMV placental transmission in nonhuman primates.

Researchers now have a powerful new model for working on a vaccine for cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which is the leading infectious cause of birth defects worldwide.

Now, for the first time, a nonhuman primate CMV has been demonstrated to be congenitally transmitted similar to congenital HCMV infection. The discovery was published this week in the high impact journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in The New York Times and Science Daily, among other news outlets.

Rhesus macaque mothers can transmit CMV across their placentas to their unborn infants, discovered the teams of co-senior study authors Sallie R. Permar, M.D., Ph.D., Duke University, and Amitinder Kaur, M.D., Tulane University. The lead author was Kristy Bialas, a post-doctoral fellow at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

The finding establishes the first nonhuman primate research model for CMV transmission via the placenta. The macaque reproductive, developmental, and immunological systems are highly analogous to those of humans. Thus, scientists can now utilize the biologically relevant RhCMV system in a controlled scientific setting to try to find new pathways towards an HCMV vaccine.

“A huge impediment to CMV vaccine development has been our lack of ability to determine what immune responses would be needed to protect against mother-to-fetus transmission,” said Permar, of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute in a Duke Medicine news release Oct. 19.

“It means that we can now use this model to ask questions about protective immunity against congenital CMV and actually study this disease for which a vaccine is urgently needed,” said co-senior author Kaur, of the Tulane National Primate Research Center in a Tulane University release Oct. 19.

The rhesus monkey model for HCMV persistence and pathogenesis has been developed over the past 30 years by co-author Peter Barry, Ph.D., California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) core scientist, and co-developer of the rhesus intrauterine pathogenesis model with Alice Tarantal, Ph.D., CNPRC core scientist. Barry has recently shown that there is a strong immune response in rhesus monkeys to a potentially paradigm-shifting approach to HCMV vaccine design, and contributed important expertise and resources to this current research.

CNPRCrhesus,K_WestUCD, 4

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

The work highlights the collaboration of Duke University researchers with experts in rhesus immunology and virology at the National Institutes of Health National Primate Research Centers. Contributing authors also included David O’Connor, Ph.D., and Michael Lauck, Ph.D., experts in macaque virology, pathology and genetics at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, Xavier Alvarez, Ph.D., at the Tulane National Primate Research Center, and Takayuki Tanaka, D.V.M., Harvard Medical School and the New England National Primate Research Center, which provided macaques for the study. Additional authors’ contributions are included in the Duke news release.

The research was funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of the Director, NIH National Cancer Institute, NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Derfner Children’s Miracle Network Research Grant.


Kristy M. Bialas et al. “Maternal CD4+ T cells protect against severe congenital cytomegalovirus disease in a novel nonhuman primate model of placental cytomegalovirus transmission” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Oct 19.

Guest Post: Sex, Drugs and the Validity of the Animal Model

Dr. Swapna Mohan is a post-doctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health. She is a veterinarian and recently completed her PhD in Molecular Physiology from Cornell University, NY. She is interested in maximizing the use of animals in research and agriculture, while keeping with humane and ethical standards.

The FDA has approved “female Viagra” flibanserin (a drug not without its controversies), for treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in women. The drug, marketed as Addyi was initially tested as an anti-depressant. Clinical trials however, showed a statistically significant rise in satisfying sexual events reported by pre-menopausal women. A pre-clinical study on Long-Evans rats reports an increase in sexual behavior in females who have had their ovaries removed. Similar studies have been conducted on marmoset monkeys.

This inevitably leads to the question- how good are animal models at predicting human sexual behaviors? For this, we need to define sexual behavior. In animals this is easily described as manifested pre-copulatory behaviors, such as solicitation and copulatory behaviors, such as lordosis (arching of back). In humans this is a decidedly more complex phenomenon involving motivation and desire. Add to that societally influenced behaviors such as propriety (inhibitions against seeming overeager, showing desire to only specific people), thoughtfulness and affection and you get a whole grid of reactions constituting human sexual behavior.

