Every June, the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada holds a “Doors Open” event, as part of a larger province-wide initiative to open facilities such as museums, hospitals, and historical sites to the community in ways which aren’t part of their everyday operations. The Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Ottawa opened its labs to the public, offering tours and displays describing the work they do, including their animal research. The University’s Animal Care and Veterinary Service (ACVS) and Animal Ethics & Compliance (AEC) office also participated, with family-friendly informational displays and activities.
The director of the University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, Dr. David Park, hosted the event this year, as the Faculty of Medicine felt it would be a great way to highlight the leading edge research done at the University. Dr. Diane Lagace, a researcher in the department, demonstrated the preclinical work she is involved with in her lab, using rats and mice in stroke research. Dr Lagace also studies how adult-generated stem cells play a part in how we can recover from strokes.
Displays featured information about animal use at the university, and research-related activities for children. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn
The animal care displays were run by the ACVS and AEC. Their displays included enriched caging for rats, enrichment devices and treats for the research animals, as well as a demo for children on how to use microchips to identify some species. Volunteers provided the public with informational pamphlets and explanations on the university’s animal care and use program, as well as the regulatory framework that protects animals used in research.
Dr. Holly Orlando, University Veterinarian and Director of ACVS, wanted her department to take part because she felt that it is important to be transparent about the work that we do with animals in science. By doing so, her department could help to clarify misconceptions that the public may have about work with animals, as well as helping to develop engagement with the community. Marie Bédard, the AEC Director, agrees and has been developing materials for the public and explaining the regulatory frameworks for animal use in science.
I also took part, as the Registered Veterinary Technician who manages the zebrafish operations at the University. I brought live zebrafish larvae at various points of development for visitors to observe under microscopes. I also brought examples of what we feed the fish, and how we house them.
Zebrafish larvae on display. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn.
The facility tours were very popular, with guests able to observe the work of the Animal Behaviour Core facility, which utilizes procedures such as a water maze, climbing, treadmill and other exercise tests to study both how brain deficits occur and can be repaired after a stroke, as well as when and what forms of exercise are helpful for stroke recovery. Guests also observed a Parkinson’s Disease model in fruit flies, which helps researchers to better understand the genetics and other causes behind Parkinson’s disease.
Over 250 people registered for the event and went on tours of the facility. Feedback was very positive, and the public had very thoughtful questions about the operations of both the labs and the animal facility. People were overheard stating that they “never would have imagined that this is happening here in Ottawa”, and more than one youngster exclaimed that they wanted to work with us.
The Director of Animal Ethics and Compliance, discusses enriched rat caging. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn
This one day event was a great step forward in openness with regards to animal research at the University. A great team did a fantastic job organizing and running the day, which seemed to go off without a hitch. I am looking forward to attending again next year, with an even bigger display!
In the Spring of 2016, a course was taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison titled “Broader Impacts: Public Outreach, Engagement, and Education about Animal Research”. This course was developed by Audrey Buelo, the 2015/2016 Michael D. Hayre Fellow for Public Outreach awarded by Americans for Medical Progress—with the advice and help of Professor Allyson J. Bennett, a faculty member in the UW-Madison Psychology Department (and SR member). In this course, students learned about animal research and how to conduct outreach with the public. Three different perspectives of the course outcomes are described below–the course organizer, a teaching assistant and the last by a student in the course.
Course organizer perspective: Audrey
The Broader Impacts course was taught for a wide variety of PhD students at UW-Madison (most of whom were working in animal research) and came from fields including neuroscience, veterinary, psychobiology, and biomedical fields.
The class was organized into two phases and provided a solid foundation for both academic and layperson dialogue surrounding animal research. Phase 1 aimed to educate the students on wide variety of fields relating to animal research: philosophy and ethics of animal research, policy, regulation, principles of science, public opinion surrounding animal research, and the wide range of views shared by individuals and organizations. Phase 2 focused primarily on creating an outreach program, including choosing and understanding your audience, using social media to share information and encourage dialogue, and implementing outreach effectively.
