Category Archives: Outreach News

Cameras in the lab: Animal research visualised

There are many misconceptions about animal research and the welfare standards that exist in labs. Old footage and pictures, or imagery from countries with lower standards of welfare, are spread across the internet, but unless people see a lab for themselves it is hard to dissuade them of these preconceptions.

The best way to show people to the truth is to invite them into the lab and let them see for themselves. Journalists who tour labs are often amazed by the high standards of welfare that exist and even activists can often be persuaded that their perspective may have been misinformed. However, it is not possible to allow everyone to tour round labs – it would be disruptive to both the people and the animals, and science would potentially suffer.

Therefore another way to show people is to film it. A number of UK universities have brought out videos in the last few years (or in several cases the last few months), showing some of the amazing scientific work they are doing and how animals are a part of it. In this post we provide a few examples.

The University of Cambridge – Animal research into OCD

Just this week, Cambridge released a three part video about how they are using rats, marmosets, and people to better understand Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – a condition which can be debilitating for those with severe cases. Science journalist and OCD sufferer, David Adam, visits the University and labs to speak to some of the leading scientists about their use of animals.

Queen Mary University of London – Animal research across the university

QMUL shows images across the labs, talking to scientists about both their research and how animal welfare is maintained. There is a full discussion of how QMUL uses the 3Rs to improve both the science and welfare at the university.

Imperial College London – Welfare at their animal facilities

Imperial wanted to introduce the staff who care for the animals and give them a chance to talk about the important job they do to maintain and improve standards of welfare. The video includes rats and rabbits and discusses some of the regulations that exist in the UK.

University of Cambridge – Animal research and cancer

Another video from the University of Cambridge – this time specifically looking at how the university uses animals (and why it needs to) in order to understand and treat cancer. They also look at how the institution is trying to find non-animal methods to do some research.

University of Oxford – Housing and care of animals

The University of Oxford produced a video which shows some of the features of their animal facility. The video includes footage of mice, rats, frogs, ferrets and macaque monkeys.

300 Voices Speaking out For Research

Speaking of Research has worked hard at collating the animal research statements of hundreds of institutions – that list has now reached 300 institutions spanning eleven countries.

We still need your help to complete list – please check that your institution is on there. We are looking for a web page which clearly states that the institution conducts animal studies (and preferably explains why this is important). Submit your institution through our web form.

The excellent animal research pages of the pharmaceutical, Bayer.

We urge institutions to ensure they have an update to date statement which includes a strong explanation of how and why they conduct animal research, as well as the steps they take to maintain and improve animal welfare. Such information can be bolstered by case studies, statistics, images and videos. So far, only 23 (of 300) institutions have achieved full marks when we’ve rated the information available. See the full list at the bottom.

One thing that becomes apparent is that those institutions scoring highly have created a visible, and easily accessible, section of their website – usually with an easy-to-find URL such as (for UK institutions “.edu” is replaced with “.ac.uk”).

  • institution.edu/animal-research
  • institution.edu/research/animal-research
  • institution.edu/research/using-animals-in-research
  • animalcare.institution.edu
  • animalresearch.institution.edu

URL’s like these not only allow the link to be found (usually through a couple of clicks) easily from the homepage, but they also help when Googling for such information. Institutions try googling “institution animal research” and see what comes up – if your institution does not provide much information, will animal rights groups fill the vacuum?

An infographic from the University of Gronigen’s (NL) Annual Report on animal research

Speaking of Research do not believe there is any excuse for open communication about animal research online. The UK has been leading the way here (over half of the statements receiving full marks are from the UK), in part due to the Concordat on Openness – which most animal research institutions have signed up to – demanding such a statement to be drawn up.

Speaking of Research are willing to work with any institution that wants to improve its web content. We are happy to make recommendations and review drafts (for free). 

The 23 institutions receiving full marks are:

The University of Sheffield website got a 4/4 rating for its information

Help us help you!

