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Hungary publishes 2015 animal research statistics

Hungary has published its annual statistics showing the number of procedures carried out on animals for scientific purposes in 2015. This post has translated much of the statistics into English and aims to interpret the data as a whole. In 2015, Hungary conducted 184,648 animal procedures on animals – all regulated under EU Directive 2010/63. This figure is 8% lower than in 2014.

Procedures on animals in Hungary for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Procedures on animals in Hungary for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Overall, 87.7% of procedures were done on mice, birds and rats. This figure rises to 93.8% when cold-blooded animal reptiles, amphibians and fish are included. Dogs, cats and primates together accounted for less than 0.15% of the total.

Trend over time in animal experiments in Hungary. Click to Enlarge.

Trend over time in animal experiments in Hungary. Click to Enlarge.

Using the trend graph we can see how – bar an anomalous year in 2013 – there has been a steady downward trend in animal procedures in Hungary from over 300,000 in 2007, to less than 200,000 in 2015. Perhaps coincidentally the 2013 high point coincides with the implementation of the EU Directive (and its rules around counting procedures), meaning it is possible that this figure is a statistical error caused by incorrect data from the first year under a new counting regime.

Animal Research by Species in  Hungary Pie Chart 2015

Other things to note in the Hungarian statistics:

  • Only 3.8% of animal procedures were on genetically altered animal – a much lower proportion than, say, the UK, where almost half of procedures were the breeding of a genetically altered animal.
  • 40% of procedures were for regulatory purposes, 34% were for translational or applied research, 21% was for basic research, and the remainder was for other purposes. It is common in smaller European countries for a larger proportion of animal studies to be for regulatory purposes.
  • Hungary also provided retrospective severity data for animal procedures. 71% of procedures were classified as mild, 15% as moderate, 6% as severe, and 8% as non-recovery (where the animal is not woken up after being anaesthetised for surgery).

Speaking of Research seek to be the best source of information on the internet on animal research and testing statistics. Unfortunately language barriers mean that we often find it hard to get statistics from non-English speaking countries. If you speak multiple languages and are able to help us out finding the statistics from other countries we would be very grateful. See more about how to help here.

Find more on the Hungarian stats here: https://www.nebih.gov.hu/data/cms/176/152/Allatkiserleti_jelentes_2015.pdf

Speaking of Research

Research using sheep leads to a new device to record and stimulate the brain

A group of Australian and American researchers have used sheep to develop and test a new device (original paper) – the stentrode – for recording electrical signals from inside the brain. The research was published in Nature Biotechnology. This new technology removes one of the main obstacles to developing efficient brain-computer interfaces: the need for invasive surgery.

The “stentrode” is a group of small (750 µm) recording electrodes attached to an intracranial endovascular stent, which allows implantation of the electrodes inside the brain without invasive surgery. This allows high quality recording or stimulation of specific areas of the brain, without many of the risks associated with invasive brain surgery.

Image courtesy of the University of Melbourne

Image courtesy of the University of Melbourne

A stent is a tube-shaped device whose walls are made from a metallic mesh, designed to navigate inside brain’s system of blood vessels, until a desired position is reached. Once in place the mesh is expanded, securing it against the blood vessel walls. Importantly, stents are designed to be implanted by inserting them through a large blood vessel, like the jugular vein, and gradually “pushing” them into the desired position, by twisting and turning at critical juncture points where veins branch. During this implantation procedure the surgeons observe the stent’s location using a non-invasive imaging technique named cerebral angiography.

Recording the electrical activity of brain cells with high fidelity is the basis of new technologies to restore quality of life to many people with neurological diseases. For example, through brain-computer interfaces that interpret neural signals, people paralysed by damage of the spinal cord have been made able to control external devices, such as wheelchairs, robotic arms, and exoskeletons. Much of this work was initially done in monkeys– getting them to also control wheelchairs and robotic arms. Moreover, brain recording devices can be used to detect the timing and location of seizures with great precision, which helps minimise damage to healthy parts of the brain when treatment involving surgery is necessary.