Leopard Geckos mating

So how useful is it to use animals in pre-clinical studies of sexual dysfunction and drug response? For this, we need to first assess human sexual dysfunction and the criteria for evaluating drug response. Sexual dysfunction, especially female sexual dysfunction, is a group of symptoms with unclear causes- they maybe physical (failure of genital response, pain), chemical (fluctuation of serotonin and dopamine), psychological (anxiety, depression) in nature or a combination of all three. While most of the neurochemical changes might produce similar effects in animals and humans, the same cannot be said for hormonal changes. For instance, it is well known that ovariectomized (ovaries removed) female animals and females not in estrus (the period in which animals are in heat) show no response to males, whereas in women there is limited effect of ovarian hormones on sexual behavior as evidenced by sexual activity at different times of the menstrual cycle, and in post-menopausal women. Moreover, the manifestation of effects in humans and animals is also different. While a female animal may show avoidant behavior and defensiveness towards males, humans are known to engage in sexual relations despite having low desire for other reasons such as to maintain the relationship and as part of a transaction.

Similarly, there are fundamental differences in the act of copulation itself among species. For example, in rats copulatory sessions consist of alternating elements of approach and avoidance, mainly paced by the female. The female approaches the male, and moves away after an act of sexual stimulation has taken place. In humans it is a continuous session generally, with no avoidance or breaks in between. However, approach behaviors and more importantly, motivation for these approach behaviors might be similar in humans and animals.

Ideally animal models should respond to the same causative factors as humans with altered sexual activity. But it is very hard to assess something like the quality of a relationship in laboratory animals, despite it being one of the main reasons for lowered sexual activity in women. So does this mean that animals are useless as models of sexual function? Not at all. It just means that the questions we ask should be much more specific and our studies should be designed to reflect species similarities rather than differences. For instance, instead of focusing on copulatory behaviors such penile movements and lordosis, recent studies have shifted their attention to behavioral manifestations of desire and excitement such as increased locomotion and time spent near individuals of opposite gender. Such behaviors by themselves have not been used as indicatives of sexual activity in the past, but are now being considered anticipatory sexual behaviors. Reduced pacing was tested for being indicative of sexually anticipatory behavior in female rats, and in one study on the effect of the drug bremelanotide this behavior was significantly altered. And sure enough, when the drug moved onto Phase II clinical trials it produced the expected increase in arousal in women viewing erotic films.

But there is a potential for bias when using animal models. Care should be taken when interpreting an animal’s responses and correlating it to human response. It is very easy to anthropomorphize an animal and its responses. To prevent this, a thorough understanding of the social and behavioral processes of the species is essential. An oft cited example of anthropomorphism bias is the courtship behavior study of the fruit fly, Drosophila. Males communicate to females with wing flapping and researchers predicted that wing-clipped males would be less successful in mating because of the inability to produce flapping sounds. When the experiment was carried out however, wing-clipped males performed better than control males! The authors go on to explain that because they did not understand the fly’s ability to sense vibrations in addition to hearing sounds, it escaped their notice that the wing-clipped males could now produce faster vibrations (wing-beats).

Grouses Humoncomics

Image courtesy of Humoncomics

So validation is required not only for the experiments and the animal model used, but also for the way data is interpreted from these animal studies. While outwardly the causes of lowered sexual desire in humans maybe many (workplace stress, relationship issues) the underlying neural mechanisms of most are analogous to that of animals (anxiety, depression, addiction). Ultimately, humans and animals are biological entities. Animal studies have been invaluable in providing data for pre-clinical research of a wide range of diseases and disorders. Especially in the case of therapeutics, an understanding of the basic underlying physiology makes it easier to predict mechanisms of action and possible side effects.

However, it’s useful to keep in mind that not every disorder can be treated with just pharmacological intervention. And because of various root causes that are not physiological in nature, sexual dysfunction falls into this category. So in such cases it’s especially important to have valid animal models that provide consistent information that can be extrapolated to humans. Of course, a lot of gaps exist in our understanding of behavioral processes. So animal models can only be used by carefully defining criteria for evaluation, and by constant assessment and evaluation.

