Category Archives: Outreach News

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

Novo Nordisk demonstrate what good openness looks like

Openness has been a buzz word in science policy over the past five years, particularly for animal research. Today, Speaking of Research reached 250 animal research statements on our list of public statements, up from 200 in February (is your institution included?). Much of our focus has been on universities, particularly in the UK and US. In the past we have showcased examples of good openness including the University of Edinburgh, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and Primate Products Inc.

Today we will focus on a Danish pharmaceutical company – Novo Nordisk – and their excellent efforts at greater openness and transparency around their animal research.

Novonordisk provide a whole section of their website on Animal Ethics. This starts out with a clear statement about the ongoing need for animals to test new pharmaceutical and medical products.

At present, some research using living animals is essential for all pharmaceutical companies in the discovery, development and production of new pharmaceutical and medical products.
[…]
We only use animals in research where no alternative exists. We recognise that not all research using animals can be replaced in the foreseeable future and consider it our responsibility to actively support the principles of the 3Rs.

This front page also talks about the “Responsible use of animals” including the 3Rs, efforts to replace animal tests and the importance of animal welfare. They include a video on the front page, which shows their facilities.

Novo Nordisk website providing videos of its research animals and facilities

Novo Nordisk website providing videos of its research animals and facilities

There’s dedicated subpages on Housing, Ethical Review, their 3Rs Award, Welfare  and External Contractors. They also have a page with nine different videos showing the animal enclosures. This is among the best sets of videos provided by an animal research institution showing its animals.

There is also a page which outlines the number of each species of animal used at Novo Nordisk over the past three years. In 2015, Novo Nordisk used 67,240 animals, of which almost 97% were mice or rats.

Finally, Novo Nordisk have produced a fantastic 24-page brochure titled “Animals in Pharmaceutical Research: A responsible approach” which explains more about their research, with a particular focus towards their 3Rs efforts.  The brochure provides plenty of pictures and information, as well as the principles of animal use which underpin their animal research work. Explaining why animal research is necessary to their work:

Before new pharmaceutical products can be studied in people, they need to be investigated in animals for efficacy, safety and toxicology, as it is not yet possible to examine the complex interactions in a living organism solely by the use of cell cultures and tissues.

Animals are only used in research and development at Novo Nordisk when no alternative exists. The use of animals in the early phases of the company’s drug discovery and development has been reduced by applying tissue cultures, cell-based and other non-animal models.

Click to Enlarge

Click to go to the brochure

Overall, the information provided by Novo Nordisk is fantastic – above and beyond any other pharmaceutical company’s online offering we have seen to date. If there was one possible area for improvement, it would be the provision of some case studies to explain a few examples of exactly how and why animals are used. This would also give them full marks on our animal research statement ratings.

So all that’s left to say is to congratulate Novo Nordisk for its fantastic web resources. Speaking of Research will continue to celebrate good examples of openness and public outreach wherever we can find it.

Has your institution got a statement or set or web pages explaining its animal research for the public? Is it on our list (if not, tell us)? Could it be improved? Speaking of Research has written about what makes a good public-facing webpage on an institution’s animal research.

Speaking of Research

Montage of images from the Novo Nordisk brochure on its animal research. Click to Enlarge

Montage of images from the Novo Nordisk brochure on its animal research. Click to Enlarge

We mightn’t like it, but there are ethical reasons to use animals in medical research

Trichur Vidyasagar, University of Melbourne

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

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.

Another case in point is the technique of deep brain stimulation using implanted electrodes, which is becoming an effective means of treating symptoms in many Parkinson’s patients. This is now possible largely due to the decades of work on macaques to understand in detail the complex circuitry involved in motor control. Macaques continue to be used to refine deep brain stimulation in humans.

Ethical choices

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.

Approximately 60,000 monkeys are used for experiments for all purposes each year in the United States, Europe and Australia.

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.

image-20160505-19765-sm1aov

Reports of medical breakthroughs conveniently leave out animals used in the process.
Novartis AG/Flickr, CC BY

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.

