Animal Experiments in the UK: Statistics show 4,142,631 procedures in 2015

The UK Home Office has published the 2015 annual statistics showing the number of animal procedures carried out in Great Britain under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986; this covers all vertebrate species (and Cephalopods). In 2015 there were 4.14 million procedures carried out, up 7.1% from 2014 (3.87 million). However, the Home Office have warned that comparisons with 2014 are likely to be problematic as issues with a new counting procedure (introduced in 2014) are only now being ironed out.

[T]hroughout this release, 2015 data are compared with 2013 data, as neither year of data are subject to the same data quality issues as the 2014 data. However, comparisons between 2015 and 2013 should still be exercised with a degree of caution due to the methodological change in 2014.

When compared to 2013, the number of animal procedures rose 0.5% from 4.12 million procedures.

While we often describe these statistics as being for the UK, they do not include Northern Ireland (who carried out 19,857 procedures in 2014), and so are technically the figures for Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).

Procedures on animals in Great Britain for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Procedures on animals in Great Britain for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Overall, 96.8% of animals used in scientific studies were mice, rats, fish or birds. Dogs and primates (which are offered special protections under UK law) together accounted for less than 0.2% of the total (similar to in previous years), this becomes 2.01% if cats are included. The statistics also reveal that half of all experiments were the breeding of GM animals which were not used in further experiments – this is almost identical to 2014. Overall, over 67% (two thirds) of all experiments involved genetically modified animals.

Different colours represent changes to the counting method in 1987 and 2014.

Trend over time in animal experiments in the UK. Click to Enlarge.

Using the trend graph we can see how 2014 data appears to be a blip (as confirmed by the Home Office), with animal experiments remaining relatively constant around 4.1 million. While this is higher than in the 1990s, it remains much lower than the 5.5+ million animals used in the mid 1960s.

Procedures on non-human primates rose slightly from 3,246 procedures in 2014, to 3,612 in 2015. The number of procedures on cats fell by 1 to 209 procedures and on dogs rose to 4,643 (but down slightly from the more accurate 2013 figures).

Animal pexperiments in research and testing in Great Britain 2015 by species

A ban on cosmetic testing on animals (1998) and of using great apes (gorillas, orang-utans and chimpanzees) in research (1986) meant both had zero procedures in 2015. It should be noted that some research may continue on great apes in zoos, however such research can be observation-based only as “procedures” on great apes are illegal under ASPA.

For the second time the UK statistics include retrospective reporting of suffering. Rather than just submitting licence proposals to the Home Office that include estimated levels of suffering, the researchers now have to report on what was actually seen (using a variety of measures). Unfortunately the statistics put these in two separate tables (Table 3 and 8). So we have combined them to get severity for all procedures in 2015. We can see most experiments are sub threshold (34%; less than the introduction of a hypodermic needle) or mild (45%), with remainder as moderate (14%), severe (4.5%) or non-recovery (3%; the animal never awakes from anaesthesia). Overall the proportion of moderate and severe fell from 19.2% in 2014 to 18.2 in 2015.

Severity of animal research in the UK in 2015

Severity of animal research in the UK in 2015

Other things to note in the UK statistics:

  • 49.8% of procedures were for the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals (not used in other experiments), 26.6% were for basic research, 13.4% was for regulatory purposes and 9.7% was translational/applied research [Table 1]
  • Over the experimental procedures, two-thirds of the “severe” procedures were regulatory procedures on mice. This is often because death is an endpoint in such procedures [Table 3.1]
  • Over 97% of the animals were born in the UK [Table 2.1]
  • 47.7% of procedures were conducted in universities and medical schools, 25.1% were in commercial organisations (e.g. pharmaceuticals), 12.4% were done at non-profit making organisations (e.g. medical research charities), and 11.8% were done at other public bodies. [Table 11]

Speaking of Research congratulate the UK government on continuing to produce the most comprehensive statistics on animal experiments worldwide. It is also important to note that these statistics are released as a press conference each year where representatives from the scientific community speak about the importance of animals in research.

Speaking of Research

Find more on the stats here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537708/scientific-procedures-living-animals-2015.pdf

Read last year’s release here: https://speakingofresearch.com/2015/10/22/animal-experiments-in-the-uk-government-releases-2014-statistics/

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

Do Politics Trump Chimpanzee Well-being? Questions Raised About Deaths of US Research Chimpanzees at Federally-Funded Sanctuary

A number of countries have ended some types of research with chimpanzees over the past decades.  For example, the US National Institutes of Health announced in November 2015 that it would no longer support many types of chimpanzee research. In Europe, the fate of former research chimpanzees has depended upon a mix of private wildlife parks and zoos for the animals’ care and management. The outcomes in term of chimpanzee health and survival remain relatively unknown.