One obvious problem with the current technologies is that there is a clear trade-off between the quality of recordings obtained, and degree of invasiveness. To explain this, let’s look at two extremes of techniques for recording brain activity – electroencephalogram (EEG) and microelectrode arrays.

EEG, recording from the scalp, is by far the least invasive technology: electrical activity of the brain can be recorded through a cap dotted with electrodes, and no surgery is required. However, because the signals being measured are so weak (due to the distance between brain cells and the recording electrodes), this technique can only detect the combined activity of millions of brain cells, when they work at the same moment (signals from small groups of cells tend to average out, not producing an electrical “spike” large enough to be detected far away). Thus, devices controlled by brain-computer interfaces based on EEG tend to be difficult to control, and have few “degrees of freedom” (how many different actions can be specified by the user). Moreover, it is difficult to determine exactly where the signals of interest are coming from, and electrical activity from regions well inside the brain is much harder to detect.

EGG. Image courtesy of Saint Luke’s Health System

EGG. Image courtesy of Saint Luke’s Health System

At the other end of the continuum are recordings using microelectrode arrays- small devices that are implanted directly in the brain, which contain many small metallic probes each capable of “listening” to the electrical activity of a single neurone, or a small groups of neurones. This technique, developed over many years of studies in rats, cats and monkeys, has been used recently to demonstrate the ability of a tetraplegic patient to control its own muscles again, using a brain-computer interface which included a microelectrode array to record the signals that encoded the participant’s intention to move, coupled to stimulation devices attached to different arm muscles.  Much more refined control can be achieved with this method, as one can potentially record individual signals from thousands of neurones, across many brain areas. The disadvantage, however, is clear: these devices have to be implanted directly in the brain, requiring complex neurosurgical procedures. Moreover, the insertion of the electrode arrays in the brain causes local damage, which triggers inflammatory tissue responses that, over time, can reduce the quality of recordings. Although this damage can be minimised by using larger electrodes that lie on the surface of the brain, instead of penetrating it (electrocorticography, ECoG), the need for invasive surgery remains.

Microelectrode array. CC Image by Richard A Normann. Tbe actual size of this array is 4 x 4 mm

Microelectrode array. CC Image by Richard A Normann. Tbe actual size of this array is 4 x 4 mm

As we can see, the stentrode has the potential to be the best of both worlds – offering the accuracy of microelectrode arrays and the benefits of avoiding non-invasive surgery usually associated with technologies like EEG.

Part of the problem solved by the stentrode developers was to find an adequate animal model, which would yield information valid to the situation of the human brain. Sheep were chosen due to the similar topology of the brain’s venous system, and the similar diameter of the critical blood vessels. The stentrodes were implanted inside a large vein that lines the somatosensory cortex – the part of the brain that encodes sensory information about touch, as well as muscle contraction and position of the body’s joints. Importantly, once implanted, they stayed in place without damaging the brain or blood vessels, and allowed stable neural recordings for over 6 months – while the sheep were freely moving around.

Stock image of sheep in research (in the UK) by Understanding Animal Research.

Stock image of sheep in research (in the UK) by Understanding Animal Research.

Currently envisaged applications of this new technique include “reading” signals for control of artificial limbs and seizure prediction in epilepsy. With some modifications, the same technique can be used for localised electrical stimulation of the brain, which may allow new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Deep Brain Stimulation, a currently used treatment to treat the tremors associated with Parkinson’s, requires invasive brain surgery to implant electrodes – this process could be made easier and safer using stentrodes. Besides being good news for people who may one day benefit from an easier way to have electrodes inserted in the brain for treatment of diseases, this story also illustrates two important points. First is the usefulness of animal models to develop treatments that directly benefit people. The sheep brain is not identical to the human brain, but can be judiciously used to model a critical feature of the latter, in a manner that is directly relevant for testing a device intended for human use. Second, that results take time to translate from basic research in animals to human use. The current generation of brain-computer interfaces would never have been developed were it not for decades of research on seemingly “basic” topics, such as how to best record different types of electrical signals from the brain, how and where the brains of various animals encode information for sensation and movement, and how blood vessels are organised and function. This is however just the beginning, and a lot more needs to be done on the way to useful and safe devices.

