Category Archives: Outreach News

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.


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.


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:

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

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.


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