Category Archives: Outreach News

Doors Open: Explaining animal research at the University of Ottawa

Every June, the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada holds a “Doors Open” event, as part of a larger province-wide initiative to open facilities such as museums, hospitals, and historical sites to the community in ways which aren’t part of their everyday operations. The Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Ottawa opened its labs to the public, offering tours and displays describing the work they do, including their animal research. The University’s Animal Care and Veterinary Service (ACVS) and Animal Ethics & Compliance (AEC) office also participated, with family-friendly informational displays and activities.

The director of the University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, Dr. David Park, hosted the event this year, as the Faculty of Medicine felt it would be a great way to highlight the leading edge research done at the University. Dr. Diane Lagace, a researcher in the department, demonstrated the preclinical work she is involved with in her lab, using rats and mice in stroke research. Dr Lagace also studies how adult-generated stem cells play a part in how we can recover from strokes.

Displays featured information about animal use at the university, and research-related activities for children. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn

The animal care displays were run by the ACVS and AEC. Their displays included enriched caging for rats, enrichment devices and treats for the research animals, as well as a demo for children on how to use microchips to identify some species. Volunteers provided the public with informational pamphlets and explanations on the university’s animal care and use program, as well as the regulatory framework that protects animals used in research.

Dr. Holly Orlando, University Veterinarian and Director of ACVS, wanted her department to take part because she felt that it is important to be transparent about the work that we do with animals in science. By doing so, her department could help to clarify misconceptions that the public may have about work with animals, as well as helping to develop engagement with the community. Marie Bédard, the AEC Director, agrees and has been developing materials for the public and explaining the regulatory frameworks for animal use in science.

I also took part, as the Registered Veterinary Technician who manages the zebrafish operations at the University. I brought live zebrafish larvae at various points of development for visitors to observe under microscopes. I also brought examples of what we feed the fish, and how we house them.

Zebrafish larvae on display. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn.

The facility tours were very popular, with guests able to observe the work of the Animal Behaviour Core facility, which utilizes procedures such as a water maze, climbing, treadmill and other exercise tests to study both how brain deficits occur and can be repaired after a stroke, as well as when and what forms of exercise are helpful for stroke recovery. Guests also observed a Parkinson’s Disease model in fruit flies, which helps researchers to better understand the genetics and other causes behind Parkinson’s disease.

Over 250 people registered for the event and went on tours of the facility. Feedback was very positive, and the public had very thoughtful questions about the operations of both the labs and the animal facility. People were overheard stating that they “never would have imagined that this is happening here in Ottawa”, and more than one youngster exclaimed that they wanted to work with us.

The Director of Animal Ethics and Compliance, discusses enriched rat caging. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn

This one day event was a great step forward in openness with regards to animal research at the University. A great team did a fantastic job organizing and running the day, which seemed to go off without a hitch. I am looking forward to attending again next year, with an even bigger display!

Christine Archer

Asthma and Animal Research: A Public Health Perspective

As a public health researcher with a focus on behavior change and complex interventions, I am more interested in studying how to get children to adhere to their asthma medication regimen rather than the mechanisms of inflammatory asthma. I am currently studying the risk factors associated with asthma attacks in children, which include among others, sub-optimal medication use, poverty, and access to healthcare. The aim of this research is to understand what risk factors for severe exacerbations – such as asthma attacks that send children to the emergency room – exist, thereby enabling healthcare and public health professionals to mitigate the risks of these ‘at-risk’ children.

My interests have nearly always been in applied in nature, however I understand that basic research underpins everything thing that we do in public health. Animal research is foundational to what we do as public health professionals. Without animal research, we would not be able to mitigate the risk factors these children have as we would not have the asthma medications we do today.

It seems that the sphere of public health shies away from discussing and supporting animal research; I’ve had colleagues tell me to be careful of talking too openly about my experiences in animal research outreach, for fear of alienating others – and potentially hindering my career. However, I strongly believe that public health professionals should be more open to discussing and supporting animal research. It is imperative to the continuation of both public health research and its application.

To illustrate this point, let’s use asthma as an example. The most effective medications for managing asthma are aptly named preventer and reliever medications. Preventer medications contain glucocorticosteriods and they work to prevent symptoms by reducing swelling, sensitivity, and inflammation in the airways. On the other hand, Reliever medications, or bronchodilators, work to open the airways and rapidly relieve symptoms.

Animal research has played an important role in the discovery of both glucocorticosteriods and bronchodilators. Glucocorticosteriods were developed using mouse models and the derived biomedical pathways. Bronchodilators were developed the 1960s, as a result of Otto Loewi’s research on adrenaline and other neurotransmitters.  Loewi used two beating frog hearts, aligned near each other, to demonstrated that slowing the pulse of the one heart and then circulating that perfusate through the other heart that it caused the other unaltered heart to also slow. He found that the same was true when he repeated the experiment, this time increasing the heart rate. This discovery proved that nerve cell communication is chemical rather than electrical, which led to the discovery of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and provided the foundation for future neurotransmitter research.