The Speaking of Research website provides a wealth of information for the public about why animal research remains an important part of scientific, medical and veterinary discoveries. While our news blog may be most relevant to those involved in the field, the static pages provide information about the animal model, medical developments, regulations, statistics and more. So we believe the more easily the public can find our website, the better for everyone in the field.

So what happens when a member of the public searches for “animal testing” (which, according to Google Trends, is searched for around three times as much as “animal research”)?

animal-testing-search-annotated

Eight of nine search results on the first page provide a negative idea of animal research. The last one provides arguments from both sides. No wonder that young people are now opposed to animal research by a 14 percentage point margin.

pew-research-animal-research

There is, however, something you can do. Google’s algorithms mean that websites that are linked to by .edu and .gov websites will be more trusted and be pushed further up the search results. See more on the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNHR6IQJGZs

We need you to get www.speakingofresearch.com added to your University department website (or Government website if you are that position). So please send an email to your department website editor (and convince friends in other life science departments to do likewise) to ask them to add links to pro-research organisations on an appropriate page. Many of you will have direct control over sections of your department’s page, so please take a few seconds to add the middle section of the letter below.

Dear Webmaster

Please can you add the following paragraph to our departmental website, on our page about animal research here: <insert url>

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following website:

http://www.speakingofresearch.com – Speaking of Research: Providing accurate information about the important role of animal experiments in medical and veterinary research.

Kind Regards

<insert name>

Why not help a few key organisations by asking them to add more than one website, such as:

http://www.speakingofresearch.com – Speaking of Research
http://www.amprogress.org – Americans for Medical Progress
http://www.fbresearch.org – Foundation for Biomedical Research
http://www.animalresearch.info – Animal Research Information

With your help we can ensure the public sees the facts about animal research!

Speaking of Research

The USDA’s removal of information about animal research is a step backwards for transparency

Speaking of Research has considerable concerns about the wealth of information that has been removed from the USDA website in the last week. The USDA has removed access to an online database that allowed the public to easily obtain documents involving the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).This information includes the annual reports showing the number of animals used in research each year, and the animal welfare reports that are produced. [Direct links to annual reports were broken, but the reports still exist on the USDA website – Ed.]

According to Science Magazine, tens of thousands of reports have been removed, relating to around 1200 research labs and 6500 non-research facilities that are registered or licensed by the USDA. A statement from the USDA says:

Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that contain personal information

No doubt many will see some irony in starting a statement about the removal of information with “Based on our commitment to being transparent”. That said, it is not yet clear if reports are being removed permanently or simply temporarily removed until they have been assessed for privacy issues. Though the previously public information will still be available through FOIA requests, the statement concludes by saying “If the same records are frequently requested via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process, APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website”.

It is not just animal rights groups who have expressed concern. Matthew Bailey, President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, said:

“I would certainly agree that protection of personal information is of utmost importance, especially given the rich history of targeting the individuals involved in animal research. However, this change also makes it more time consuming, although not impossible, for organizations like FBR to analyze trends in animal use in research.”

Speaking of Research also has concerns. We believe the availability of data can foster an environment of openness and transparency about animal research. When information is hidden, particularly where it was once available, the public will naturally wonder why many stakeholders have cause for concern: the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combatting the public perception that they are not transparent.

USDA Statistics showing number of animas used in research

Speaking of Research uses the type of information that was available to help explain the realities of animal research to the public and media.

The USDA’s decision is also out of step with the direction of travel of many other countries. Approximately one month ago, after urgings from Speaking of Research, the EU website added a new page providing links to the annual statistical reports on animal research of member countries.

In our own commitment to openness, Speaking of Research has uploaded the Annual Reports of the USDA’s animal research to its website. They are available on our US Statistics page, or can be found below. We will be looking at what other information we can practically add in coming weeks.

Thousands of removed USDA documents have now been archived here.

Speaking of Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

david-jentsch-slide-sfn

Click to Enlarge

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.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Yours sincerely

The Speaking of Research committee