Monthly Archives: January 2017

Germany’s animal research in numbers for 2015

The statistics for animal research conducted in Germany in 2015 were submitted to the European Commission last week. We have summarised the data below. We compare that to the 2014 statistics also available on their website.

Tierversuche

Animal research in Germany for 2015 by species [Click to Enlarge]

Germany used 2,799,961 animals in 2015, with an overall decrease (15.5%) in animal use when compared to 2014. Similar to other countries, mice remain the most popular species used in animal research, with an increase in use of 5% compared to 2014. Fish, birds, other rodents and other non-mammals saw sizable percentage decreases in their overall use compared to 2014, albeit compared to the total number of animals used, these relative differences are still small. Fish in particular saw a decrease because of differences in reporting between 2014 and 2015. According to the Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaf (BMEL), in 2014, “708,462 “other fish” (including about 563,600 fish larvae) were reported (21.38 percent). By 2015, however, the share of animals in the “other fish” category was only 2.88% (80,777 animals).”

Tierversuche

Mice, rats and fish account for 91% of all animal procedures, rising to 95% if you include rabbits. Similarly to 2014, Germany remains one of the few European countries where rabbits are the fourth most commonly used species in 2015. Dogs, cats and primates accounted for 0.31% of all animals, despite a doubling in the number of animals used for these species.

Tierversuche

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This year was the second year where there was retrospective assessment and reporting of severity (i.e. reporting how much an animal actually suffered rather than how much it was predicted to suffer prior to the study). The report showed that 43% of procedures were classed as mild, 17% as moderate, 4% as severe, and 36% as non-recovery, where an animal is anaesthetised for surgery, and then not woken up afterwards. Compared to 2014, there were some noticeable shifts in relation to severity. While the number of procedures which caused animals moderate and severe levels of stress and distress decreased, the numbers of procedures that were terminal increased.

Severity of animal experiments in Germany

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Looking at the historical data, we see that like several other countries, the number of animal experiments increased steadily between 2000-2012. The sharp increase in 2014 followed by a decrease in 2015, reflect in part differences in the accounting procedures used between 2014 and 2015. Thus, it is too early to say whether the fall in 2015 is a one-off or a sign of a future drop-off in animal experiments. It is likely that this drop also partly reflects a decrease in funding to science during the recession and economic turmoil of the past few years. Next year’s data may provide some insight into whether and how this trend will continue.

Trends in German animal experiments 2000-15. Click to Enlarge.

Trends in German animal experiments 2000-15. Click to Enlarge.

Other interesting information provided by the annual statistical release includes:

  • 8% of animals used were bred within the EU [Table 3]
  • The main purpose of research was “Basic Research” (58.7%), followed by “Regulatory use and Routine production” (22.5%), “Maintenance of colonies of established genetically altered animals, not used in other procedures”, “Translational and applied Research” (13.6%), and all other uses (5.2 %) [Table 9]
  • Two-thirds of the total dogs, cats and primates were used for Regulatory testing [Table 9]
  • 40% of animals were genetically altered, compared with 60% which were not. Over 98% of the genetically altered animals were mice or zebrafish [Table 20]

For further information about animal research (Tierversuche) in Germany see our background briefing, available in English and German.

Speaking of Research

2015 Statistics: http://www.bmel.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/Tier/Tierschutz/Versuchstierdaten2015.pdf?__blob=publicationFile

2014 Statistics: http://www.bmel.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/Tier/Tierschutz/Versuchstierdaten2014.pdf?__blob=publicationFile

N.B. Some our more eagle-eyed readers may have noted the 2014 statistics referenced in this article do not correspond to those we published a year ago. This is because the German authorities changed the counting methodologies for 2015 and re-released an altered 2014 statistics so that they could be fairly compared to the 2015 data.

More thoughts on animal suffering

My recent article “Not just intelligence: Why humans deserve to be treated better than animals” elicited many thoughtful comments and plenty of debate, both on this blog and in Reddit. In this new post I have compiled some new thoughts that came up during the debate. To view the full discussion, please follow the hyperlinks.

Do animals have the ability to suffer?

