Category Archives: Outreach News

How to Engage Institutions to Publicly Support Animal Research. The Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting

During their 2016 annual meeting in San Diego, Society for Neuroscience (SfN) held a two-hour session dedicated to public outreach concerning animals in research. The panelists offered different perspectives on communication about essential animal research for the public.  The session opened with remarks by the chair of the SFN’s Animals in Research Committee, Dr. Mar Sanchez, who stated the importance of the role of scientists in raising awareness about animal research.  Sanchez encouraged the audience to immediately take action by signing up to advocate for biomedical research by reaching out to their elected officials.

The first panelist, Kirk Leech, is the Executive Director for the European Animal Research Association. Leech overviewed the current state of opinion about animal research and shared how the UK and other European countries are helping to be more transparent.

He pointed out that although physical attacks by activists have decreased, their tactics have become more complex and influential.  He said that “it is essential to engage with the public, media and policymakers about animal research.” Aim of the panel was to explain how for example in Spain, Belgium and the UK we have sought to use Institutional Openness, – private and public research agreeing to certain principles about how they will seek to improve public understanding of animal research. If the voices of the research community are not heard, the conversation about animal research will continue to be driven by anti-animal research rhetoric.

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Dr. David Jentsch, professor of psychology at Binghamton University, began by insisting that today’s activists remain extreme and sometimes abusive, even though they are legal.  He noted that although they are not bombing cars and breaking into labs, they still are making a very real impact on the scientists they target through campaigns that involve personal targeting and harassment. After overviewing the players in current activist campaigns, and their tactics, he pointed out the results of their activities. These included researchers ending controversial projects, graduate students pursuing alternative pathways, funding not being applied for or lost, and the endless waste of resources being spent on having to respond to frivolous activist campaigns. Jentsch shared his perspective through the lens of a researcher about engaging with the public about work with animals in research and working with your institutions, scientific societies and advocacy groups to implement a proactive campaign.

He says that, “Researchers can, and should, be proactive and plan for public engagement about their work.”  He recommends that the scientific community proactively navigate this reality by planning, finding their own voices, controlling the message, and demanding specific forms of institutional support. He points to examples like Edythe London’s personal and emotional defense of her own research in a LA Times OpEd as an excellent example of transparent and effective advocacy. Additional advice includes preparing in advance for negative criticisms, participating in public communications through blogs, letters, and websites, and forming a group of like-minded individuals at your institution to encourage public statements and protection for researchers. He closed by sharing a solemn voice of support thanking the research community for its research and advocacy.

john-morrison-slides-sfnThe next panelist, Dr. John Morrison,  Director of the California National Primate Research Center, highlighted the outstanding care that nonhuman primates at the seven National Primate Research Centers (NPRC) in the US receive, as well as the significant contributions non-human primates have made in the advances of such diseases as HIV/AIDS, polio, Ebola, and Parkinson’s disease.  Morrison stressed that, “hiding doesn’t work.”  He encouraged the development of strong proactive messages that emphasize the connection to human health and to get this message out as often possible. Some venues for message distribution include giving tours and presentations, using the website and social media, developing press releases, and engaging with all partners. He says, “engage your press office and publicize science as often as possible.”  Morrison shared a cohesive message being shared by the seven NPRCs which includes, “The National Primate Research Centers are a national network of dedicated teams fighting diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika and improving human health and lives worldwide.” This cohesiveness gives strength to their communications about essential research with non-human primates.