Multiple guest-lecturers volunteered their time to speak with the students–including several previous Hayre fellows and Speaking of Research members–each providing expertise in their fields. This included: a director of research ethics in a scientific society, a science communication specialist, an animal welfare scientist, IACUC members, and a professor in social marketing and outreach.
By the end of the course, each of the students created a proposal for an outreach program to the wider public. The proposals included educating middle school students about the scientific method and the importance of animal research; social media campaigns to stimulate discussion about the use of animals in research; and a day-long symposium to inform and engage medical doctors about the role of animal research in medical progress, in addition to many other innovative and interesting outreach proposals. These broad-reaching programs, along with the breadth of knowledge the students gained throughout the semester, have the potential to change the attitudes of many and create a ripple effect of animal research dialogue and openness that reaches far beyond the scope of this course.
The feedback from the students in the Broader Impacts course was overwhelmingly positive, nonetheless this Hayre fellowship has more to come. The materials will be revised based on the feedback received by the students and then will be freely available on the Americans for Medical Progress website in November. Every university that values animal research as an important tool of science is encouraged to use the materials to implement their own Broader Impacts course. Preparing future scientists is key to changing the current dialogue on animal research, and a significant component of the course emphasized students developing their own personal dialogue surrounding animal research, as the most compelling outreach is the one that is personable and honest.
To sign off, I’d like to thank Americans for Medical Progress for their support in creating this project and providing their expertise for each step. Also, I extend my gratitude to each student who took the course and worked hard each week, as well as the seminar leaders, guest lecturers, and course organizer who volunteered their time to ensure it went smoothly. Without all of you, this would not have been possible.
Teaching Assistant Perspective: Marissa
While Audrey designed and oversaw the course from afar, on a weekly basis, a team of three self-motivated, volunteer graduate students ran the actual course in Madison, Wisconsin. All three graduate student seminar leaders had unique, first-hand experience in animal research and felt strongly about the importance scientists and researcher’s contribution to animal research advocacy. I am one of those seminar leaders and a fifth year Ph. D. student in the Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology program. My research focus utilizes the use of a non-human primate model, the marmoset monkey, to study molecular and physiological mechanisms of hormones on female reproductive behavior. Throughout my graduate career, aside from direct involvement in animal research, I have also been involved in outreach efforts at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, WNPRC, which was the major motivator for getting involved with leading the course. I found the experience of leading this course to be very rewarding because I not only got the chance to share with fellow graduate students the passion and excitement that I have regarding the outcomes of animal research and in communicating with the public how important animal research is for society, I was also thoroughly impressed by the ideas my fellow graduate students in the course developed in their outreach proposals by the end of the course.
During the final seminar period, students presented their outreach proposals to the class
The role of ‘seminar leader’ entailed distributing materials, clarifying assignments, introducing speakers, and most importantly (from my perspective) leading discussions on the material and individual projects. The guest speakers throughout the semester provided a lot of expert information for the students and it was astounding to watch each of the student’s individual projects evolve over the semester; incorporating the different concepts and discussion provided through the guest lectures. The variety of different proposals and angles for animal research proposed by the students in the course was also incredible to observe. The students chose very different target audiences and also incorporated an array of techniques for outreach, including clever uses for technology in getting the message across to their target audiences to affect behavior and opinion change of the general public.
The outcome of this course left me with a very positive outlook on the future of animal research outreach. It has also really highlighted how essential it is that academics and scientists get exposed to different techniques and concepts that make outreach programs successful. One of the key takeaway messages I as a seminar leader can take away from this experience is that, with the right knowledge and tools for outreach design and execution, all researchers and scientists can contribute to outreach efforts in order to sustain animal research in science, and also to gain public support and understanding for our research.
Student perspective: Caleigh
As a student in the Broader Impacts seminar, I was exposed to many different resources for animal research advocacy. I learned a lot about the history of animal research, the differences between protection for research animals and other animals, and also how activists or those in industry may perceive animal research. Expanding my knowledge on animal research advocacy gave me tools to better communicate with both my peers and the public.