Swapna Mohan, BVSC (DVM), MS, PhD

Acknowledgements: This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Animal Experiments in the UK: Government releases 2014 statistics

The UK Home Office has published its annual statistics showing the number of procedures carried out on animals covered by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986; this covers all vertebrate species. It shows that in 2014 there was a 6% fall in the number of procedures, from 4.12 million down to 3.87 million.

Click to Enlarge

Overall, 96.5% of animals used in scientific studies were mice, rats, fish or birds. Cats, dogs and primates (which are offered special protections under UK law) together accounted for less than 0.2% of the total (similar to in previous years). The statistics also reveal that half of all experiments were the breeding of GM animals which were not used in further experiments. Overall, 2/3 of all experiments involved genetically modified animals.

Number of Animals Used For Research in the UK 1945 - 2014

Last year’s plateau, and this year’s fall are likely to reflect the economic conditions for biomedical research (though the number of procedures is likely to lag R&D spending as research funding can last several years. Below we see the R&D expenditure of pharmaceutical companies in the UK over the last decade (note that this does not include R&D by universities, who conduct almost twice as much animal research in the UK as pharmaceutical companies). Spending slowed in 2012, which may be reflected in the animal numbers for 2014.

Pharmaceutical R&D in the UK

The fall in numbers may also be in influenced by further adoption of the 3Rs – Replacement, Refinement and Reduction. Home Office Minister, Lord Bates noted:

Today’s figures indicate the science community continues to respond to the Government’s firm commitment to adopting measures to replace, reduce and refine animal use.

Procedures on non-human primates stayed almost constant going from 3,236 procedures in 2013, to 3,246 in 2014. The number of procedures on cats fell 22% to 210 procedures and on dogs fell 14% to 4,107.

A ban on cosmetic testing on animals (1998) and of using great apes (gorillas, orang-utans and chimpanzees) in research (1986) meant both had zero procedures in 2014. There were 138 household product tests, all on rainbow trout for EU regulatory purposes. This comes after 2 years where no such tests have been done – household product testing on animals will be banned in November 2015.

For the first time the UK statistics include retrospective reporting of suffering. Rather than just submitting licence proposals to the Home Office that include estimated levels of suffering, the researchers now have to report on what was actually seen (using a variety of measures). Unfortunately the statistics put these in two separate tables (Table 3 and 8). So we have combined them to get severity for all procedures in 2014. We can see most experiments are sub threshold (28%; less than the introduction of a hypodermic needle) or mild (50%), with remainder as moderate (14%), severe (5%) or non-recovery (3.5%; the animal never awakes from anaesthesia).

Severity of procedures 2014 UK

It is important to note that in line with new EU requirements, the UK now reports animals used in studies completed, not started in the given year. The statistical release says:

As a result of the change to counting procedures completed as opposed to procedures started, all procedures started before 2014 but completed in 2014 should be in both the pre-2014 and 2014 figures. Any procedures started in 2014 but completed after 2014 will not be included in the 2014 figures. It is expected that these opposing effects will partly cancel each other out. Any impact of the change from counting procedures started to counting procedures completed will be temporary and will disappear from future years’ data collections.

Finally noting:

As a result, the 2014 data and comparisons with previous years’ data should be interpreted with some caution.

Speaking of Research congratulate the UK government on continuing to produce the most comprehensive statistics on animal experiments worldwide. It is also important to note that these statistics are released as a press conference each year where representatives from the scientific community speak about the importance of animals in research.

Speaking of Research

Find more on the stats here:

Read last year’s release here:

Guest Post. How to Engage with the Public About Animal Research: Society for Neuroscience Panelists Offer Strategies to Scientists During Annual Meeting

Today’s guest post is from Amanda Dettmer, Ph.D.,  a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Dr. Dettmer is a developmental psychobiologist whose research examines the early life organization of sociocognitive development in nonhuman primates. She received her PhD in Neuroscience & Behavior from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. You can follow her on Twitter.
Dr. Amanda Dettmer

Dr. Amanda Dettmer


During their annual meeting in Chicago, the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) yesterday held a 2-hour lunchtime session dedicated to public outreach concerning animals in research. The panelists were international experts on communicating the importance of animal research to the public, and they offered invaluable advice to the hundreds of scientists in attendance.