Morrison then shared tips on engaging with several stakeholders:  the home institution, NIH and the scientific community, the public, policymakers, and employees. Tips included:

1) Home Institution:

  • Engage the highest level of leadership in a social setting to present scientific discoveries and their importance to human health and the financial impact of research for the institution.
  • Engage your Press Office and publicize science as often as possible
  • Establish a crisis and issues management protocol
  • Fully integrate into the academics of the home institution
  • Provide tours to campus scientists, administrators, potential collaborators
  • Participate in outreach and development efforts
  • Develop a unified message around science and health

2)  NIH and the scientific community:

  • Maintain open and strong communication with NIH Program Officers and other officials
  • Provide expertise and participate in NIH Workshops
  • Educate the scientific community on animal research
  • Sponsor conferences
  • Work with Professional Societies and their programs on animal research
  • Provide access to expertise for scientific colleagues

3) The public:

  • Open your doors by giving tours
  • Distribute material for lay audience through website, social media, and local media
  • Go into the community and provide presentations

4) Policymakers:

  • Provide invitations for tours to federal and state government officials, academic leaders, leaders of Pharma and Biotech
  • Visit Capitol Hill
  • Engage with NIH and other federal agencies
  • Provide material on animal research

5) Employees:

  • Implement an internal communications program about animal research at your institution
  • Communicate your vision, purpose, core values, key messages to connect the work with animals with the overall institutional goals
  • Create an advocacy program so employees can be advocates for animal research

Morrison emphasized, “In all of these interactions, emphasize the power of animal research to impact human health.”  His talk ended by showing a powerful video of a man with Parkinson’s disease and the medical advancement that gives him the ability to function normally.  Without the deep brain stimulation developed through the nonhuman primate model, this man could not even hold a pencil.

carrie-wolinetz-sfn-slidesThe final panelist, Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy and Director of the Office of Science Policy, National Institutes of Health, began her talk with an overview of NIH and related agencies. She also explained NIH’s relationship with Congress and the fact that since they are a public agency, paid for by all taxpayers, they represent the view of the entire public, including those that may oppose animal research.  This representation of all members of the public is what results in things like the September 7th workshop to review its ethical policies and processes for the nonhuman primate research model. She assured the audience that Dr. Francis Collins supports their work with animals.

The NIH has a public statement on their website in support of animal research and will continue to support the scientific community, as well as their public stakeholders.  NIH also offers support for researchers on their website.  Wolinetz ended her talk by encouraging scientists to engage with the public and tie their work with the human condition.  The session concluded with a Q &A session from the participants.  These included:

“How do I make the case for basic research?”

“What support is there for ordinary scientists in communicating about animal research?”

“Are K-12 teachers being engaged?”

Discussions about hosting another panel next year are underway. Ideas for topics to include can be emailed to the Chair of SfN’s Animal Research Committee, Mar Sanchez, mmsanch@emory.edu.

Do you have a passion for explaining science? We need you!

Speaking of Research is a group of like-minded researchers and science communicators. We have flourished over the last 8.5 years thanks to the hard work of a committee that has come together to help each other, as well as fellow researchers and institutions. Despite having a budget of about $200/year, we have come together to build one of the biggest resources about animal research on the internet. We believe that openness about animal research is the best way to win over public and policymakers. But, we need your help to achieve this.

The SR committee is an ever-changing group of around 20 people who are motivated to make a change in the way we talk about animal research. The committee is made up of people from across North America and Europe, but we would also welcome people from further afield to help us understand the animal research environment in other countries.

Committee members often write articles debunking misinformation propagated by animal rights groups [Image by Randall Munroe or XKCD]

Committee members often write articles debunking misinformation propagated by animal rights groups [Image by Randall Munroe or XKCD]

What type of people on the committee?

  • Scientists who use animals in their research – be it fruit flies, mice or monkeys. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Masters student or a tenured professor, your support is valued.
  • Veterinarians who work within animal research facilities.
  • Animal care technicians who work to look after animals in laboratories.
  • Science communicators, particularly those who do media relations or public engagement for an institution conducting animal research or relevant society.

What does the committee do?

