Author Archives: Editor

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:

Read last year’s release here:

FENS discusses why we need to use animals in research

On July 4, 2016, at the 10th meeting of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), a Special Interest event took place focused on the critical need for communicating effectively to the public, to the scientific community, and to institutions about how and why researchers utilize animals in biomedical research. The lunchtime event was well-attended by conference attendees, who actively participated in engaging discussion and provided thoughtful questions throughout the session.

FENS Why do we need to use animals in researchFirst to present was Francois Lachapelle, Chair of the FENS Committee on Animals in Research (CARE), which advises FENS on the responsible use of animals in neuroscience research. Lachapelle described CARE’s activities and goals to the attendees, which include supporting members and partners in emergency situations (such as attacks from animal rights activists), publishing statements on issues regarding critical situations in animal research (including the continued need for primates), and to develop a culture of proactive communication about animal research. CARE accomplishes this last goal through various videos, media statements, and public lectures and events. Lachapelle highlighted CARE’s active involvement in drafting a statement to the European Parliament in response to the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “Stop Vivisection” movement in 2015.

Juan Lerma, Secretary General of FENS and ex-Director of the Instiuto de Neurosciencias CSIC-UMH in Spain, followed with a discussion of “Actions in Spain Supporting Animal Research.” Lerma promoted a message of transparency to improve the public’s awareness of the importance of animals in research, including providing resources in cities’ and countries’ local languages. Lerma discussed various tactics, from Spain’s active campaign against “Stop Vivisection” via the Confederacion de Sociedades Cientificas de Espana’s (COSCE) outreach efforts, to welcoming opportunities to engage with journalists and even children to teach about the value of animals in research.  Activities like Brain Awareness Week, highlighting an organization’s AAALAC accreditation, and organizing tours all go a long way to promoting openness and transparency. “We are proud of conducting animal research,” Lerma said. “Now it is time for transparency.”

An interesting Q & A followed Lerma’s presentation when a member of the audience asked how one can best convey that, while animal research is beneficial, it does not come without risk – in other words, that it sometimes fails? Lerma answered by stating that people with family members that have a particular disease will understand, and that it is important to also share the successes. Ultimately, Lerma acknowledged that it is more difficult to advocate for animal research without a translational component and that scientists and institutions must convince the public that it is useful. Kirk Leech, Executive Director of the European Animal Research Association (EARA), responded that an intellectual and moral argument for basic research for the sake of science itself is necessary. The conversation was also continued on Twitter:

This stimulating debate was a good segue way into the next speaker, Dario Padovan. Padovan is President of Pro-TEST Italia, a non-profit that “aims to promote and disseminate to the public correct knowledge on scientific research.”  His presentation was less about communicating with the public about animal research and more about avoiding and preventing a crisis in the first place. After demonstrating the myriad ways in which scientists can and have been secretly video recorded by animal rights groups, Padovan continued with security tips to scientists such as restricting animal areas, having a no-cell-phone policy, having visitors wear hazmat suits (presumably to cover hidden camera lenses), and to beware creative editing by animal rights groups. Not only was this advice perceived by many to be in stark contrast to Lerma’s preceding presentation about openness in animal research, but also contrasted his presentation at the Society for Neuroscience’s 2015 meeting just 8 months prior when Padovan gave an inspiring presentation on how Pro-TEST Italia increased positive public perception of animal research in Italy. Padovan did end his talk with a few slides that held key guidelines for openness in animal research, which led nicely into the closing presentation, again by Lachapelle, who discussed general rules for talking with the public about animals in research. Of particular importance is the need for scientist to be proactive (rather than defensive) in their communications, to show their passion to the cause of science, and to emphasize the regulations in place that ensure animal welfare and ethical research.

Speaking of Research promotes openness whilst also respecting the importance of a safe working environment. Each institution must develop individualized strategies to accomplish this intersection within their unique environments. A recent successful example was the first national Biomedical Research Awareness Day, which multiple universities participated in this past May.

In all, the event by FENS served to energize scientists – particularly those in the “next generation” (i.e., trainees and young investigators) to be openly passionate and communicative about the important work they do to both save lives and to promote the study of science.

Amanda Dettmer

Animal Research in Israel – 2015 Statistics Released

You may have noticed that Speaking of Research has expanded its list of national animal research statistics to around 30 countries. We would like to thank the RSPCA’s Lab Animal team for supplying us with some of our more recent EU additions. However, our most recent addition is the 2015 statistics for Israel, which showed that the number of animals used in research had declined by 1.6% to 334,767 animals. These numbers can be found on the Israeli Ministry of Health website.

Testing on Animals in Israel for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Testing on Animals in Israel for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

The number of most species declined, except for the use of mice, rabbits and primates. The main fall (49%) was in “Other Animals”, which includes fish, amphibians and reptiles. A 20% fall in the number of rats used, down to under 40,000, also contributed to the overall slight fall in numbers of animals used in research.

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

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

Mice are far and away the most commonly used animal in research in Israel (at 76%). Rats, Mice and Birds accounted for around 95% of animals used in research. The 42 primates used accounted for 0.01% of research animals in 2015. Research on animals, particularly primates, has been under pressure in Israel for the past few years. This led to seven Nobel Prize Laureates and the presidents of seven major research universities writing to the Prime Minister, and warning him of the risks to Israeli research posed by the animal rights community there.