Marcello Rosa and Tom Holder

Original Paper: Oxley, Thomas J., 2016, Minimally invasive endovascular stent-electrode array for high-fidelity, chronic recording of cortical neural activity, Nature Biotechnology34, 320-327. Doi:10.1038/nbt.3428

Switzerland’s animal research in numbers for 2015

The statistics for animal research conducted in Switzerland in 2015 were released last week. We have translated these tables to English and these data are summarized below.

CC-BY: SpeakingofResearch.com

Animal Research in 2015 in Switzerland. Click to Enlarge

Number of animals used in research in Switzerland in 2015. We have added a column titled "Total 2014" to aid comparison. Click to Enlarge

Number of animals used in research in Switzerland in 2015 in greater detailClick to Enlarge

Overall, there were 682,333 animals (not including invertebrates except Cephalopoda and lobsters) used in research and animal testing in Switzerland in 2015. Most of these animals were involved in basic research (66.1%), with “discovery, development and quality control” being the next most common (19.2%). The remainder were used for other reasons including disease diagnosis, education and training and protecting the environment. Mice were again the most prevalently used species (60.4%).

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

92.2% of the animals used in research and testing were conducted on mice, rats, fish and birds, similar to other European countries. Monkeys (198), cats (621) and dogs (2,518) together accounted for 0.6% of all research animals, with an overall decrease of 547 animals from 2014 for these species.

Animal Research in Switzerland

Animals used in research in Switzerland in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Pain, suffering and harm, were also measured and classified under four grades of severity; 0, 1, 2 and 3. In 2015, 42.9% of experiments were Grade 0, 34% were Grade 1, 21% were Grade 2 and 2.1% were Grade 3. These are defined as follows:

The following four categories are used for constraints on animals resulting from procedures or measures in the context for animal experiments:

  • Severity grade 0 – no constraint: Procedures and actions performed on animals for experimental purposes that do not inflict pain, suffering or harm on the animals, engender fear or impair their general well-being;
  • Severity grade 1 – mild constraint: Procedures and actions performed on animals for experimental purposes that cause short-term mild pain or harm or a mild impairment of general well-being;
  • Severity grade 2 – moderate constraint: Procedures and actions performed on animals for experimental purposes that cause short-term moderate or medium to long-term mild pain, suffering or harm, short term moderate fear or short to medium-term severe impairment of general well-being;
  • Severity grade 3 – severe constraint: Procedures and actions performed on animals for experimental purposes that cause medium to long-term moderate pain or severe pain, medium to long-term moderate harm or severe harm, long-term severe fear or a severe impairment of general well-being.
Severity Data in Switzerland since 1997. Click to Enlarge

Severity Data in Switzerland since 1997. Click to Enlarge

These numbers are relatively consistent across time, with on average 78% of all animals being exposed to no or minor short-lasting pain and distress.

Trend over time in animal experiments in the Switzerland. Click to Enlarge.

Trend over time in animal experiments in the Switzerland. Click to Enlarge.

Overall there has been a steady downward trend in the number of animals used in research in Switzerland over the last 30 years, despite the observed increase in the number of animals used between 2014 and 2015. According to SwissInfo, Switzerland’s federal veterinary office said in a statement that “the increase in animal experiments was linked to studies involving large herds of animals and to species conservation projects”.