  • Writing – this is one of the key jobs of our central committee – ensuring that there is new material on the website (and updating existing pages). People write about their own research, research in the news, debunking misinformation by activists, responding to policy changes and much more. Not a great writer? Some of our best articles are produced by guest authors, but we still need to be the ones to find those people.
  • Social Media – we need people to help put science news on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.
  • Sharing news and information. Seen some amazing new medical breakthrough? Information about animal activism?
  • Networking – From individuals and institutions wanting to become more actively involved in animal research outreach, to those targeted by activism, the SR committee works to support scientists and institutions worldwide.
  • Media work – We are often required to give comments to journalists, or occasionally appear on radio and TV. Having numerous people prepared to step up to the plate is always useful. We have worked with committee members to train them in talking to the media. We also put our press releases and produce briefing materials for journalists.
  • Conferences – Speaking of Research members have often spoken about animal research outreach at conferences including Society for Neuroscience and AALAS.

SR member talking about the importance of openness on the BBC.

How can I join the committee?

Contact us! We’d love to hear from you, even if you just have some questions. We ask new members to write an article for the website to show their interest in explaining animal research (we can help advise on topics, as well as provide support in editing and proofing any drafts).

What am I expected to do on the committee?

We do understand that our careers often mean there are periods where we are unable to help, but hope you find  some time to contribute in some manner to Speaking of Research’s goals.

  • Email List – the committee communicates through an email list. While we don’t expect everyone to reply to every email, we do ask that people contribute their knowledge or support occasionally.
  • Blog – We ask every committee member to contribute one article every four months (or to find a colleague who might contribute a guest post). This ensures we have a minimum amount of news on the website (thankfully, some committee members contribute much more). Articles tend to be 400-1500 words, but we are very flexible.
  • Contribute – We hope committee members find other ways of contributing. Some people keep an eye out for new statistics, some people look out for institutional animal research statements, and some people help post on social media. Whatever you can do, we welcome the help.
The committee communicates primarily by email

The committee communicates primarily by email

I’m not ready for the committee, but I still want to help!

We have written extensively on other ways you can help us.

While all our committee are volunteers, we still require a small amount of funding to keep our website going and carry out small outreach activities (we have produced posters for conferences and promoted articles on social media). Donating just €10/£10/$10 is a huge help to our efforts in explaining the important role of animals in medical and veterinary research.

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Yours sincerely

The Speaking of Research committee

Society for Neuroscience: Session on engaging institutions about animal research

If you are one of the 30,000 or so neuroscientists attending the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) 2016 meeting in San Diego that starts this weekend, then make sure you watch this session on engaging institutions about animal research.

Animals in Research Panel (SfN; Tues, Nov 15, 10am-Noon, CC Room 10):  

How to Engage Institutions to Publicly Support Animal Research; a Top-Down Approach

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Description: Worldwide, researchers are engaging the public to increase the understanding and need for animals in research. However, scientists need research institutions to facilitate greater openness about animal research conducted on campus and to reject the fear of attracting negative attention. This panel will discuss the proven benefits of positive institutional public communication and openness, as well as strategies to engage our institutions to publicly support animal research.

  • Opening Remarks: Committee on Animals in Research Chair, Mar Sanchez, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Emory University)
  • Kirk Leech, (Associate Director, European Animal Research Association –EARA-)
  • David Jentsch, Ph.D. (Professor of Psychology, Binghamton University)
  • John Morrison, Ph.D. (director of the California National Primate Research Center)
  • Carrie Wolinetz, Ph.D. (Associate Director for Science Policy and Director of the Office of Science Policy, National Institutes of Health –NIH-)
  • Q&A session

Separate to this meeting, you should check out Booth 4216 in Exhibit Hall to talk to the Consortium for Public Outreach on Animal Research (@AR_Consortium) of which Speaking of Research is a member.

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Reigniting My Fire for Animal Research

lisa-headshotThis guest post is written by Lisa Stanislawczyk, a Veterinary Scientist at a pharmaceutical company. She plays a key role in ensuring the standards of animal care are always improving at her institution. Having been introduced to Speaking of Research through a committee member, Lisa kindly agreed to share her experiences. In this post, Lisa explains her passion for innovation in the field of animal welfare and her experiences, positive and negative, in delivering animal care at numerous institutions in the US. If you would like to write for Speaking of Research please contact us here.