While it’s clear that scientists – and the institutions that employ them – must be more proactive in communicating the importance of their research and the animal models they use, the panelists offered several tangible pieces of advice on how to achieve this goal. The strategies offered cater to researchers working with various animal models and, more importantly, with varying degrees of comfort in engaging the public in their research.

The session opened with remarks by the chair of the SFN’s Animals in Research Committee, Dr. Michael Goldberg, who stated, “We’ve been staying under the radar to avoid animals rights activists, and this strategy is not working,” particularly with respect to nonhuman primates in research. Earlier this year, Goldberg and the President of SFN, Dr. Steve Hyman, submitted a letter to Science in response to an article published there, “Embattled Max Planck neuroscientist quits primate research.”

AM15_Logo_CMYK_Horizontal_SavedForWebThe first panelist, Dr. Rolf Zeller, is the founding president of the Basel Declaration Society (BDS) and a founding signatory of the Basel Declaration, by which researchers recognize the necessity of animal research in biomedical research, and endorse the highest standards of ethically responsible animal research. Stating that researchers will “never convince PETA, but we can convince the public,” Zeller stressed the importance of engaging the public and offered the BDS’ most effective strategies for communication in Europe: regular media training sessions for trainees and established scientists, persistent use of social media, and open access publications on scientific communication. Zeller offered his “Golden Rules” for public outreach, which included:

  • 1) Receive good training in science communication,
  • 2) Be proactive and honest about your research,
  • 3) Discuss your animal research with colleagues, especially any who might be skeptical, so that they understand why it is important,
  • 4) Make it clear you care about animals,
  • 5) Explain why animal research is essential for patients, and
  • 6) Join the BSD and sign the Declaration to be part of a proactive community.
Pro-Test Italia

Pro-Test Italia

Dario Padovan, President of Pro-TEST Italia, a non-profit that “aims to promote and disseminate to the public correct knowledge on scientific research,” followed with an emboldening presentation on how the group increased positive public perception of animal research in Italy with regular strategies easily and equally employable in the US: 1) active, daily activity on social media (the group responds to every incorrect/negative Facebook comment on their page, 2) engaging young scientific experts to reach their contemporaries (saying “most users of social media are 18-34 years”), 3) regularly producing YouTube videos that show detailed primate research in a humane and responsible way (which receive tens of thousands of views and >90% net “thumbs up” ratings), 4) fighting fire with fire by creating satirical anti-animal rights propaganda, and 5) getting patients who benefit from animal research involved in public outreach.

Pigtail macaques at the Washington National Primate Research Center

Pigtail macaques at the Washington National Primate Research Center

Dr. Michael Mustari, Director of the Washington National Primate Research Center, then highlighted the outstanding care that nonhuman primates at his, and all of the other six, National Primate Research Centers in the US, receive, as well as the significant contributions primates have made in the advances of such diseases as HIV/AIDS, polio, ebola, and Parkinson’s disease.

Mustari said, “People who argue against nonhuman primate work do not pay attention to reality.” He drove home the need to engage with the public by showing the type of video that the public needs to see regularly to understand the value of primates in research, like this one showing a quadriplegic serving himself a beer for the first time in 13 years, thanks to advances made possible by primate research. Mustari ended by discussing the inspiring global outreach the WaNPRC performs under the directorship of Dr. Randy Kyes, Head of the Division of Global Programs at the WaNPRC.

Jason Goldman

Jason Goldman

Dr. Jason Goldman, an animal-researcher-turned-science-writer, rounded out the session by sharing lessons he’s learned from animals in communicating to a variety of audiences. Using brown-headed cowbirds and betta fish as examples of animals that change their messages based on who’s listening, Goldman said, “Animals have learned what I tell scientists over and over: Different messages are required for different audiences.” Goldman offered tangible pieces of advice for burgeoning (and established) science communicators, including 1) tell personal stories whenever possible and evoke emotion (using Cecil the lion as an example), 2) use simple visuals and avoid complex graphics (even popular infographics can be hard to digest), use to make your own memes to communicate science on social media (this is perhaps the easiest tip to pick up, as I was able to create my own – and first! – meme in about 30 seconds during his presentation), and 4) be relatable and make the public feel smart, not stupid.