See details of Switzerland’s 2014 statistics

Speaking of Research

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.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

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

Biology, History and Maths: A lesson in debunking PETA’s nonsense

On 21st July the UK government released its stats on how many animals were used in UK research and the race was on. Many British universities raced to tweet the numbers of animals they’d used in 2015 and draw attention to their webpages on the subject. Science organisations raced to explain to the media what they were looking at in terms of real-world research. Animal rights groups raced to get their fantasy narrative into as many newspapers as possible.

Upon hearing of a 0.5% increase from 2013, Michelle Thew of Cruelty Free International said “This lack of progress is completely unacceptable”. This is perhaps unsurprising: in 2012, Thew noted of a 2% rise that “the lack of progress is completely unacceptable”; In 2013 (8% rise), Thew noted “This lack of progress is completely unacceptable”; and in 2015, after stats showed a 6% FALL in the animal statistics, she still noted “This lack of progress is completely unacceptable”. Perhaps it’s time for a new speechwriter?

Cruelty Free International also press released that “A shocking 30% of experiments were assessed by animal researchers and the Home Office as being moderate or severe”. This was a bit of statistical trickery. Having just mentioned that there were “4.14 million experiments* completed during 2015”, the 30% only referred to “experimental procedures” and not “procedures for creation and breeding of genetically altered animals” (see table below). The truth is that of the 4.14 million procedures, only 18.2% were moderate or severe (13.7% vs 4.5%), down from 19.2% in 2014 (14.4% moderate vs 4.8% severe)**.

*CFI’s press release uses ‘experiments’ and ‘procedures’ almost interchangeable. The UK tends to prefer ‘procedures’, which is any intervention, or set of interventions, which have the potential to cause suffering or harm equal or greater than a simple injection.

Severity of animal research in the UK in 2015

Severity of animal research procedures in the UK in 2015

Hyperbole came thick and fast from PETA, whose own press release noted “126,000 animals didn’t regain consciousness after experiments classified as ‘non-recovery’” before going on to mention severe experiments. Non-recovery studies mean animals are put under with anaesthetic and intentionally given an overdose of anaesthesia to ensure they never wake up**. These animals do not suffer from the procedure – they are completely anaesthetised from the beginning of surgery until death.

**For more information about severity categories in the UK, please read “Advisory notes on recording and reporting the actual severity of regulated procedures“. 

A special distinction, though, goes to Julia Baines from PETA, who wrote an article for International Business Times that gleefully twists reality to the point that Mark Twain would probably have considered it a credible piece of satire.

“Four million animals were used in British experiments in 2015 – why aren’t we using alternative methods?”

The title is fairly quickly answered by the fact that in the UK, it is illegal to use an animal if there’s an alternative. The author knows this, but still decides to spend another 651 words not mentioning it.

“Britain is officially one of the worst offenders in Europe for scientific animal testing. According to the annual government statistics released today, cats, dogs, monkeys and other animals were used in a staggering 4.14 million experiments in 2015, a figure comparable only to France and Germany throughout the continent.”

Well on a purely empirical level this is false. British, French and German figures are all considerably lower than those in Norway, which used 4.82 million animals in 2014 (mostly fish). Then there is the rather tricky description of animals used. Rather than mention the mice, rats and fish that account for over 93% of research, they pick three species which  together account for 0.2% of animal studies in the UK.

PETA misinforms public over statistics

“Currently, despite evidence that experiments on animals systematically fail to benefit humans, scientists in Britain …”

This huge statement is taken as fact. No “evidence” is provided. Perhaps she does not wish to bore us with details.

“continue to withhold food and water from animals in order to make them cooperate with experimenters; poison them with ever-increasing doses of toxic chemicals until they die; and attach bolts to their skulls so that they can be “fixed” to a chair.”

There is NOTHING in the article linked to, which suggests food was withheld, or even restricted. The study did restrict water intake for 6 days per week (It was not withheld; animals were always given adequate hydration). We spoke to the study author, who told us:

All animals get as much food and liquid as they want and need, and the animals are not food or water deprived. We maintain controlled access to food or liquid and give specific amounts for behavioural reactions, and we supplement food or water if they don’t get enough during experimental sessions.”