In addition to the course materials, it was really inspiring to talk with students from all over campus about animal research advocacy. Having a structured place to talk with my peers about animal research was really rewarding. I felt like there was a lot of support on campus—from medical and veterinary students to PhD researchers. One of the coolest parts of the class was creating an outreach project that would bring correct information about animal research to the public. The outreach project discussions really brought out the passion and creativity in a lot of students, and sparked many great conversations. I would recommend this course to anyone that does animal research or is interested in learning more about it.
Students and seminar leaders of Broader Impacts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Over in the UK, a group of 21 academics (primarily anthropologists) including Sir David Attenborough (notable broadcaster and naturalist) wrote to the online-only Independent newspaper to call for an end to certain neuroscience experiments involving primates. This provoked a backlash from the research community, who accused him of being “seduced by pseudoscience“. They may have had a point – Attenborough’s letter, organised by Cruelty Free International, backed itself up with a recent paper “Non-human primates in neuroscience research: The case against its scientific necessity” (authored by two staff at Cruelty Free International). The UK Expert Group for Non-Human Primate Neuroscience Research told The Independent:
“We are disappointed to see that David Attenborough and a number of scientists have been misled by the pseudoscience in the paper by CFI, an organisation intent on ending research with all animals, not just primates. “
Furthermore, around 400 researchers also signed on to the letter:
Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of fifty medical advances from the last fifty years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.
The biological similarities between humans and other primates means that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than ten million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over two hundred thousand Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980-90s.
Given that primates are intelligent and sensitive animals, such research requires a higher level of ethical justification. The scientific community continues to work together to minimise the suffering of primates wherever possible. We welcome the worldwide effort to Replace, Refine and Reduce the use of primates in research.
We, the undersigned, believe that if we are to effectively combat the scourge of neurodegenerative and other crippling diseases, we will require the careful and considered use of nonhuman primates. Stringent regulations across the developed world exist to ensure that primates are only used where there is no other available model – be that the use of a mouse or a non-animal alternative and to protect the wellbeing of those animals still required. The use of primates is not undertaken lightly, however, while not all primate research results in a new treatment, it nonetheless plays a role in developing both the basic and applied knowledge that is crucial for medical advances.
A segment of the letter printed in the Guardian
Get involved – show your support!
While, the letter itself is published. Understanding Animal Research are continuing the accept signatories from neuroscientists and primate researchers (signatories must be from academia and must hold a PhD, MD or equivalent). These are being updated on a regular basis on their website.
Already they are up to over 550 signatories – just one week after they started collecting (considerably more than the 21 signatories that Cruelty Free International managed in their letter, and with a lot more expertise in the area of Neuroscience).
The media regularly report impressive medical advances. However, in most cases, there is a reluctance by scientists, the universities, or research institutions they work for, and the media to mention animals used in that research, let alone non-human primates. Such omission misleads the public and works against long-term sustainability of a very important means of advancing knowledge about health and disease.
Consider the recent report by Ali Rezai and colleagues, in the journal Nature, of a patient with quadriplegia who was able to use his hands by just thinking about the action. The signals in the brain recorded by implanted electrodes were analysed and fed into the muscles of the arm to activate the hand directly.
When journalists report on such bionic devices, rarely is there mention of the decades of research using macaques that eventually made these early brain-machine interfaces a reality for human patients. The public is shielded from this fact, thereby lending false credence to claims by animal rights groups that medical breakthroughs come from human trials with animal experiments playing no part.
Development of such brain-machine interfaces requires detailed understanding of how the primate brain processes information and many experiments on macaques using different interfaces and computing algorithms. Human ethics committees will not let you try this on a patient until such animal research is done.
Image: Understanding Animal Research
These devices are still not perfect and our understanding of brain function at a neuronal level needs more sophistication. In some cases, the macaque neural circuitry one discovers may not quite match the human’s, but usually it is as close as we can get to the human scenario, needing further fine-tuning in direct human trials. However, to eliminate all animal research and try everything out on humans without much inkling of their effects is dangerous and therefore highly unethical.