When I started out after college working as an animal care technician at a contract research organization (CRO), I never thought I would want to perform the procedures I saw being done to the animals. I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable or scared. I loved animals and had always wanted to be a vet (like so many others in the field of animal research). While working at the CRO I began to see the care and attention that the technicians took in performing these procedures and how careful they were to make the animals comfortable and at ease. I realized they too cared for the animals as much as I did and we all wanted nothing more than to take the best possible care of these animals.

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Later, after 15 years in the animal research field, I found myself looking for a new role. I was always proud of what I did and left work each day with a sense of accomplishment. However, I was finding it difficult to find work, a common problem for so many in the world we live in today.

I realized that in order to stay in the field and get a good job I was going to have to move outside of my comfort zone, away from everything and everyone familiar. It was scary, but I moved to another part of the country, away from my family and all my friends, to pursue a new job. I was anxious and felt isolated. I came to the harsh realization that not everyone holds themselves or others to the same standards I had been taught, or was accustomed to. This realization almost made me stop doing the work that I had grown to enjoy and get a huge sense of accomplishment from.

I didn’t quite know how to deal with what I perceived as poor animal welfare in my new job. This feeling was not from the technicians doing the work, they were doing the best they knew how with what they were taught. There just seemed to be a lack of knowledge of the regulations which one should have working in a vivarium. It was the management that needed to be held accountable. I spoke with the Chair of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) in order get a better understanding of what I felt was just not good research. After our conversation, I still felt there was a lack of accountability from the IACUC Committee. I was at a loss and felt drained and hopeless because there continued to be mistakes and mis-steps which could have been avoided.

I spoke with the veterinarian and was told, “I didn’t understand the field that I was in and I was too soft”. I didn’t believe that. I believed I was there to be an advocate for the animals in my charge. I was told there was not a “magic ball” to know outcomes of certain studies, I knew there were humane endpoints that should be followed. I did my best to make things better. We began a better training program so the people performing the procedures had a better understanding of the Animal Welfare Act and the Guide. We updated procedures and SOPs (standard operating procedures.)

It took its toll. I found myself working long hours to make sure the studies I was to oversee were executed correctly and at the same time educating the personnel working with me. I was exhausted and overworked. So were my technicians. I began to become so emotional about some of the things I was seeing that I would spend what free time I had at home, crying myself to sleep. Just thinking about it now, makes my eyes water. We all began seeing things that we could not bear any longer and more people began to have concerns and fill out whistleblower forms. It was heartbreaking and I just didn’t feel like I could do it any longer. Then the day came, I was laid off. It was a blessing!

Thankfully my negative experience is not common and the facility I worked at was taken over by another company. I have heard that they are still overworked (many of us can sympathize) but that things regarding the animals have definitely improved.

Image of macaques for illustrative purposes.  Image courtesy of: Understanding Animal Research

Image of macaques for illustrative purposes.
Image courtesy of: Understanding Animal Research

I moved back to my family and friends. I needed the moral support from them. Still, I didn’t want to go back to it. I was burnt out. I worked at a home improvement contracting office fielding phone calls and organizing the office. It just wasn’t what I could see myself doing long term. I needed a challenge. I missed the animals. I held guilt for not doing more for them even though I still don’t know what more I could have done at the time.

A previous boss of mine who happened to be a veterinarian reached out to me about a job. Again it was a big pharmaceutical company. I was skeptical but I needed to give it one last chance and it was only a temporary position. It was great to experience the investigators working with the animal care technicians to communicate how the animals did while on study and this empowered everyone to know exactly what was going on with each and every animal on a daily basis. The communication between all the investigators, technicians and veterinary staff truly improved the welfare of the animals. The veterinary staff really cared for the animals and the animal care technicians knew every animal’s quirks, likes, and dislikes. Everyone would make sure the animals that were on study got some extra favorites whether it be food enrichment, human contact, or toys. The people there renewed my faith. I could see the ethical behaviors and integrity of each and every person there. It gave me the desire to stay in the industry. This was what I was accustomed to. I felt like I had a “place” again.