The second claim is even more egregious, as of the list of 19 studies linked to, NOT ONE involves repeatedly increasing the dosages of a compound until an animal dies. Rather, studies are full of phrases like “Animal welfare costs are minimised by the careful selection of dose levels to reduce the likelihood of unexpected toxicity” and other such animal welfare considerations.

The final claim is misleading due to the information left out. The description seems to evoke images of Frankenstein’s monster. The original paper says “The monkeys were trained to sit in restraining chair in front of a computer with the head fixed”. Surgical screws are required to fix their head. The surgery is done under anaesthesia in a sterile environment.

“Worse even than the fact that these tests are ineffective is that for decades, some doctors believe experiments on animals have actually derailed medical progress. For example, according to Steven R. Kaufman and Neal D. Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and co-chairman of the Medical Research Modernization Committee, we delayed our understanding of polio transmission, heart disease, and diabetes because we studied them in other species.”

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have previously been criticised for their activism and claims by the American Medical Association, who passed a resolution in 1990 that condemned PCRM for “implying that physicians who support the use of animals in biomedical research are irresponsible, for misrepresenting the critical role animals play in research and teaching, and for obscuring the overwhelming support for such research which exists among practicing physicians in the United States” [Page 123]. Their claims about the delayed understanding of polio transmission, heart disease and diabetes have been thoroughly debunked by us before:

All of this also seems to ignore that monkeys were key to our understanding of polio and development of an oral vaccine; a number of animal models were essential for the development of treatments for cardiac arrest and ventricular fibrillation; and dogs were indispensable for the discovery and isolation of insulin to treat diabetics.

Indeed the president of the Royal College of Surgeons said in 1993, “I think there is no doubt whatsoever that all forms of cardiac surgery which depend upon the heart-lung machine were developed through experiments on animals. There is no way that the heart-lung machine could have been devised and developed other than through studies on living creatures”.

“And Richard Klausner, the former head of the US National Cancer Institute, has also admitted, “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades – and it simply didn’t work in humans.””

Now we come to the misrepresentation of someone who does have credibility, Dr Richard Klausner, former director of the National Cancer Institute. Speaking of Research has mythbusted before the claim that “We have cured mice of cancer for decades – and it simply didn’t work in humans.”, but it was a throwaway quote lifted from this Los Angeles Times feature. Back in its proper context, it’s a reaction to the pleas made by desperate cancer patients for new cures to be tried, i.e. it means ‘we’re trying!’ Of course, other treatments for cancer based on animal studies did/do work. Why does Dr Baines think we don’t have cancer treatments? Breast cancer drug Herceptin is based on a humanised mouse antibody. How would Dr Baines have acquired this without a mouse?

Dr Baines’ next few paragraphs discuss alternative technologies such as ‘organs on a chip’ and 3D human skin cultures. No doubt these are exciting and important methods which, in their rightful place, can help to improve our understanding of medicine and disease. However, they are just one of a number of tools – including animals – which are used together to build up a picture of biomedical research. To this end I must return to my earlier point that under UK law you must use non-animal methods instead of an animal wherever they can be used. However, sometimes we need a full, living organism – for example neither skin cultures nor organ on a chip  get pregnant – they are of limited use in such research. The Home Office website clearly states “Implementing the 3Rs requires that, in every research proposal, animals are replaced with non-animal alternatives wherever possible”. Alternatively check the original legislation – Section 5 (5).

Implementation of the 3Rs in UK law

“Seventy-nine per cent of the British public wish to see more exploration of these kinds of non-animal methods. The problem is that at the moment, the scientific community and the government lack the political will to end animal tests. It is unconscionable that of the £300 million in UK government funding for biosciences, only about 1 per cent is directed towards replacing animals in experiments.”