Photo credit: Kathy West

Photo credit: Kathy West

In the US, the American public, via public entities, has legislated long-term support and substantial funding for the construction and maintenance of a facility dedicated to the exclusive care of chimpanzees retired from research. However, the outcomes for retired chimpanzees have been the source of public discussion and increasing concern.

This month, Dr. Cindy Buckmaster, writing in Lab Animal (Vol 45, No 7, July 2016) in an article addressed to the National Institutes of Health Director and titled: “Dr. Collins, please save our chimps!” shared a powerful and very sad story about some of the chimpanzees, asking:

“…why Dr. Collins would force these animals to leave everything they have known and everyone they love to go to a strange place, filled with strangers who cannot care for them nearly as well as their family at MDAKC! Does he know that 69% (9 out of 13) of the chimps already moved from MDAKC to his chosen sanctuary have died? Does he know that most of these treasured family members died within a few months of their arrival at the sanctuary? Does he know how they suffered? Does he know their stories? What about Maynard, who had ‘the best play face and laugh ever,’ and loved playing with his human and animal family at MDAKC? Does Dr. Collins know that Maynard had a fatal heart attack in the sanctuary the day after he was introduced to a new group of chimpan­zees? Does he care? I’d like to believe that he does, but I don’t know him. If I did, I would ask him to visit the MDAKC chimps so he would know, beyond doubt, that retirement in place is the most loving thing he could do for these animals. And I would beg him to save our chimps.”

maynard

Photo credit: Kathy West

labanjulyBuckmaster’s plea echoes those of others with concern that unrelenting political pressure on the NIH from groups opposed to animal research has resulted in decisions about chimpanzees that may not be in the animals’ best interests. In the aftermath of a series of decisions by the NIH over the past several years and increasing pressure by opponents of animal research, NIH has mandated the transfer of chimpanzees from their homes, established social groups, and dedicated caregivers to the Louisiana facility (See: Where should US chimpanzees live; Chimpanzee retirement: facts, myths and motivations; and What cost savings: a closer look a GAPCSA 2011).

The result of the transfers has included injuries to chimpanzees as they are introduced into new social groups and to deaths of animals. As Buckmaster notes, for one recent group of 13 relocated chimpanzees, the result was a nearly 70% death rate for animals moved from dedicated research facilities with long-time experience in caring for the animals to the Louisiana sanctuary. As a result of a decades-old ban on breeding, all sanctuaries and research facilities housing chimpanzees are largely populated by aging animals. Yet, the number of chimpanzees that have died upon transfer from research facility to sanctuary contrasts with an average death rate for chimpanzees due to advanced age, health, or other causes for a given facility, an expected average of  3-4 individuals per year (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-392).

Bastrop chimps tool useResearch chimpanzees make up approximately 40% of the 1,650 chimpanzees estimated to live in the US, which includes chimpanzees not only in research facilities, but also sanctuaries, zoos, and other entertainment and breeding venues (see graph below). As recently announced, a large number of research chimpanzees housed at the New Iberia Research Center will retire to a private US sanctuary in northern Georgia.  The remaining US research chimpanzees are under 1/3rd of all chimpanzees housed in the US.

where us chimpanzees live 07.13.16

The chimpanzee deaths at Chimp Haven have increasingly raised significant questions in the communities that are concerned with ape well-being These concerns are the subject of considerable private discussion in the chimpanzee research community by those who have cared for the animals for decades. Public expressions of concern have been more constrained, but are emerging, as are calls for a re-examination of where the chimpanzees should live. For example, Buckmaster says:

“In fact, many of our chimps would fare better if they were allowed to retire in place. And several of these precious creatures have already suffered and died because the NIH would not allow them to do so. The MD Anderson Keeling Center (MDAKC) in Texas has been home to the healthiest, happiest chimpanzees in America for decades. Their living quarters are comparable to, or better, than any US sanctuary, and none of these sanctuaries can compete with the level of care provided to chimpanzees at MDAKC. The MDAKC staff includes ten full-time veterinarians with a combined total of 92 years of experience caring for chimpanzees; 6 are specially boarded primate veterinarians, 3 are specially boarded veterinary pathologists, and 3 are specially certified to provide laser and acupuncture therapies to supplement traditional treatment regimens. There are also 22 specially trained, full-time technicians devoted to the chimps’ husbandry, health and behavioral needs, including 3 night technicians. MDAKC also has a full-service clinical pathology laboratory on site that allows for the immediate diagnosis and treatment of animals with health concerns. No US sanctuary is staffed or equipped to care for chimpanzees like MDAKC, not one! In fact, the sanctuary that the NIH is forcing us to send our chimpanzees to currently is not even equipped to carry out its own diagnostic lab work. This is concerning, given the advanced age of many research chimpanzees. Honestly, it would make more sense for Dr. Collins to retire the nation’s research chimps to MDAKC! 