While the ape and human lineages separated six million years ago, there is an additional 20 to 35 million years of evolutionary distance from monkeys, which clearly lack the sophisticated cognitive capacities of the apes.

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.

To put this in perspective, for every animal used in research (mostly mice, fish and rats), approximately 2,000 animals are used for food, with actual numbers varying between countries and the organisations that collect the data.

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.

Trichur Vidyasagar, Professor, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences and Melbourne Neuroscience Institute, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Successful Outreach on Biomedical Research Awareness Day

Dr Logan FranceWe have a follow up guest post from Dr. Logan France, 2015-16 Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) Hayre Fellow and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She discusses the result of her outreach project – Biomedical Research Awareness Day (BRAD). AMP is still opening their application for this year’s Michael D Hayre Fellowship in Public Outreach – a great opportunity to get involved in helping to explain the role of animals in medical research.

The first national Biomedical Research Awareness Day (BRAD) in the U.S. was a huge success! On April 19th twenty veterinary schools participated in the observance to provide more information about animal-based research and to honor the contribution of laboratory animals to medical progress. Each school seized the opportunity to be involved in this nation-wide project and did an incredible job executing their celebrations.

The Enrichment Matching Game was used to teach participants about the various toys and enrichment items that are provided to animals in research in an effort to elicit normal species-specific behavior. Here, students at Cornell University test their knowledge.

The Enrichment Matching Game was used to teach participants about the various toys and enrichment items that are provided to animals in research in an effort to elicit normal species-specific behavior. Here, students at Cornell University test their knowledge.

I created BRAD during my tenure as a Michael D. Hayre Fellow at Americans for Medical Progress, and was thrilled to see so many veterinary schools respond enthusiastically.  While BRAD was primarily designed for veterinary students, many schools went beyond that, hosting events during their Vet School Open House and engaging the general public. The celebrations also involved undergraduate, graduate, and veterinary students, as well as faculty and staff at each school. Social media played a large role in the initiative, both in spreading the word about BRAD and allowing students to tell what their school was doing.  Students from the participating schools posted on the BRAD Facebook page prior to the event, sharing information about their organization, previous activities their club had hosted or participated in, and their plans for BRAD. During the event, students from around the country posted photos of their BRAD celebration on the Facebook page and conveyed their support of biomedical research. BRAD allowed students and faculty to band together with a common goal and use their resources to raise awareness.

Lectures and seminars were incorporated as part of the celebration at many schools. University of Georgia hosted a talk by Dr. Karin Powell on the importance of animals in research while Dr. Craig Franklin spoke to the students and faculty at Louisiana State University about the impact of microbiota on animal models of disease. These are just two of the fascinating topics that were explored during BRAD.

I really enjoyed Dr. Franklin’s presentation. His research is fascinating, and I feel like I learned a lot about potential career paths and research opportunities through BRAD.
– Rebecca Aust, the BRAD Student Coordinator at LSU

Colorado State University gave kids laboratory animal coloring sheets and used a button machine to make their creations into buttons to be worn throughout the day. It was a hit!

Colorado State University gave kids laboratory animal coloring sheets and used a button machine to make their creations into buttons to be worn throughout the day. It was a hit!

Interactive booths were set-up as a fun way to share information about biomedical research and animals in research, allow participants to show their support, and distribute educational items. Support banners were displayed for visitors to sign demonstrating their support for the animal heroes of biomedical research.

If a high-energy student is at the booth, most students walking by will stop, chat and learn something they didn’t know about research.
– David Andrews, BRAD Student Coordinator for Texas A&M University

“99% of all people signed the poster at the booth, including custodial staff, maintenance, staff, faculty and students,” says Andrews. 

“99% of all people signed the poster at the booth, including custodial staff, maintenance, staff, faculty and students,” says Andrews.

Washington State University, as well as many others, utilized freebies and giveaways to engage the public.

Candy and treats helped to draw people to our interactive booth. Additionally we had iPads available with the AALAS Animal Care Adventures app on them. This was a great way to engage kids that were at our open house, and then since kids were spending a lot of time at the table, we were able to engage their parents in discussion.
– Jourdan Brune, BRAD Student Coordinator at Washington State University.