It is unclear where Dr Baines got her £300million figure from since just one of the UK’s bioscience funders – The Medical Research Council (MRC) – allocates some £678 million [p.20] each year to research. Other government funders of animal research include the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council  (BBSRC; £334m) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Not all of this funding is for animal studies, for instance the MRC estimates one third of its research programmes involve animal studies. This is likely to be much lower for the EPSRC.

Calculating funding into replacements is similarly hard. The National Centre for the 3Rs, which looks at developing alternatives to animals, had an annual budget of around £10 million (the actual amount changes year to year). The BBSRC estimates they spend £1.5m on 3Rs research. Many other Government-funded projects will involve furthering the 3Rs, but will not be noted as this if it is not the prime objective of the research.

Another problem is in comparing funding for the developing of non-animal methods, with funding for using animal methods. Dr Baines has not attempted to look at the millions of pounds spent using non-animal methods – computers, tissue studies, human studies. Nor has she compared funding into developing replacements with funding for developing new, better, animal models – which will account for only a small proportion of overall animal studies. Apples and pears indeed.

There’s a just a bit of time to fit in some scaremongering before she leaves us.

“But if this nation continues down the same road it always has regarding animal testing, then uncoupling from EU legislation could lead to lowering animal welfare standards and permitting tests on animals that are currently deemed illegal under EU law – betraying both humans and animals.”

This is of course about the UK leaving the EU. What Dr Baines fails to mention is the fact that EU regulations around animal research have never been policed at the European level – they’re transposed into a UK law via Parliament so leaving the EU should not affect them. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that EU law was heavily based on the UK system, which has been in place since 1986.

Chimpanzee in IB articleFinally is the question of pictures. It is unclear if those responsible for the choice of images are Dr Baines or IB Times. The first image is that of a chimp. Now, chimps aren’t used in UK research. No Great Ape has been used for over 30 years in regulated research in the UK, and reading the caption the picture was taken in Germany in 1995. How illustrative of UK research! For good measure we also have some rats but they’re not from the UK either, they’re from China in 2008, a country with less strict animal research laws than exist in the UK. We can see how the images contrast with those taken by The Sun newspaper a few days earlier, showing what a UK lab actually looks like.

Overall, what’s striking about the article is how divorced its narrative has become from reality and I can only wonder at what mental gymnastics are required by the author to convince themselves they’re not purposely trying to misinform.

While we have taken apart PETA’s claims one statement at a time, not everyone has the scientific knowledge to do so. Many are left innocently believing, and even repeating, the claims made by PETA. Dr Baines, on the other hand, should know better. It is disappointing to see any scientist abusing the trust her position affords her by writing articles like this.

Chris and Tom

Speaking of Research

Ireland publishes 2015 animal statistics showing 228,975 procedures

Ireland has recently published its annual statistics showing the number of animals used for research and testing in 2015. Ireland carried out 228,975 procedures on animals in 2015, 1% more than in 2014.

Procedures on animals in Ireland in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Procedures on animals in Ireland in 2015. Click to Enlarge

A procedure is defined as “any use of an animal for scientific or educational purposes, which may cause the animal a level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm, equivalent to, or higher than, that caused by the introduction of a needle in accordance with good veterinary practice.” This definition includes the development and care of any genetically modified animal in which pain or distress may result.

Mice continue to be the most commonly used species at 83%. Together, mice, rats, and fish account for 90% of all animal procedures. No non-human primates, hamsters, or gerbils were used in Ireland in 2015. Dogs and cats accounted for less than 0.33% of all animals used and represent a 27% and 63% decrease in number of procedures for these species, respectively, from 2014. Interestingly, 99% of animals used in Ireland were bred in the European Union (EU).

Animals used in research in ireland iin 2015. Click to Enlarge

Animals used in research in ireland iin 2015. Click to Enlarge

While procedures on pigs, cattle, and other animals rose by 307%, 193%, and 148% respectively, combined, these groups only account for 6.6% of all animal procedures performed in Ireland.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

69% of the total number of animals used was for testing the safety, quality, and potency of medicines – a necessary requirement under EU law for new drugs. The next most common use was for basic research (18%) followed by translational and applied research (10%).