I think that, strictly speaking, most animals species do not have the ability to suffer. These will include animals like corals, jellyfish, starfish, worms, clams, snails and insects that comprise millions of species with nervous systems so small that cannot possibly endow them with enough consciousness to suffer. In comparison, the species of chordates that can be said to suffer are a tiny minority. My work is in pain neuroscience, where we make quite nuanced distinctions between suffering, distress, pain and nociception. We know that many species have nociception, but we cannot infer from that that they feel pain, and even less that they suffer. Other show the same physiological signs of distress that we have (elevated levels of cortisol in the blood), but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they suffer. There are animals that clearly do not have nociception, pain, distress or suffering, like sponges. On the other end of the cognitive scale, it is clear that humans do suffer. At what point in the evolutionary tree the ability to suffer appears is not an easy question to answer.

automaton

Philosophers have been speaking of suffering as an absolute, something that exist in itself. In fact, neuroscience points out that suffering cannot exist without consciousness and is not independent of certain cognitive abilities like emotions and memory. An animal can only be said to be suffering inasmuch as it is conscious of this suffering, which links the problem of suffering with the “hard problem” of consciousness. This is because an unconscious animal would be just an automaton, something that responds to stimuli without having a subjective experience of those stimuli. As long as a being is self-conscious, including having extended consciousness, the life of that being has value of its own. So, like it often happens when we look at the living world, there is a gradient of minds between complete automatons and fully conscious human beings. Consciousness, and its attending capacities to suffer and be happy, develops gradually with evolution. So suffering, like consciousness, had to develop gradually during evolution. I doubt that there is a threshold, a hard line, with suffering on one side and not suffering on the other, so we have to wrap our minds around the fact that some animals have more capacity for suffering than others. Therefore, different species should be treated according to their mental capacities, which is, if you want, a hard form of speciesism. But it is what we do all the time, for example, when we kill the fleas that afflict our dog. Clearly, the dog has more moral standing in our eyes than the fleas.

In addition to consciousness, I think that suffering requires the presence of a self because otherwise the existence of the subjective experience of suffering doesn’t make sense. This is a variant of the problem of consciousness: do non-human animals have a self? That’s doubtful. Maybe apes and dolphins do, rats and mice probably don’t. But, again, that is highly speculative. Hence, there has to be a scale of suffering. In that scale, humans are capable of much deeper suffering (and much deeper happiness) because we can see ourselves as selves with an existence extending in time, so we not only suffer in the present, but we can see that we have suffered in the past and that we will suffer in the future. Without episodic memory and extended consciousness, animals do not have selves with that continuity in time.

An endangered fox in the California Channel Islands

An endangered fox in the California Channel Islands

Questioning the ability of animals to suffer doesn’t mean that scientists are looking for a justification to inflict pain on animals. Rather, here scientists face two different moral imperatives. The first is the fundamental dictate of science of looking for the truth unhindered by cultural and societal biases. This leads us to examine the questions of animal pain and suffering in an objective way. The second moral imperative is not to be cruel to animals that can potentially suffer. It is because of this and the cautionary principle that we treat animals like rats and mice as if they can suffer, even when we don’t know for sure that they can. However, we do know with absolute certitude that humans can suffer, which is an additional argument to put human suffering before putative animal suffering. Therefore, it is morally justifiable to use animals in biomedical research to alleviate human suffering, while at the same time taking all possible measures to minimize the distress of animals involved in research.

We need a definition of suffering for many practical matters and not just for animal research. Of course, we should treat animals, and even plants, with respect and not harm less for frivolous reason. But sometimes it is necessary to harm animals. There are many cases in which is necessary to kill animals to protect the environment – the case of pigs and goats in the California Channel Islands comes to mind. In those cases we need to balance two wrongs against each other: the suffering caused to the animals and the destruction of the environment produced by them, possibly including the extinction of some species. Animal research is another example: we need to use animals to find the cure for human diseases. When we look at the ethics involved in those cases, we need to carefully consider whether the animals involved do suffer or not, and how much weight we put on that suffering.

Feral pigs are an invasive species in the California Channel Islands

Feral pigs are an invasive species in the California Channel Islands

Suffering is not the only relevant issue in the animal research debate

Some animal rights proponents argue that mental abilities are a red herring because the only question that is relevant in the animal rights debate is whether animals can suffer. This is not true for two reasons.

First, this is in direct contradiction to what other animal rights proponents say: that animal rights go beyond the right to life and the right not to suffer, and also include the right to be free, the right not to be used for somebody’s else goals, etc. Then the question of whether animals have the mental capacities that enables them to know whether they are free or to care about whether they are being used are completely relevant.