The session concluded with a Q &A session from the participants seeking additional advice on best ways to communicate the importance of animal research to the public when you feel like your institution is resistant to the idea, how to deal with the internal struggle of loving animals while conducting research with them, and more. Given that the session went 20 minutes over its scheduled time, it was clear the audience found it an invaluable resource.

Later in the afternoon, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, gave a Special Presentation to SFN attendees in which he discussed recent advances in neuroscience with a particular emphasis on the BRAIN initiative. Though he rarely mentioned animal models in his talk, he did field anonymous questions from the audience afterward, one of which asked 1) what his personal opinion was on the role of animals, especially nonhuman primates, in the BRAIN Initiative, and 2) what concrete steps the NIH Directorship was taking to engage the public in the importance of animal research.

Collins stated that although the NIH worked with the Institute of Medicine to end chimpanzee research in the US, this “should not be seen as a reflection of how we feel about other nonhuman primates in research.”  He concluded by acknowledging the need for primates in some of the more invasive studies for the BRAIN Initiative that cannot be conducted in humans, and by underscoring the need for continued outreach to the public on the importance of animals in advancing biomedical research.

Amanda Dettmer

Amanda M. Dettmer, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Her writing does not reflect the opinions of the NICHD or the NIH.

Society for Neuroscience Today: Session on Animal Research and Public Outreach

Are you among the almost 30,000 neuroscientists are attending the annual Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meeting in Chicag0 this week?  Are you looking for a session aimed at building outreach and education efforts for better public understanding of animal research?  If so, SFN’s Committee on Animal Research has a session today at noon.

ME13  ANIMALS IN RESEARCH PANEL: Proactive Strategies to Increase the Positive Public Perception of Animals in Research.

Tuesday, Oct 20, 2015, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM  N427

Panelists: Jason Goldman, PhD; Michael Mustari, PhD; Dario Padovan, PhD; Rolf Zeller, PhD

Description:  As scientists become increasingly visible and engaged with the public through blogs, citizen science, traditional media, and other outlets, there is also increasing interest in open communication to gain public support for animal research and to underscore its critical contribution to scientific and medical progress. This panel will answer questions like: How can scientists and organizations engage the public and speak effectively about animal research? What strategies and venues (both novel and time-tested) are being employed to engage different audiences and how can interested scientists learn and contribute? What challenges exist in this area and how are different groups addressing them?


Panelists include:

  • Prof. Rolf Zeller is a developmental geneticist that studies the molecular mechanisms governing organogenesis. He is a founding signatory of the Basel Declaration, by which researchers endorse the highest standards of ethically responsible animal research. He is the founding president of the Basel Declaration Society (BDS), an international grass-root organization dedicated to the Basel Declaration and actively promoting education on animal experimentation and the dialog with the general public, politicians and moderate critics.
  • Dario Padovan is the current president of Pro-Test Italia, which is an association that aims to promote and disseminate information about scientific research to the public. He was one of the founders of Pro-Test Italia and was the first chair of its Scientific Committee. He has masters degrees with honors in biological sciences, nutrition and dietetics, and bioethics.
  • Dr. Michael Mustari earned his Ph.D. in neuroanatomy from the University of Washington.  He is currently a Research Professor of Ophthalmology (UW). Dr. Mustari also serves as Director of the Washington National Primate Research Center (NPRC) at UW. He is responsible for providing scientific and administrative leadership to ensure an optimal environment for the care and well-being of nonhuman primates, which often provide the best animal models for studies of complex systems. All 7 NPRCs support the NIH mission of advancing scientific knowledge needed to develop new treatments and cures for diseases.
  • Dr. Jason G. Goldman is a science writer based in Los Angeles. He writes about human and animal behavior, wildlife biology, ecology, and conservation for various publications. He was editor of The Open Laboratory 2010: The Best of Science Writing on the Web, is co-editor of The Complete Guide to Science Blogging, and hosts a podcast called The Wild Life. He received his PhD at the University of Southern California.