Students and parents enjoyed the interactive booth and games at Washington State University’s Veterinary School Open House

Students and parents enjoyed the interactive booth and games at Washington State University’s Veterinary School Open House

BRAD has been over a year in the making, so seeing the outcome was moving and powerful. The responses from the schools were tremendous, and their enthusiasm for a project that focuses on biomedical and animal-based research speaks volumes. With the success we had in the first year, we are more excited than ever to see this initiative evolve and the impact it has in the future. The date for BRAD 2017 will be announced as soon as it is determined, and we look forward to increasing the number of participating institutions and making BRAD even better.  Please continue to visit the BRAD Facebook page for more information and updates.

Americans for Medical Progress is looking for their next Michael D. Hayre Fellow in Public Outreach. The application for 2016-2017 has been extended to June 15th.

Dr. Logan France

Dr. Dettmer Goes to Washington, Part 3

Part 3 of a 4-part series in which a scientific researcher learns how science advocacy groups influence the legislative process. Read Parts 1 and 2 about her Hill Day experience and her interview with a science advocacy group.

On April 27, 2016, as part of my Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Early Career Policy Ambassador outreach activities, I met with Representative John Delaney (D-MD, 6), in his office at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, DC. This was my first in-person meeting with an actual legislator, as during Hill Day the lawmakers were, unfortunately, too busy to meet with us in person. It was exciting getting ready for a face-to-face meeting with my Congressman! Rep. Delaney represents the 6th Congressional District in Maryland, which encompasses the cities of Gaithersburg, Germantown, Hagerstown, Cumberland, and my home city, Frederick. It also neighbors the 8th District, which encompasses Bethesda, home to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Dettmer with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD, 6)

Dr. Dettmer with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD, 6)

The first take-away from this meeting was, when Congressional staffers tell you that you have a 15-minute slot with your Representative, they mean it! I drove nearly an hour each way from Frederick to meet with Rep. Delaney, and I sat with him and two of his staffers in his office for exactly 15 minutes. And yet, the 15 minutes felt like a long time given what I knew about the tight schedules of lawmakers. Indeed, Rep. Delaney and I had plenty of time to discuss the legislative process surrounding pro-science policy.

Question 1: Since your election in 2012, what are some of pieces of pro-science legislation you have been actively involved in?
Notably, Delaney has repeatedly voted to increase funding for the NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Regarding specific legislation, Delaney recently authored a clean energy amendment to H.R.702, a House bill to lift the ban on oil exports. This amendment emphasized the need for Congress to invest in clean energy technology and energy efficiency, and was passed in October 2015. Working with his colleague Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Delaney also introduced “50×30” resolutions in the House and Senate to encourage a national goal of generating “more than 50 percent of our electricity from clean and carbon-free sources by 2030.” In addition to his focus on increasing alternative energy research to reduce the effects of climate change, Delaney also noted that, “funding is lacking at the basic research level,” and that such funding is critical to discovering treatments for debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

Question 2: How does your office identify science topics to become involved in?
Congressional offices pay attention to topics that are relevant to the representatives’ home districts. In Delaney’s case, he is particularly aware of issues affecting the large number of constituents who work at Fort Detrick (home to the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute), NIST, NIH, and NSF. His office also prefers to focus around particular diseases or epidemics rather than general science funding.

Question 3: How does your office work with outside groups to stay informed on science topics?
Delaney’s office has points of contact at universities like Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, and will defer to the presidents of these institutions, or their affiliated hospitals, to help keep his office up to date with the latest scientific findings.

Question 4: What particular steps of the legislative process are you directly involved in?
Given the convoluted nature of lawmaking in the U.S., Delaney acknowledged that there are countless ways he and other lawmakers are directly involved. Specifically, however, he said he strives to “find a vein of bipartisan support” for his preferred pieces of legislation, and that building bipartisanship constitutes a large part of his action in the legislative process.

