A New Culture of Openness in Animal Research

Animal research has been credited with improving human health and leading to many medical breakthroughs. However, animal research still remains a controversial topic, with many animal rights groups believing that animal research is wasteful and pointless. One way to improve the public opinion of animal research is through education and openness. Openness can be achieved by showing the public what an animal research facility looks like and what research takes place there, in addition to discussing how that research affects human health.

In order to address the goal of transparency and openness in animal research, 72 organizations involved with bioscience in the United Kingdom (UK) launched the Concordat on Openness in Animal Research. Currently, over 100 UK organizations have signed the Concordat and pledged to “be clear about when, how and why [they] use animals in research”, “enhance [their] communications with the media and the public about [their] research using animals”, “be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals”, and “report on progress annually and share [their] experiences”. The Concordat, and the new environment of openness it seeks to encourage, has led many institutions to become more open to the media.

Last week, The Sun published an article about animal research at the University of Leicester in the UK. The University had opened its animal research facility to a journalist and a photographer who had an opportunity to witness the research first hand as well as talk to the researchers and staff at the facility. The article is a great example of not only openness in animal research but in research in general.

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Andrew Fry, Director of Research in the College said:

“At Leicester we’re very keen to make sure that we are completely open about the animal research that we undertake and that it fully adheres to all national guidelines. Our research on animals is entirely aimed at improving human health and includes important studies on some of the most common and devastating illnesses, from cancer and heart diseases to diabetes and obesity. Many important breakthroughs have been made as a result of our animal research and it’s vital that we explain this clearly to the public.”

The article provides an accurate and unbiased view of animal research. The author describes the research on the animals truthfully and details the care and dedication the researchers have for the animals they work with. Also provided within the article are pictures from inside the lab documenting the living conditions of the research animals involved in the studies. While media visits inside labs are becoming more commonplace in the UK, it is still amazing to see that journalists were allowed to watch and capture images of research procedures – such as the injection of a gel into the brain of a rat, followed by suturing of the incision.

Rat in Surgery

Overall, The Sun piece has been met with optimism from the animal research community.

Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research who supported the University throughout the project, said: “Many congratulations – I know its nail-biting stuff doing visits like this, but pitch-perfect coverage like this shows that it is so worth persevering.”

Openness from researchers in animal research has not always been easy. Efforts to open up have often met resistance from those with memories of the “bad old days”, when acts of animal rights extremism were still the norm. These tactics were used by a small minority of animal rights activists in an attempt to force the end of animal research. Although extremism is not gone, it is at an all-time low in most countries – including the UK. Furthermore, animal rights extremism can be countered by scientists speaking openly about their research and trying to inform public opinion by providing facts about animal research.

Although this article is a step in the right direction for a new culture of openness in animal research, as several of the commenters suggest, there is still more work that can be done to continue to educate the public of the importance of animal research. However, continuing openness by animal researchers, not only in the UK but around the world, can help the public better appreciate the importance of animal research.

Sarah Elkin

One response to “A New Culture of Openness in Animal Research

  1. The problem as I see it is that there are a large number of animal activists who believe that even finding a cure for cancer would be wrong if it means a single rat can’t “live its life as nature intended”. These people are seriously crazy.