Trends in Israeli animal experiments 2004-15. Click to Enlarge.

Trends in Israeli animal experiments 2004-15. Click to Enlarge.

Historical statistics show that the number of animals used each year has been fairly constant over the past 11 years – fluctuating between around 275,000 and 340,000. The slight variations may account for individual projects which used a lot of animals, or from slight changes in science funding over the years.

According to  YNetNews:

45.2% of the experiments were related to advance health and medicine and to prevent suffering. 44.3% were to promote scientific research. 9% were for testing or manufacturing materials or objects, and 1.5% were for education and teaching

The article also provided information on animal suffering, similar to what is included in standard European statistics.

The research procedures were categorized according to a five-level scale determined by the NCAE, which considers the animals’ suffering. According to this scale, 9% of the studies were at the lowest level, 19% were at the second, 30% at the third, 29% at the fourth, and 13% were at the highest level.

We will be keeping an eye on future statistics.

Speaking of Research

Original Data: 

Experimental Design Assistant: Improving the Scientific Method

Studies involving animals are a crucial component of medical research, and without them our understanding of disease and suffering would be decades behind where we are now. However, scientists must always reflect on their work and ensure that animal studies are carried out with the best design, compassion and rigour possible, so animals are not involved in experiments needlessly.

Just as our understanding of science has improved over the years, so has our understanding of scientific methods. In an effort to increase the quality and effectiveness of animal research, the NC3Rs – a UK organisation devoted to promoting the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research – created the ARRIVE guidelines in 2010. These guidelines provided researchers with a set of rules on how to report animal experiments, ensuring that animals were used effectively and humanely. So far over 600 journals have signed up to the ARRIVE guidelines. Although there are no quantitative analyses of the effectiveness of the ARRIVE guidelines, they have undoubtedly provided an important framework for animal studies that previously didn’t exist, and have made it harder for poor science to go unnoticed.

Following the success of the ARRIVE guidelines, the NC3Rs has continued its efforts to reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in research. Recently, the organisation has released an innovative new piece of software, the Experimental Design Assistant (EDA).

Experimental Design Assistant - EDAThe EDA allows scientists to plan out their experiments thoroughly and visually, mapping out every aspect of the study from the earliest hypothesis to the last statistical analysis. While the user is completing their experimental plan, the EDA will analyse the study and provide feedback. The feedback includes whether the number of animals involved could be reduced, whether experimental groups are correctly distributed, whether statistical analysis is appropriate, and much more. Already the EDA has over 400 registered users. Overall, the EDA will refine animal studies and could potentially reduce the numbers of animals used in research while simultaneously improving the quality of science that results from animal studies.

An example of a typical experiment designed with the help of the EDA

An example of a typical experiment designed with the help of the EDA. Click to Enlarge

Not only does the EDA aim to improve the quality and effectiveness of animal research, it also aims to increase transparency. The EDA could one day allow funding bodies and independent regulators to observe experiments being designed in real-time. Additionally, experimental designs could, perhaps, be made available to the public, alongside the brief descriptions of each research project that are currently in the public domain. This sort of transparency can help to build trust in scientists and animal research.

University of Manchester researcher Briony Labram is a scientist whose work will benefit from the EDA. Here she talks about how this software is important, especially for animal researchers:

I’m investigating how the Aspergillus fumigatus fungus is involved in severe cases of asthma.

My project started using epithelial cell culture, where we exposed these cells to Aspergillus fumigatus spores. This gave us a lot of interesting results but also raised more research questions.  Many of these questions could not be answered using the simple cell culture model. In order to study a chronic condition such as asthma and ask more complex research questions, longer study durations are necessary. Therefore the only way to answer these questions was to use an animal model.

Researchers should be especially diligent when planning studies involving animals, to ensure the maximum gain in terms of meaningful data while using as few animals as possible. The EDA will ensure the numbers of animals used in an experiment is kept to a minimum while still obtaining reliable and reproducible data.

Briony Labram - University of ManchesterBriony is typical of many animal researchers; she is aware of the importance of reducing and refining the use of animals in her studies. By using the EDA, Briony knows her experiments can be improved while minimising the number of animals involved in her study.

The EDA is clearly an important tool for researchers, but is not without limitations. In its current, early stage, the EDA relies heavily on randomisation, paying less attention to counter-balancing (controlling for the order in which treatments are given), and other crucial aspects of thorough experimental design. In a similar vein, the EDA focuses more on reducing the number of animals used, when just as much effort should go into refining the studies in question. Refining the use of animals involved in research will undoubtedly increase the scientific value of such studies, and this should be a focal point of research tools like the EDA.

It is also important for scientists to retain some autonomy in the process of experimental design, and not rely entirely on software to design studies for them. Scientists using the EDA still need to understand their study in sufficient depth for the EDA’s statistical analysis to be effective. Ideally the EDA will be used as a companion to scientific rigour, rather than its replacement.

Research isn’t perfect, and it probably never will be as long as scientists are imperfect. But tools like the EDA will help to ensure that animals involved in research are kept close to a minimum, and that the medical and scientific value we obtain from them will continue to change lives for the better.

Anyone can access the EDA. Follow the simple registration process here to begin designing your experiments.