Question 5: Which steps do you think scientists can effectively engage in during the legislative process to inform lawmakers?
Delaney encouraged individuals to talk directly to their representatives (with in-person meetings and phone calls, especially – advice I’ve gotten along the way during this journey), to make their arguments in economic terms, and to have a “laserlike focus” when meeting with their representatives about a particular topic.

In all, though the meeting was brief, I found it to be a valuable opportunity to hear directly from my representative and to learn ways to engage most effectively with lawmakers. I was also pleasantly surprised at how accommodating Rep. Delaney’s office was regarding my request to meet: I was able to meet in person with him no more than two weeks after submitting my initial request. Most importantly, Rep. Delaney himself seemed pleased to meet face-to-face with a scientist who clearly took interest in the legislative process.

The take-home: don’t be afraid to call, email, or meet in person with your Representative! Your voice will be heard, and face-to-face meetings are not as intimidating as they may seem. If you don’t live in or near DC, you can schedule meetings with your representative when s/he is visiting their home district.

Dr Amanda Dettmer

World Day to Talk About Animal Research in Belgium?

Kirk LeechToday we have a guest post from Kirk Leech, Executive Director of the European Animal Research Association (EARA), who explains how he is trying to encourage openness in Belgium.

The European Animal Research Association (EARA) was set up in March 2014 with the aim of helping to maintain and improve public acceptance and understanding of animal research. Belgium is one of the countries that we work in. Belgium, with a population of 11 million people, has a large number of private and public research institutions that undertake animal research. The latest figures as released separately by Belgium’s three regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels, revealed that there were collectively 664,472 procedures on animals carried out in Belgium in 2014. Similar to other European countries, over 85% of procedures were carried out on mice, rats and fish.

Belgium has in the past had to deal with its fair share of criminal anti-animal research activity such as violence, arson, intimidation, ‘freeing’ of animals from laboratories and harassment. But, much like in most countries in the European Union, activism has shifted away from the use of direct criminality towards clever, often social media driven communications campaigns. Calendar events, such as World Day for Laboratory Animals April 24, have become important media opportunities for activist groups to promote their anti-research messages.

Every year on that day, activists organise demonstrations and petitions against animal research. Historically, pro-research institutions and researchers have struggled to respond to these events, often deciding not to comment. Unfortunately, this approach allows the activists to dominate any media coverage of the day, creating a one-sided negative narrative on animal research in the public mind. EARA decided to reverse the previous quiescence by research institutions on World Day for Laboratory Animals by collaborating with private and public research to pro-actively release a statement to the media on the benefits that animal research has brought in Belgium.

We invited public and private research organisations to a meeting to discuss the merits of an open and transparent approach toward communication about animal research. One of the practical steps we agreed on was a collective response to World Day for Laboratory Animals. The agreed statement, released before World Day for Lab Animals, explained the role of animals in research, and acknowledges the need for transparency and an open dialogue between science and the public. The statement was translated to Dutch and French for publication by the undersigned and circulation to the media.

The statement was signed by 24 Belgian public and private research organisations. Ten universities, eight private companies and six public institutes joined the initiative. It received extensive coverage in two major national newspapers. By standing united in their support for animal research, the signatory organisations could feel encouraged by their strength in numbers. On the side of anti-animal research activists, there were no demonstrations or protests to mark World Day for Laboratory Animals in Belgium aside from an ongoing online petition.

Signatories to the Belgian statement

Signatories to the Belgian statement

The Belgian collective response to World Day for Laboratory Animals was a historic event: on a day traditionally set up as an activists’ media opportunity, we brought together public and private research organisations from Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels to show a united front in support of animal research.

Together, they showed that they stand for open and transparent communication about animal research. They are committed to work for a public dialogue between science and society about why, when and how animals are used in research and about their important contribution to scientific and medical development. Compared to the United Kingdom, where openness has led to greater public acceptance of animal research, Belgium has a long way to go. To us, this statement is the start of a process to create a culture of openness about animal research in Belgium.

Kirk Leech