Second, the way we treat a being is also determined by the intrinsic value we give to that being. For example, a species has an intrinsic value, so when a species goes extinct this means a terrible loss, and a deep moral wrong. Humans deserve respect not just because they suffer, but because of their intrinsic value. And that intrinsic value is based on our rich mental lives, our ability not just to suffer but also to be happy, to enjoy beauty, to find meaning in our lives. Therefore, mental capacities beyond the ability to suffer or to think intelligently are fundamental. It’s not just about humans, the same reasoning is used to give a dog more intrinsic value than the fleas that it carries in its fur.

But even if we accept the narrow framing that suffering is the only relevant question, suffering does not exist in isolation of all other mental functions. In particular, there cannot be suffering without consciousness because if there is no subjective awareness of the suffering, then it is not really taking place. Also, suffering, like happiness, acquires a deeper meaning for beings like us that can put it in a context of a life with a past and a future, in the middle of a society and a culture that creates a much richer context for any of our experiences.

Ultimately, the thing that worries me the most about the whole animal rights movement is how it has come to degrade the idea of what it means to be human by denying our rich mental abilities and making us equals to animals. Instead of elevating animals to human status, it degrades humans to animal status. Therefore, the animal rights movement is really a form of misanthropy, a radical anti-Humanism.

by Juan Carlos Marvizon

Special Issue of Primate Journal Focuses Solely on Non-Human Primate Well-Being

This month, the American Journal of Primatology published a freely-available Special Issue entitled, “Non-Human Primate Well-Being.” The entire issue is dedicated to the physical, psychological and physiological well-being of laboratory-housed non-human primates, and is notable for its cross-facilities studies as well as for the diversity of primate species that are represented, including rhesus and pigtailed macaques (Macaca mulatta and Macaca nemestrina, respectively), vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops sp.), and owl monkeys (Aotus sp.)

A female (L) and male (R) pigtailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) housed at the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle, WA. Photo: Dennis Raines.

A female (L) and male (R) pigtailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) housed at the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle, WA. Photo: Dennis Raines.

The Special Issue (synopsis provided in the Introduction) is a compilation of review articles and empirical research articles from non-human primate experts that provide evidence-based information pertaining to social housing for laboratory primates and the utility of techniques to indicate chronic stress and related measures of well-being. With increased regulatory, accreditation, research, and public attention focusing on nonhuman primate well-being, the release of this issue is timely. The issue’s target audience includes those who hold scientific and/or management oversight of captive primate behavioral management programs, though it’s freely-available status provides a unique opportunity for the general public to become familiar with the types of research being conducted to improve the well-being of laboratory primates.

“The well-being of non-human primates in captivity is of joint concern to scientists, veterinarians, colony managers, caretakers, and researchers”

– Baker & Dettmer, Am. J. Primatol., 79:e22520, p. 1

The Special Issue is conceptually comprised of two parts: Pair Housing in Laboratory Primates and Indices of Well-Being in Laboratory Primates. The Pair Housing section begins with two extensive review articles analyzing the scientific literature surrounding social housing introductions and maintenance of social housing in macaques, the most commonly-studied genus of captive non-human primate in the U.S. Included in the first of these articles (Truelove et al., 2017) is a set of recommendations from researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center for many key issues involved in the management of macaques, such as partner selection, introduction, and special populations. The second review article by Hannibal et al. (2017) from the California National Primate Research Center “assists with harmonizing social management and research aims” (Baker & Dettmer, 2017) by highlighting the important fact that changes in the social environment can influence the physiological and physical health of captive non-human primates. Importantly, this article also takes into account how the change in social status may influence research goals.

The remaining articles in the first section present empirical research in which controlled experimental manipulations were conducted to identify the ways in which pair introductions are influenced by species, demography, partner selection techniques, and early interactions. Notable experts in primate behavior provide these important contributions, including John Capitanio et al. (2017) from the California National Primate Research Center, Matthew Jorgenson et al. (2017) from Wake Forest University, Larry Williams et al. (2017) from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Julie Worlein et al. (2017) from the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle.

Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops sp.). Photo: Kathy West.

Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops sp.). Photo: Kathy West.