The technique Dr Rezai’s team used on human patients draws heavily upon work done on monkeys by many groups. This can be seen by looking at the paper and the references it cites.
The number of monkeys used for such long-term neuroscience experiments is relatively small, with just two used in the study above. Many more are used for understanding disease processes and developing treatment methods or vaccines in the case of infectious diseases such as malaria, Ebola, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and Zika.
However, if one looks at what is at stake without these experiments on non-human primates, one must acknowledge a stark reality. In many cases, the situation is similar to that which once existed with polio. Nearly 100,000 monkeys were used in the 1950s to develop the polio vaccine. Before that, millions of people worldwide, mostly children, were infected with polio every year. Around 10% died and many were left crippled.
Now, thanks to the vaccine, polio is almost eradicated.
Similarly, about 200 million people contract malaria every year, of whom 600,000 (75% being children) die, despite all efforts to control the mosquitoes that transmit the disease. Development of a vaccine is our best chance, but again primates are necessary for this, as other species are not similarly susceptible to the parasitic infection.
Circumstances are similar with other devastating ailments such as Ebola, HIV and Zika. The ethical choice is often between using a few hundred monkeys or condemning thousands or more humans to suffer or die from each one of these diseases year after year.
In the popular press and in protests against primate research, there is sometimes no distinction made between great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas) and monkeys such as macaques, leading to misplaced emotional reactions. To my knowledge, invasive experiments on great apes are not done anywhere, because of the recognition of their cognitive proximity to humans.
With urgent medical issues of today such as HIV, Ebola, malaria, Zika, diabetes and neurological conditions such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, monkeys are adequate to study the basic physiology and pathology and to develop treatment methods. There is nothing extra to be gained from studying apes.
Alternatives have limitations
Opponents of animal research often cite the impressive developments of computer modelling, in-vitro techniques and non-invasive experiments in humans as alternatives to animal experiments. These have indeed given us great insights and are frequently used also by the very same scientists who use animals.
However, there are still critical areas where animal experimentation will be required for a long time to come.
Modelling can be done only on data already obtained and therefore can only build upon the hypotheses such data supported. The modelling also needs validation by going back to the lab to know whether the model’s predictions are correct.
Real science cannot work in a virtual world. It is the synergy between computation and real experiments that advances computational research.
In-vitro studies on isolated cells from a cell line cultured in the lab or directly taken from an animal are useful alternatives. This approach is widely used in medical research. However, these cells are not the same as the complex system provided by the whole animal. Unless one delves into the physiology and pathology of various body functions and tries to understand how they relate to each other and to the environment, any insights gained from studying single cells in in-vitro systems will be limited.
Though many studies can be done non-invasively on humans and we have indeed gained much knowledge on various questions, invasive experiments on animals are necessary. In many human experiments we can study the input to the system and the output, but we are fairly limited in understanding what goes on in between. For example, interactions between diet, the microbiome, the digestive system and disease are so complex that important relationships that have to be understood to advance therapy can only be worked out in animal models.
Of course, animals are not perfect models for the human body. They can never be. Species evolve and change.
However, many parts of our bodies have remained the same over millions of years of evolution. In fact, much of our basic knowledge about how impulses are transmitted along a nerve fibre has come from studying the squid, but our understanding also gets gradually modified by more recent experiments in mammals.
Higher cognitive functions and the complex operations of the motor system have to be studied in mammals. For a small number of these studies, nothing less than a non-human primate is adequate.
The choice of species for every experiment is usually carefully considered by investigators, funding bodies and ethics committees, from both ethical and scientific viewpoints. That is why the use of non-human primates is usually a small percentage of all animals used for research. In the state of Victoria, this constitutes only 0.02%.
Medical history can vouch for the fact that the benefits from undertaking animal experiments are worth the effort in the long run and that such experimentation is sometimes the only ethical choice. Taken overall, the principle of least harm should and does prevail. There may come a day when non-invasive experiments in humans may be able to tell us almost everything that animal experiments do today, but that is probably still a long way off.