The report showed that 49% of procedures were classified as mild, 22% moderate, 27% severe, and 2% non-recovery. There was a significant reduction in severe procedures in 2015 when compared to 2014. 99% of severe procedures were on mice. Page 17 of the report has definitions for mild, moderate, severe and non-recovery.

HPRA table on Severity of studies in Ireland

Sarah Elkin

Animal Experiments in the UK: Statistics show 4,142,631 procedures in 2015

The UK Home Office has published the 2015 annual statistics showing the number of animal procedures carried out in Great Britain under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986; this covers all vertebrate species (and Cephalopods). In 2015 there were 4.14 million procedures carried out, up 7.1% from 2014 (3.87 million). However, the Home Office have warned that comparisons with 2014 are likely to be problematic as issues with a new counting procedure (introduced in 2014) are only now being ironed out.

[T]hroughout this release, 2015 data are compared with 2013 data, as neither year of data are subject to the same data quality issues as the 2014 data. However, comparisons between 2015 and 2013 should still be exercised with a degree of caution due to the methodological change in 2014.

When compared to 2013, the number of animal procedures rose 0.5% from 4.12 million procedures.

While we often describe these statistics as being for the UK, they do not include Northern Ireland (who carried out 19,857 procedures in 2014), and so are technically the figures for Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).

Procedures on animals in Great Britain for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Procedures on animals in Great Britain for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Overall, 96.8% of animals used in scientific studies were mice, rats, fish or birds. 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), this becomes 2.01% if cats are included. The statistics also reveal that half of all experiments were the breeding of GM animals which were not used in further experiments – this is almost identical to 2014. Overall, over 67% (two thirds) of all experiments involved genetically modified animals.

Different colours represent changes to the counting method in 1987 and 2014.

Trend over time in animal experiments in the UK. Click to Enlarge.

Using the trend graph we can see how 2014 data appears to be a blip (as confirmed by the Home Office), with animal experiments remaining relatively constant around 4.1 million. While this is higher than in the 1990s, it remains much lower than the 5.5+ million animals used in the mid 1960s.

Procedures on non-human primates rose slightly from 3,246 procedures in 2014, to 3,612 in 2015. The number of procedures on cats fell by 1 to 209 procedures and on dogs rose to 4,643 (but down slightly from the more accurate 2013 figures).

Animal pexperiments in research and testing in Great Britain 2015 by species

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 2015. It should be noted that some research may continue on great apes in zoos, however such research can be observation-based only as “procedures” on great apes are illegal under ASPA.

For the second 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 2015. We can see most experiments are sub threshold (34%; less than the introduction of a hypodermic needle) or mild (45%), with remainder as moderate (14%), severe (4.5%) or non-recovery (3%; the animal never awakes from anaesthesia). Overall the proportion of moderate and severe fell from 19.2% in 2014 to 18.2 in 2015.

Severity of animal research in the UK in 2015

Severity of animal research in the UK in 2015

Other things to note in the UK statistics:

  • 49.8% of procedures were for the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals (not used in other experiments), 26.6% were for basic research, 13.4% was for regulatory purposes and 9.7% was translational/applied research [Table 1]
  • Over the experimental procedures, two-thirds of the “severe” procedures were regulatory procedures on mice. This is often because death is an endpoint in such procedures [Table 3.1]
  • Over 97% of the animals were born in the UK [Table 2.1]
  • 47.7% of procedures were conducted in universities and medical schools, 25.1% were in commercial organisations (e.g. pharmaceuticals), 12.4% were done at non-profit making organisations (e.g. medical research charities), and 11.8% were done at other public bodies. [Table 11]

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: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537708/scientific-procedures-living-animals-2015.pdf

Read last year’s release here: https://speakingofresearch.com/2015/10/22/animal-experiments-in-the-uk-government-releases-2014-statistics/