Buckmaster’s comments should resonate with all of those concerned with ape well-being. The US public has provided considerable support meant to give these chimpanzees retirement care—on the assumption that such care would be in the animals’ best interests and protective of their health and well-being in retirement. The federal commitment to ape retirement is unusual compared to other countries.It also reflects broad support from the research community as well as the public.

Chimp Haven, the first and only federal chimpanzee sanctuary in the US, was founded in 1995 by a NIH-funded behavioral scientist Dr. Linda Brent along with a group of primatologists and business professionals. Through federal legislation in 2000—the Chimpanzees Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act (CHIMP Act; 42 U.S.C. §§ 287a-3a)—a national chimpanzee sanctuary system was established and NIH was formally mandated to provide life-time funding for the research chimpanzees it retires. As a result, in 2002 the NIH awarded Chimp Haven a 10-year, cost-sharing contract in which the NIH provided roughly $19 million in total costs for retired chimpanzee care, as well as $11.5 million for initial construction of the sanctuary. Six years later, in 2008, federal sanctuary standards were established (see Fed. Register 73 FR 60423, Oct. 10, 2008: Standards of Care for Chimpanzees Held in the Federally Supported Chimpanzee System). These standards apply to Chimp Haven, but do not necessarily extend to other sanctuaries.

CC-BY-NC-SAThus far, the federal investment in sanctuary retirement exceeds $30M. An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in 2012 estimated an additional $56M cost to retire and maintain federally-funded chimpanzees for a 5 year period (not the animals’ lifespan). A 2016 Government Accounting Office report determined that the range of per day care costs paid by NIH for a chimpanzee housed in the four facilities NIH supports was between a low of $41 and a high of $61, or between $15,000 – $22,000 per chimpanzee per year. Thus, NIH’s total support for care and maintenance of its 561 chimpanzees each year may be between $8,415,000 – $12,342,000.  By extension, over a 5 year period, the cost would be between $42,075,000 – $61,710,000. NIH pays 75% of costs and Chimp Haven is required to provide matching funds via private donations and fundraising. Of critical note, the cost for chimpanzee care will also likely vary significantly with increasing medical and care needs as the population ages.

http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-392In light of a complex mix of animal welfare, cost, and pragmatic concerns, a substantial number of NIH-owned research chimpanzees have not yet been transferred to Chimp Haven. The speed of transferring NIH-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries remains a source of contention and was directly addressed by the 2016 GAO report. The report determined that: “Most of the 561 chimpanzees that NIH owned or supported as of January 15, 2016, had not been retired to Chimp Haven, which housed 179 NIH-owned chimpanzees at that time.” The agency concludes that NIH “has not developed or communicated a clear implementation plan to transfer the remaining chimpanzees, in part because of uncertainties about the available space at Chimp Haven. However, NIH has information about Chimp Haven’s current capacity and about anticipated space that will become available as a result of chimpanzee mortality. Absent a clear implementation plan, the four facilities that care for NIH-owned or NIH-supported chimpanzees may not have the information they need to care for the chimpanzees in the most cost-effective way that considers the timing of the transfers and the welfare needs of the chimpanzees. … Moreover, the absence of such a plan is inconsistent with federal internal control standards that call for effective communication of quality information.”

At the same time, active public discussions are continuing about whether NIH-owned chimpanzees should be retired in their current settings (in situ retirement), or if substantial funds for new construction should be made available in order to provide for their transfer to the federal sanctuary. Among the arguments for retiring the chimpanzees in their current homes is that the research facilities can offer the same level of care as the federal sanctuary, particularly given the new requirement for ethologically-relevant standards of care. From the animal welfare perspective, retirement in place would also have the advantage of protecting the chimpanzees—many of whom are aged— from the stress of relocation and disruption of stable social groups. For example, in an earlier interview about movement of chimpanzees, veterinarian and director of the MD Anderson Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine, Dr. Christian Abee:

“praised Chimp Haven’s facilities, but he said the stress of moving can take a fatal toll on older, more frail chimpanzees. Of the 13 chimps his facility had transferred this year to Chimp Haven, four died or were euthanized within the first three months, he said. Chimpanzees, an endangered species native to West and Central Africa, can live to 60 years in captivity. I don’t mean this as a criticism of Chimp Haven, but we uprooted them, took them from their family groups, we moved them cross country, we put them in unfamiliar settings with caregivers who didn’t know them, and four died,” Abee said. “We would not have anticipated those four to die if they had stayed here” (Walters & Knowles, 2015).