Priorities in animal use
The ethical pressure put on research seems to be in stark contrast to that on the food industry. It is hypocritical for a society to contemplate seriously restricting the use of the relatively small number of animals for research that could save lives when far more animals are allowed to be slaughtered just to satisfy the palate. This is despite meat being a health and environmental concern.
The ratio becomes even more dramatic when you consider the use of non-human primates alone. In Victoria, for every monkey used in research, more than one million animals are used for meat production. However, the monitoring of the welfare of farm animals is not in any way comparable to that which experimental animals receive.
Reduced use of livestock can greatly reduce mankind’s ecological footprint and also improve our health. This is an ethical, health and environmental imperative. Animal experiments, including some on non-human primates, are also an ethical and medical imperative.
We will be clear about when, how and why we use animals in research
We will enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals
We will be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals
We will report on progress annually and share our experiences
One of the clearest demands is a subsection of Commitment 2, which states (in one very long sentence):
Within one year of signing up to the Concordat we will make a policy statement about the use of animals in research avaiable via our website, to provide clear information about the nature of our own involvement with animal research and its role in the wider context of our research aims, and, and link this to a central portal, publicly available on the Understanding Animal Research (UAR) website, or provide this information to UAR for inclusion in the portal.”
Speaking of Research has the most comprehensive list of these policy statements, including institutions from ten different countries. For some countries we have only a few statements, often because language barriers have prevented us finding them – and for other countries we have many – particularly the US and UK. We have also rated these statements according to the amount of information they provide (see grading details). Nearly every UK Concodat signature has got a statement (some pharmaceuticals with research bases in the UK are classed as “International” in our lists).
Below we should a table of the ratings in different countries. In some countries like Australia and Ireland there are only a few institutions which have statements, which are generally low rated. This is likely because there is no expectation among institutions to have such statements. On the other hand the US and UK have nearly 100 institutional statements each. The UK is particularly impressive given that the 96 institutions represent (plus more in the International column) represents most of the biomedical research institutions conducting animal research in the country.
If we compare the grading of websites in the UK compared with everywhere we find the UK provides more information on average.
We can see that the UK has a higher proportion of statements ranked with 2 or more ticks. Two ticks would tend to mean a high level of website information available about an institution’s animal research.
In our eyes the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK has had two main victories. Firstly, it has encouraged nearly every animal research institution in the UK to openly explain on their websites that they do animal research – this is true of no other country. Secondly, it has helped drive better information to be provided on these websites, with increasing numbers of universities putting up case studies, images, videos and statistics.
We congratulate the Concordat on Openness on Animals Research in the UK for supporting transparent discussion on this issue, and we wish it all the best as it enters its third year.
Speaking of Research
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The Ethics Centre, an independent not-for-profit organisation in Australia, held its second IQ2 debate on the motion: “Animal rights should trump human interests“. Supporting the motion was shark attack survivor, Paul de Gelder, animal lawyer, Ruth Hatten, and philanthropist Philip Wollen. Opposing the motion was ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, Commissioner at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and primate researcher Professor James Bourne. See more about the speakers.
A vote was taken before and after, with a huge swing of over 30% of the audience switching over to “against” the motion, in part due to the wonderful speech by Prof Bourne.
Below we produce a transcript (with permission) of his speech, which contributed to the massive swing in audience opinion.
Thank you, good evening.
Like many of you I am appalled at our age of factory farming, our wilful blindness to exploitation, our rampant self-interest as a species and the seemingly inevitable destruction of every sphere of our environment.
But like all scientists I am also an optimist. I hold true that medical research using animal models, and let me be clear – experimenting on animals themselves – is necessary in many areas of medical research if humanity wishes to improve life – life for both humans and animals.
There are two points I am grateful to convey tonight:
The use of some animals in medical research remains necessary. Remembering for every monkey in research over 4 million are used in the food and dairy industry.
Medical research on animals should only occur within a regulated ethical framework directed at the welfare of the animal.
I find myself here tonight after a relatively sudden and unexpected journey that began recently when the scientific community in Australia heard of a Green’s private member’s Bill in the Senate seeking to ban the importation of non-human primates for research purposes.