Once the temporary position was over, I moved to another company also working with the veterinary technical staff. There I was allowed to attend ILAM (Institute for Laboratory Animal Management). It is a 2 year program and the information, relationships, and contacts you come away with are immeasurable. I shared my story with others I met there (from all over the world) and I realized we all shared in the desire to deeply care for the animals. We go to work every day to make sure everyone does their best to take care of every need of all the animals in their charge. For some time, I have passively been in the industry, not really wanting to be a part of all the external committees and public outreach opportunities available. After attending ILAM, all that changed. Experiencing the love and desire to improve and do better within our industry and making connections and friendships with people with this common thread has re-ignited my passion for the industry. My company encourages people to innovate and strive for better animal welfare. I am so proud to be a part of a program that has refined techniques performed on multiple species to make it easier for both the animals and the technicians. This is how it should be. This is the industry we are in.  Change is key. Once again I am so proud of what I do and the program I am a part of everyday. I flourish when someone asks me what I do, instead of talking vaguely so they won’t understand or want to hear more about it. I am happy to explain why what we do is so important and necessary.

We make miracles happen and improve the lives of humans and animals every day! This is what we do for a living! This is why people and their pets are living longer, happier lives. This is the reason I am proud to be in animal research. I urge my fellow technicians to speak out, be proud, and get involved explaining what you do and why you do it!

Lisa Stanislawczyk

Back to school: Graduate students learn about animal research and outreach

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.

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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.

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.

Students and seminar leaders of Broader Impacts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Scientific community unites in defence of primate research

The Backstory

It’s been a busy few weeks for those who wish to explain the role of primates in research. Last week the NIH held a workshop on “Ensuring the Continued Responsible Oversight of Research with Non-Human Primates” (watch it back here). The Congressionally mandated workshop resulted from report language that was associated with a PETA campaign. PETA hoped the workshop would question whether primates should be used in research at all. Instead PETA were disappointed when many experts came together to talk about how primates remained important to medical and scientific research. Days before the event, PETA activist, Professor John Gluck, wrote to the New York Times to criticise the use of primates in research. Speaking of Research posted a response – “The ethics and value of responsible animal research” – that was signed by over 100 scientists. Other organisations have subsequently written back to the newspaper with letters published this week.

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. “

The paper (by Bailey & Taylor, 2016) itself suggests that several medical advances – such as Deep Brain Stimulation – did not rely on animal studies. This would not seem to match what can be seen in the academic literature, indeed Alim Benabid, who won a Lasker Award for his role in developing the technique noted the important role of animal models, including primates.

Researchers Unite!

There are many other events which have played into a frustration by primate researchers, but the response was huge. Understanding Animal Research coordinated a letter on the role of primates in research. Within a few days hundreds of primate researchers and neuroscientists had signed up. Notable signatories included: Sir John Gurdon, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and the 2009 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, for their work in reprogramming mature cells into early stem cells; Sir John E Walker, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for elucidating the mechanisms behind the synthesis of ATP; Professor Mahlon DeLong and Alim Benabid, who jointly won the 2014 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for their research developing Deep Brain Stimulation as a surgical treatment for Parkinson’s (the same discovery that the Bailey & Taylor, 2016, paper suggested did not require  primates); and Professor Miguel Nicolelis, whose Walk Again project allowed a young paraplegic in an exo-skeleton to kick a football.

neuroscience-starsOver twenty organisations, including Speaking of Research, the Society for Neuroscience (SFN), and the American Psychological Association (APA) signed their support ( a full list of signatories can be found here). The letter was published by the UK newspaper, The Guardian, on 13th September (and the following day in print), along with an accompanying article.

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

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.

So if you wish to sign – click here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/PrimateLetter

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).

Speaking of Research

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