CC-BY-NC-SAFrom the perspective of the individual animal’s health and well-being, the type of facility in which he or she lives is only relevant insofar as it affects the provision, stability, and type of care, housing, and other aspects of daily life. In other words, whether the facility is a sanctuary, zoo, or research institute may be irrelevant if the standards for care, housing, and living conditions are substantively similar across settings. Ultimately, from the available data and the chimpanzee deaths that have occurred following their relocation to the federal sanctuary, it may appear that NIH and others advocating for transfer of the animals from their current homes and social groups to the sanctuary may be making a mistake. It is a mistake that is counterproductive to the animals’ welfare. It is one that appears to prioritize political considerations and appeasement of opponents of animal research over the interests of the animals themselves. In short, political expediency seems to be trumping animal welfare for chimpanzees and this serves no one well.

Speaking of Research

***

Portions of this post are excerpted from Bennett, A.J. & Panicker, S. (in press). Broader Impacts: International Implications and Integrative Ethical Consideration of Policy Decisions about US Chimpanzee Research. Am J Primatology.

Zika research in nonhuman primates critical as fears among pregnant women, families grow

Jordana Lenon, B.S., B.A., is the outreach specialist for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this guest post Jordana talks about WNPRC research on Zika virus.

Wisconsin National Primate Research Center scientist David O’Connor is emphasizing using “as few animals as possible” to answer research questions that desperately need answers as the world watches Zika virus cause birth defects and raise fears among pregnant women and their families across the warmer Americas. These answers, O’Connor expects, will move him and his collaborators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Duke University, in Brazil and beyond forward as they learn more each day how Zika virus may be operating inside of infected pregnant women and their newborns, and could cause potential lifelong impairments we don’t even know about yet.

Researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center perform a fetal ultrasound on a pregnant rhesus macaque, in their quest to learn more about the link between the Zika virus and birth defects. (Images by Justin Bomberg, UW-Madison Communications)

Thanks to research using rhesus macaques, whose immune, reproductive and neurological systems are very similar to ours, the answers are starting to come in. Furthermore, O’Connor and his Zika Experimental Science Team, or “ZEST are sharing their raw research data through an online portal with the public – including of course and very importantly other Zika researchers. Their goal is to share data openly, to eliminate as many impediments as possible to spurring collaborative work around the globe to solve the Zika crisis.

David O'Connor, professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

David O’Connor, professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Just how severe a problem are we looking at? O’Connor gave some perspective during a public lecture on the UW-Madison campus this week. While HIV – another pandemic virus he has studied exhaustively over the past 20 years – costs society about $400,000 per patient over their life spans, Zika virus impairments in newborns could cost between $1-10 million per patient (using US dollar estimates) over their life spans. Recent studies in macaques found that the Zika virus persisted for up to 70 days in the blood of pregnant female monkeys – much longer than the 10 days it remained in either males or non-pregnant females – this increases the chance of severe birth defects being found in babies.

There are already more than 300 pregnant women in the US with laboratory evidence of Zika. This number is growing daily. Infections in the US are largely being attributed to pregnant women picking up the virus while traveling outside the country: Zika is hitting hard right now in Puerto Rico, infecting nearly 50 pregnant women per day, as Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which can transmit viruses such as dengue and Zika, spread and move northward this summer from South to Central America, to the Caribbean and into the United States. Because Zika is also sexually transmitted, its borders of infection are not limited to places where the mosquitos live and bite.

Mother and infant rhesus monkeysThere is hope, however. A new experimental vaccine has shown to protect mice with just a single dose. Scientists from Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School found two different vaccines effectively protected 100% of mice from the virus. This compares to a control group which were unprotected and all caught Zika after being exposed to the virus.

Jordana Lenon

See the team’s latest research updates on the ZEST web portal site.

View the Wednesday Night at the Lab lecture on Zika virus that Dr. O’Connor gave July 6 on the UW-Madison campus, including his responses to several questions about the virus, immunity, pregnancy, and vaccine development.