As a scientist whose work utilises monkeys I knew that a ban on importation would lead very quickly to a level of in-breeding in Australian facilities that would render valuable research impossible and force it into countries known for their unregulated practices.
I was motivated to enter this political debate because despite the woes and wrongs of our contemporary age, reason is still the best chance humanity has to right those wrongs and improve our world.
Reason always comes off second-best in the face of fear and suspicion. Fear and suspicion characterises much of the debate about animals in research and is cloaked in deliberate and wilful misinformation.
Images of horrific animal experiments undertaken in the 50’s regularly feature today in animal rights literature, even though these experiments have been outlawed for many years.
The Bill, defeated as it was, recycled many myths about animal experimentation… dangerous myths that computers and petri dishes can replace animals, that experiments inflict unnecessary cruelty and suffering, that baby monkeys are every day being ripped out the arms of their dead mothers in the jungle by poachers and then traded through unregulated corrupt profiteering to end up being tortured by mad scientists addicted to outdated scientific models.
The fact that a proposal of this kind can even be seriously considered today is evidence that the scientific community has not only been cowed into burying its collective head, but as a body-politic we are only a few steps away from reverting to a darker age where the quality of life – for both humans and animals – will be considerably lessened.
Indeed, while humanity is making ever more incredible scientific advances, regular polling shows a growing and alarming public disagreement about basic scientific facts, including human evolution, the safety of vaccines and whether human-caused climate change is real.
But let me indulge here in some very recent examples of why I believe non-human primate research is important.
Recently researchers infected monkeys with the Zika virus because it is the closest scientist can get to understanding in real time what is happening when humans are infected with this virus.
In 2015, the world witnessed the worst epidemic of the Ebola virus to date. Monkeys were treated with an antibody isolated from a human Ebola survivor and developed almost complete protection against a lethal dose of Ebola.
And yet opponents of animal research argue that knowledge gained from monkey research is inapplicable to humans. This claim is utterly and dangerously false. Anyone that argues that insights gained from animals are meaningless, is either poorly informed or knowingly untruthful.
The political reality, however, is that the imagery and language peddled by animal research opponents is utterly confronting.
The facts, if you care to accept them, are:
First, non-human primates used for research in Australia are sourced from regulated breeding facilities overseas. They are not taken from the jungle.
An example of an overseas primate breeding facility.
Second, All animal research in Australia is conducted under the strictest scrutiny and follows the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement known as the 3Rs. Under these principles, animal-based research is only approved by a qualified animal ethics committee, which includes members of the lay public, welfare organisations and veterinarians.
Third, Non-human primates are used only in exceptional circumstances – when no other model is possible – as a last resort – when finding an answer simply cannot be provided by another animal model, cell-based system, computer modelling or human experimentation.
While we make incredible advances every day in computer technology, there is currently, and unfortunately, no alternative approach that can replicate the vast complexity of human disorder and disease. Researchers are, however, continuously looking for non-animal based alternatives and this has already led to a significant reduction in the number of non-human primates used in research in Australia.
Furthermore, every researcher understands the great duty of care they must apply. Minimising the risk of pain and distress is of utmost importance when designing a study.
However, researchers remain hesitant to speak out as history tells us that this can have significant repercussions on the individual and the research program. I fear with recent activist developments in Europe, global scientific advances in health have been retarded.
You might find my work abhorrent, but it is framed in the highest possible duty of care to the animal and it seeks to address critical challenges in global health. If we proceed down a path to banning animal research – it is not only the science that will suffer but also, more importantly, the patients who would have benefitted from the outcomes.
I believe in a utilitarian sense, much like our speakers tonight, that in suffering the animals are our equals.
So I cannot, and never will, defend factory farming, zoos and circuses or horse and dog racing, but ask you to please consider that in the face of this determined movement to stop all animal experimentation to remind ourselves that animal based medical research is driven, in Australia, by compassion and that the motivation to understand and improve our world – for all life – should always triumph over suspicion and fear.