The second part of the Special Issue on Indices of Well-Being in Laboratory Primates presents, for the first time, research on a long-term index of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity: hair cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress responsivity, and its measurement in hair is an established biomarker of chronic stress. In several empirical research articles in this section, hair cortisol concentrations (HCCs) are related to behavioral indices of well-being including alopecia (hair loss), anxious behavior, and self-injurious behavior (SIB). Importantly, many of the studies in this section rely on collaborations between several primate facilities across the U.S. The first three papers, by recognized experts in non-human primate well-being, describe risk factors and biomarkers for alopecia in rhesus monkeys. Melinda Novak et al. (2017) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst describe how relationships between alopecia and HCCs over an 8-month period are different for monkeys that regained their hair versus those that continued showing hair loss. Notably, these relationships were facility-specific. Related, Rose Kroeker at al. (2017) from the Washington National Primate Research Center describe how prior facility origin influences rates of alopecia in monkeys that are currently housed at the same facility. Of particular note is the fact that prior facility effects were evident 2 years after relocation. Amanda Dettmer et al. (2017) from the National Institutes of Health describe a unique risk factor for alopecia: pregnancy. They relate this particular risk factor to higher HCCs and differential maternal investment in the neonatal period.

The following three articles provide novel information linking HCCs and behavioral indices of well-being across four facilities. Amanda Hamel et al. (2017) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst describe a cross-facility study showing how HCCs relate to responsivity on a well-established, reliable behavioral assay for non-human temperament and behavioral reactivity: the Human Intruder Test (HIT). Kristine Coleman et al. (2017) from the Oregon National Primate Research Center then describe how alopecia and temperament relate in monkeys housed in the same four facilities, importantly relying on a cage-side version of the HIT that minimized potential reactivity that may result from separation from the social partner. Emily Peterson et al. (2017) study the HIT in relation to SIB, providing new information between SIB and anxious temperament.

Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) mother and infant. Photo: Kathy West.

Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) mother and infant. Photo: Kathy West.

The Special Issue closes with a review by Allison Martin et al. (2017) from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center describing the utility of applying a behavioral analytic theoretical framework in studies of non-human primate well-being, with a special focus on the prevention and treatment of abnormal behaviors. This paper is unique in applying human clinical approaches to primatology, which represents a unique reversal of the translation of research methods.

Collectively, this Special Issue represents a comprehensive, evidence-based collection of rigorous research studies and detailed reviews from recognized experts in primate behavior that serves to provide new, timely, and critical information that will ultimately improve the welfare of these valuable research animals. Funding agencies, professionals working with captive non-human primates, and the public alike should familiarize themselves with these studies, as they highlight the dedication of the research community to continually improving the everyday lives of the animals that contribute important advancements to human health and to general scientific knowledge.

Celebrating the life of Oliver Smithies

In 2008 I was honoured to meet Dr Oliver Smithies at the eponymous Smithies -Maeda Laboratories at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. I was invited to speak to him, and members of his laboratory about the importance of outreach on the animal research issue. Despite the prestige of a Nobel Prize (which he won in 2007), he was a down-to-earth, likeable scientist whose passion for genetics had helped him to the ultimate scientific reward. His attitude to his scientific endeavours can best be summed up from his words at a ceremony honouring him at UNC:

“I don’t go to work every day; I go to play every day. And that’s my advice to students here today: find something you love so much that you can say – as I can say – I never did a day’s work in my life.”

Tom Holder meets Nobel Prize Laureate Oliver Smithies

Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, meets Dr Oliver Smithies at the Smithies-Maeda Laboratories in 2008

Born in Yorkshire, England and educated at the University of Oxford, where he gained his undergraduate degree and DPhil, Smithies moved to the Canada in 1954 to start his post-doc research before finally moving to the US in 1960 (read his Nobel biography).

His early notable work, while working at the University of Toronto, was to develop a technique of gel electrophoresis using a potato starch matrix. His method, using Danish potato starch, is still used in medical research and forensics today, to help identify certain proteins (read more here).

Image by The Scientist. Click to Enlarge.

Image by The Scientist. Click to Enlarge.