Animal Research in Israel – 2015 Statistics Released

You may have noticed that Speaking of Research has expanded its list of national animal research statistics to around 30 countries. We would like to thank the RSPCA’s Lab Animal team for supplying us with some of our more recent EU additions. However, our most recent addition is the 2015 statistics for Israel, which showed that the number of animals used in research had declined by 1.6% to 334,767 animals. These numbers can be found on the Israeli Ministry of Health website.

Testing on Animals in Israel for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Testing on Animals in Israel for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

The number of most species declined, except for the use of mice, rabbits and primates. The main fall (49%) was in “Other Animals”, which includes fish, amphibians and reptiles. A 20% fall in the number of rats used, down to under 40,000, also contributed to the overall slight fall in numbers of animals used in research.

Animals used in research in Israel in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Animals used in research in Israel in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Mice are far and away the most commonly used animal in research in Israel (at 76%). Rats, Mice and Birds accounted for around 95% of animals used in research. The 42 primates used accounted for 0.01% of research animals in 2015. Research on animals, particularly primates, has been under pressure in Israel for the past few years. This led to seven Nobel Prize Laureates and the presidents of seven major research universities writing to the Prime Minister, and warning him of the risks to Israeli research posed by the animal rights community there.

Trends in Israeli animal experiments 2004-15. Click to Enlarge.

Trends in Israeli animal experiments 2004-15. Click to Enlarge.

Historical statistics show that the number of animals used each year has been fairly constant over the past 11 years – fluctuating between around 275,000 and 340,000. The slight variations may account for individual projects which used a lot of animals, or from slight changes in science funding over the years.

According to  YNetNews:

45.2% of the experiments were related to advance health and medicine and to prevent suffering. 44.3% were to promote scientific research. 9% were for testing or manufacturing materials or objects, and 1.5% were for education and teaching

The article also provided information on animal suffering, similar to what is included in standard European statistics.

The research procedures were categorized according to a five-level scale determined by the NCAE, which considers the animals’ suffering. According to this scale, 9% of the studies were at the lowest level, 19% were at the second, 30% at the third, 29% at the fourth, and 13% were at the highest level.

We will be keeping an eye on future statistics.

Speaking of Research

Original Data: http://www.health.gov.il/Services/Committee/animax/Documents/multiyearUse_2015.pdf 

Experimental Design Assistant: Improving the Scientific Method

Studies involving animals are a crucial component of medical research, and without them our understanding of disease and suffering would be decades behind where we are now. However, scientists must always reflect on their work and ensure that animal studies are carried out with the best design, compassion and rigour possible, so animals are not involved in experiments needlessly.

Just as our understanding of science has improved over the years, so has our understanding of scientific methods. In an effort to increase the quality and effectiveness of animal research, the NC3Rs – a UK organisation devoted to promoting the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research – created the ARRIVE guidelines in 2010. These guidelines provided researchers with a set of rules on how to report animal experiments, ensuring that animals were used effectively and humanely. So far over 600 journals have signed up to the ARRIVE guidelines. Although there are no quantitative analyses of the effectiveness of the ARRIVE guidelines, they have undoubtedly provided an important framework for animal studies that previously didn’t exist, and have made it harder for poor science to go unnoticed.

Following the success of the ARRIVE guidelines, the NC3Rs has continued its efforts to reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in research. Recently, the organisation has released an innovative new piece of software, the Experimental Design Assistant (EDA).

Experimental Design Assistant - EDAThe EDA allows scientists to plan out their experiments thoroughly and visually, mapping out every aspect of the study from the earliest hypothesis to the last statistical analysis. While the user is completing their experimental plan, the EDA will analyse the study and provide feedback. The feedback includes whether the number of animals involved could be reduced, whether experimental groups are correctly distributed, whether statistical analysis is appropriate, and much more. Already the EDA has over 400 registered users. Overall, the EDA will refine animal studies and could potentially reduce the numbers of animals used in research while simultaneously improving the quality of science that results from animal studies.

An example of a typical experiment designed with the help of the EDA

An example of a typical experiment designed with the help of the EDA. Click to Enlarge

Not only does the EDA aim to improve the quality and effectiveness of animal research, it also aims to increase transparency. The EDA could one day allow funding bodies and independent regulators to observe experiments being designed in real-time. Additionally, experimental designs could, perhaps, be made available to the public, alongside the brief descriptions of each research project that are currently in the public domain. This sort of transparency can help to build trust in scientists and animal research.