Glucocorticosteroids were developed using mouse models.

In relation to asthma, bronchodilators (beta2 agonists in particular) mimic the sympathetic nervous system discovered through Loewi’s famous experiment and allow health professionals to synthetically relieve the symptoms of asthma. Other studies using mice models have also elucidated the biomolecular mechanisms of airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma. Without Loewi’s initial experiment relying animal animal research, we would not be able to treat asthma as well as we do today. Without animal research, asthma management would likely rely on alternative medications that offer little in the way in relief; without effective treatment applied asthma research would focus only on prevention.

One of the reasons I was drawn towards public health and applied research was the focus on environmental, cultural, and large system-level factors that influence health, but this can come at the expense of ignoring the wealth of basic research that allows us to study these upper-level factors. When we forget the foundational work that lets us pursue our passions, everyone suffers. Public health professionals, at the very least, need to acknowledge–if not actively advocate for—the value animal research has in improving the health of the broader public and  should actively advocate for.

In writing this post, I had to research on how asthma medications came into being. Skimming through the biomedical literature was daunting (and confusing at times), but there are great resources already created to help clarify points for the those less familiar with biomedical research, such as myself – Understanding Animal Research, Animal Research.Info, and this website, Speaking of Research are great resources. I encourage public health professionals to educate themselves in how animal research allows them to do the work they do today. Then share that knowledge, – be that over Twitter, a blog, an email to colleagues, the options are endless. Support well-evidenced and humane animal research, because our work depends on it.

Audrey Buelo, M.P.H.

360 Virtual Lab Tour allows public to look round four British animal laboratories

Understanding Animal Research has worked with four institutions, MRC Harwell, The Pirbright Institute, the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford, to create a virtual ‘street view’ tour of their laboratories. Go to labanimaltour.org to view the tours for yourself.

VIEW THE LAB ANIMAL TOUR

Visitors are provided with maps of the four facilities, with viewable rooms labeled. The University of Bristol’s research facilities allow human and veterinary surgeons to work side by side on medical research that will benefit man and animals. The MRC Harwell Institute has thousands of mice strains to investigate what genes do and the relationship between genes and disease. The University of Oxford’s primate centre conducts research into how our brains work, and The Pirbright Institute creates vaccines that protect livestock from diseases such as foot-and-mouth and swine flu.

Labanimaltour.org allows you to travel around the University of Bristol’s animal facilities

Inside the room, the tour provides videos of researchers and technicians explaining more about how and why animal research is conducted. Viewers can turn and look around, find more information about things that they see, and watch videos which explain more about the research.

Using labanimaltour.org you can look round primate rooms in the University of Oxford. It also includes videos explaining how and why the primates are used in research.

The videos themselves offer a wealth of information about research on mice, cows, pigs and primates. See the video below about how the University of Oxford trains its primates. In total, over thirty scientists and technicians were filmed as part of the project explaining both the research that is done and the animal welfare considerations that are a key component of lab animal science

The Concordat on Openness on Animals Research, signed by all four institutions, was launched in 2014, and this virtual lab tour marks another success on its third anniversary. Other British institutions have also expressed interest in creating their own 360 lab tour. This launch comes days after Americans for Medical Progress launched their own openness initiative, “Come See Our World“, to show the public accurate images from the lab.

MRC Harwell is an International Centre for Mouse Genetics

The last few years have seen a wealth of new ideas on proactively explaining what goes on in animal labs. It is essential such initiatives continue if the research community is to convince the public that such research is done humanely, under strict regulations, for the benefits of society.

Speaking of Research

Come See Our World: What Transparency Around Animal Research Looks Like

Yesterday, Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) launched a new outreach initiative aimed at increasing transparency around animal research. “Come See Our World” (CSOW) is a program that relies on the public display and distribution of photographs and videos that accurately reflect animal care and research. “The goal of the program is to replace outdated, inaccurate images of animal research with current, accurate views,” said Paula Clifford, Executive Director for AMP.

Importantly, all collected media will be compiled on a public website allowing them to be shared widely while giving credit to its source. So far, the website contains recent photos of rodents, primates, dogs, cats, farm animals, aquatic animals (fish and frogs), and other animals like rabbits, pigeons, and ferrets in research settings.

CSOW home page. Source: Americans for Medical Progress.

“Come See Our World” succeeds at outreach on multiple levels. There are mechanisms for the website to:

  • Match requests for images and research stories by reporters, researchers, lawmakers, and other non-experts to pictures or videos
  • Receive and share YOUR images, videos, and stories of real, accurate, and groundbreaking research on their “Be an Advocate” page
  • Sign up to receive updates and resources to remain engaged and informed about animals in research

We gave the site a test-run and found it to be extremely easy to navigate, appealing to view, and the information easily digestible by young and old alike. This will be a great resource for educators, scientists, policymakers – anyone, really, who is interested in learning about and promoting the accurate dissemination of animal research-related information. Visit the site now and enjoy the virtual menagerie!

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