 Eminent Australian moral philosopher, Peter Singer (Animal Liberation, 1975), paraphrasing utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1802)
Today’s guest post is from Patrick Smith, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, UK. He discusses an upcoming animal rights demonstration in his city, which is taking place as part of World Day for Animals in Laboratories (Part of World Week for Animals in Labs).
This Saturday (23rd April), Manchester Animal Action are hosting the World Day for Animals in Laboratories. Over 200 activists plan to march from Piccadilly Gardens to the University of Manchester campus, where they will lay white flowers at University buildings to protest what they see as the inhumane treatment of animals.
Ironically, this protest has prompted a lockdown of the University buildings, meaning many students and researchers may be unable to check on their animals over the weekend. I know that some students may feel intimidated by the protest and won’t feel safe going in to University on Saturday. Hopefully others will refuse to be cowed by the threat of such activism.
An advertisement for Saturday’s march. Note the image of a chimpanzee – a species banned from use in research in the UK since 1986
After speaking with some of the protestors on social media prior to the demonstration, I’ve become aware of how much misinformation is spread amongst AR activists, especially regarding the University of Manchester. I wanted to make clear how much the University is doing to ensure the humane treatment of animals and reduce the use of animals in research.
The UK has some of the strictest regulations surrounding animal research in the world. Performing research on animals has to pass ethical review, a multi-stage process that requires researchers to prove that the research is necessary, minimises the suffering of animals and is scientifically sound.
The University of Manchester adheres to strict national guidelines, as its animal research policy makes clear. Like many UK research establishments, the University of Manchester is extensively involved with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), an organisation that aims to ensure all animal research is a last resort, and is carried out with care and scientific rigour. As part of the University’s relationship with NC3Rs, all researchers must also adhere to the ARRIVE guidelines, which aim to ensure the accurate and responsible reporting of animal research findings.
All animal researchers at the University are fully trained on a rigorous Home Office course, and the University employs full time animal technicians and a veterinary surgeon to ensure that animal welfare is a top priority. Animals are housed in social groups and in stimulating environments, and constantly monitored for health and wellbeing. The University states that it “permits the use of animals in scientific procedures only where there is no reasonable alternative available”.
Within the research units themselves, all these guidelines are followed strictly; anaesthetic and pain killers are administered according to ASPA (Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act) guidelines; “All procedures must be carried out under general or local anaesthesia unless administering the anaesthetic would cause more suffering for the animal than the procedure itself or would be incompatible with the purposes of the procedures”. The only times anaesthetic is not given to animals is where the procedure is very mild (i.e. taking blood samples), or where an experiment won’t work with anaesthetised animals (i.e. running a maze). The vast majority of potentially painful procedures are carried out with extensive pain relief.
Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research
Animal rights activists are still upset with the University’s research. I encountered some who were offended by the idea of even minimal animal suffering, saying that “any suffering is too much”. This is actually a reasonable statement; if you believe that any suffering (animal or human) is terrible, then it makes sense to perform animal research where there are no alternatives available. The medical advances made due to animal research are undeniable, and unfortunately some animals have to suffer minimally for us to reduce worldwide suffering.
I have been accused by AR activists of being speciesist; putting human rights above animal rights. But to employ a utilitarian philosophy, where we want to reduce the amount of future suffering in the world, it is immoral to not undertake animal research. Allowing victims of disease to face immeasurable future suffering, when an animal model could potentially save them, seems cruel. Don’t patients deserve to feel hope from knowing researchers are using all scientific methods available?
The AR position is easy to understand; they think animals are suffering needlessly. But in the UK, and at the University of Manchester, animals are only used in research when there are no alternatives available, and where significant medical progress can be made. Animals are treated better than most animals in the world, especially those in the meat industry.
I understand that seeing animals suffer is heartbreaking. But it’s something that has to be done to fight cruel diseases and save lives. I know that many animal researchers and technicians are animal lovers and deeply care about suffering. They want to see an end to suffering wherever possible; and that is something that can be achieved with responsible, humane animal research.
PhD student at the University of Manchester