University of Manchester researcher Briony Labram is a scientist whose work will benefit from the EDA. Here she talks about how this software is important, especially for animal researchers:

I’m investigating how the Aspergillus fumigatus fungus is involved in severe cases of asthma.

My project started using epithelial cell culture, where we exposed these cells to Aspergillus fumigatus spores. This gave us a lot of interesting results but also raised more research questions.  Many of these questions could not be answered using the simple cell culture model. In order to study a chronic condition such as asthma and ask more complex research questions, longer study durations are necessary. Therefore the only way to answer these questions was to use an animal model.

Researchers should be especially diligent when planning studies involving animals, to ensure the maximum gain in terms of meaningful data while using as few animals as possible. The EDA will ensure the numbers of animals used in an experiment is kept to a minimum while still obtaining reliable and reproducible data.

Briony Labram - University of ManchesterBriony is typical of many animal researchers; she is aware of the importance of reducing and refining the use of animals in her studies. By using the EDA, Briony knows her experiments can be improved while minimising the number of animals involved in her study.

The EDA is clearly an important tool for researchers, but is not without limitations. In its current, early stage, the EDA relies heavily on randomisation, paying less attention to counter-balancing (controlling for the order in which treatments are given), and other crucial aspects of thorough experimental design. In a similar vein, the EDA focuses more on reducing the number of animals used, when just as much effort should go into refining the studies in question. Refining the use of animals involved in research will undoubtedly increase the scientific value of such studies, and this should be a focal point of research tools like the EDA.

It is also important for scientists to retain some autonomy in the process of experimental design, and not rely entirely on software to design studies for them. Scientists using the EDA still need to understand their study in sufficient depth for the EDA’s statistical analysis to be effective. Ideally the EDA will be used as a companion to scientific rigour, rather than its replacement.

Research isn’t perfect, and it probably never will be as long as scientists are imperfect. But tools like the EDA will help to ensure that animals involved in research are kept close to a minimum, and that the medical and scientific value we obtain from them will continue to change lives for the better.

Anyone can access the EDA. Follow the simple registration process here to begin designing your experiments.

Patrick

Austria publishes 2015 statistics on animal research

Austria has published its statistics that show the number of animals used for research and testing in 2015. Austria carried out 227,317 procedures on animals in 2015, 8.7% more than in 2014.

Procedures on animals in the Austria for research in 2015. Click to Enlarge

The rise in the number of experiments is mainly due to a 7.1% rise in mice. There was a significant rise in the number of rabbits (+95%) and other rodents (+58%) used. There were also small rises in dogs (up 68% to 111 procedures) and cats (up 5 procedures to 34).

Animal Experiments in Austria in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Animal Experiments in Austria in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Mice continue to be the most commonly used species at 82%. Mice, rats and fish account for 89% of all animal procedures, rising to 96% if you include rabbits. It is interesting that Austria, rabbits are the second most common species, a fact not seen anywhere else in Europe, though neighbouring Germany also has a relatively high number (3.8% of total). The statistics show that most of these rabbits (93%) were involved in pyrogenicity studies (looking at fever response). No primates were used in Austria in 2015 (or 2014) and dogs and cats accounted for less than 0.07% of all animals used despite the rises in number of procedures for these species.

Animals used in research in Austria in 2015. Click to Enlarge

Animals used in research in Austria in 2015. Click to Enlarge

This year was the second year where there was retrospective assessment and reporting of severity (i.e. reporting how much an animal actually suffered rather than how much it was predicted to suffer prior to the study). Reassuringly the proportions in each severity banding was similar to 2014, suggesting the system has been well understood. The report showed that 60% of procedures were classed as mild, 24% as moderate, 12% as severe, and 4% as non-recovery, where an animal is anaesthetised for surgery, and then not woken up afterwards.

From historical statistics we can see that while there has been an overall decline of almost 50% since 1990, the numbers have been edging upwards since their nadir in 1999. These numbers tend to reflect changing science funding environments within the country.

Trends in Austrian animal experiments 1990-15. Click to Enlarge.

Trends in Austrian animal experiments 1990-15. Click to Enlarge.

Some animal rights groups have criticised the rise in numbers, noting that it is the highest number since 1994. This is cherry picking – the numbers have been relatively stable since 1994, and are far lower than the 450,000+ animals being used in 1990 and 1991.

Austria is one of the first countries to publish its 2015 annual statistics, and we will be looking out for the statistics of other European countries. See our summary of statistics to compare countries.