Dr Oliver Smithies won his Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007, shared with Mario Capecchi and Sir Martin Evans, for “their discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells”. The relevant research by Smithies was conducted at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980s where he developed a method of gene targeting in mice by replacing single mouse genes using homologous recombination – changing specific regions of genome in cultured mouse cells. He continued to use this method at UNC in order to create genetically modified animal models of human diseases and conditions. Gene editing techniques continue to advance and support medical advances.

Sadly, on the 10th January 2017, Oliver Smithies passed away, aged 91. He leaves behind a scientific legacy that will forever influence the field of genetics. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Nobuyo Maeda, Robert H. Wagner Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the School of Medicine.

The following video was created by UNC-Chapel Hill, in Memoriam.

Oliver Smithies, 1925-2017

Tom Holder

Looking Back, Looking Forward – Welcoming in 2017

Major scientific awards in 2016 showed the important role of animal models. The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine celebrated Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi’s work on yeast and mice, which helped him uncover the “mechanisms of autophagy”. A few weeks earlier the Lasker Awards highlighted the work in numerous animal models including frogs, rabbits and primates, in the discovery of how cells sense and respond to changes in oxygen levels, and their work in understanding and treating Hepatitis C. Check back later this year to see what the 2017 Nobels and Laskers show about the need for animal models.

2016 showed a number of animal research breakthroughs (a few of which Speaking of Research even wrote articles about). In February studies showed that the HPV vaccine, developed using rabbits, mice and primates, had helped reduce infections of HPV (which can cause cervical cancer) by over 60%. April produced news about how optogenetics could bring about a number of drug-free treatments. This news was based on studies in mice and fish. In August, research on sheep by Australian and American researchers helped to create a new device for recording electrical signals inside the brain – hopefully reducing the need for invasive surgery in some situations. Work on lambs by Dr Robert Tranquillo, at the University of Minnesota, could help create synthetic blood vessels and heart valves that grow as the patient does. In October, Dr Stuart Baker, at Newcastle University, described his work with humans and primates to drive forward a new technology aimed at helping stroke patients recover (see also what he wrote about the importance of animal research).

Research on primates also came into the spotlight during 2016, causing many scientists to stand together in defence of their use. In February, Speaking of Research wrote a letter to the Australian Senate Committee on Environmental Protection about a proposed bill to ban the import of primates for biomedical research. After the New York Times published an article by animal research critic, Dr John Gluck, 90 scientists signed onto a response about the moral imperative for responsible animal research. Nine scientific organisations produced a white paper highlighting the importance of non-human primates in research. Soon after, hundreds of primate researchers and neuroscientists, including Nobel Prize Laureates and Lasker Award winners signed a letter defending the important role of primates to medical science.

A segment of the letter printed in the Guardian

A segment of the letter printed in the Guardian

 

Moving to great apes, there was a continued dialogue on Speaking of Research about the future of the NIH’s retired research chimpanzees. Here is a selection of posts on the issue:

2016 has seen eighteen countries provide their 2015 annual animal statistics (including the US); we intend to keep these statistics updated throughout 2016. These statistics were just one example of transparency. The University of Leicester showed the power of positive engagement with the media when they invited a journalist and cameraman from the largest newspaper in the UK. The resulting article was a fantastic piece about animal research. Other good examples of openness included a new website by Novo Nordisk and the University of Edinburgh, Biomedical Research Awareness Day, and the “Broader Impacts” programme at the University of Wisconsin-https://speakingofresearch.com/2016/01/28/background-briefing-on-animal-research-in-germany/Madison. Our list of animal research institutions’ animal research position statements reached 287, having passed 200 in February.

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Click to Enlarge

Speaking of Research is keen to debunk the scientific nonsense put out by some animal rights groups. Some of our more popular posts in 2016 included:

Speaking of debunking nonsense, February marked the 10 year anniversary of the Pro-Test movement which challenged the misinformation of animal rights groups in Oxford and defended the building of the new Oxford Biomedical Facility.

Our request for new committee members has brought a large amount of interest, so expect some new and interesting perspectives. The first of these, by new committee member Christine Archer, explains how she became a veterinary technician working with aquatic animals and reptiles. We are still interested in hearing from potential new members, particularly those who work in science communications at research institutions.

We also continued to have guest posts as part of our Speaking of Your Research (SYR) series of posts. If you are a researcher who has a story to tell about your research, please get in touch.

Speaking of Research thank you for your enormous support in 2016 and hope you will continue to support us in 2017.

Speaking of Research