Tag Archives: animal research

Animal Research in South Korea in 2016

In February 2017 the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency (APQA) of South Korea released its animal research numbers for 2016. We spoke to the Animal Protection & Welfare Division and have been able to get a translated copy of these figures. The tables below were produced by the APQA, and we thank Dr Lee for providing these figures.

In 2016, South Korea used 2,878,907 animals in research, up 14.8% from the previous year.

Animal research in South Korea for 2016 by species

Rodents, fish and birds accounted for over 97% of animals used in research – similar to figures found in Europe. Most of the rise in animal experiments came from an increase in rodents (+19.5%), though numbers for fish (+15.2%) and birds (+60.7%) also contributed. There were falls in several categories, including primate experiments, which fell 18.8%.

Severity of animal experiments in South Korea

South Korea also produced severity statistics, similar to those in Europe. 2.6% of research showed no harm to the animal, 28.4% was mild, 35.5% was moderate and was 33.4% severe.We are unclear if these categorizations are based on pre-experiment licenses (what the researcher believed the severity would be) or post-experiment evaluation (what the researcher saw the severity to be).

Trends in South Korean animal experiments 2008-2016

The number of animals used in research has risen sharply over the last nine years, up 279% over the period, rising at a fairly steady rate of over 250,000 animals per year. To see why, take a look at a graph, produced by Nature, on the growth of R&D in South Korea over the same period.

The huge rise in spending on basic and applied research means that animal experiments were likely to rise (and did) over the same period. In 2013, South Korea had more researchers per thousand people in employment (12.84) than Japan (10.19), the USA  (8.81) or Germany (8.54). Medical and health sciences were the largest discipline (by publications) in South Korea (see Nature article).

If you know of any animal research statistics not on our list, please contact us.

Open letter: Private workshop on the “necessity” of monkey research does not represent broad public interests or the scientific community

This weekend there will be science marches around the globe. Scientists and science proponents will gather to provide a visible sign of support for work that benefits the public, the environment, and the world in innumerable ways. The march has been highly publicized  – rightfully so, because it serves as a reminder that scientific research and scientists can be threatened in a variety of ways that can have consequences with breadth and depth that should be of concern for society as a whole.

This week there will also be another event that has potential for consequences for science and public health. But it is neither a public event, nor one that has been publicized.

The private event is a workshop titled, “The necessity of the use of non-human primate models in research.” The workshop is supported by Johns Hopkins University and is organized by Prof. Jeff Kahn in the Berman Institute for Bioethics, with participants that include philosophers, bioethicists, a leader of the Humane Society of the US, veterinarians, and scientists– all by invitation only (see roster in workshop agenda below). Its stated goals and approach are: “To help address the issues of the use of NHPs in research, we are convening this working group to examine the science, ethics, and policy aspects of the use of NHPs in biomedical and behavioral research and testing, with the goal of identifying consensus findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The focus of the working group will be to evaluate the current and potential future uses of NHP models, drawing on the approach used in the 2011 IOM Report “Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity” (IOM, 2011).

The group lists as their objective: “The product(s) of the working group process will be a report or series of reports based on the working group’s expert analysis, which will include principles and criteria for assessing the necessity of the use of NHPs in research.” (emphasis added)

Detail is here: Animal Working Group Meeting 1 Briefing Book

In other words, the working group, privately convened, is intent on replicating the 2011 IOM process applied to chimpanzees in order to produce their own principles and criteria for assessing nonhuman primate research broadly. This process should cause grave concern for scientists and for the public who rely on research conducted with nonhuman primates.

The scientific community has publicly weighed in on the necessity of primate research. Most recently, the National Institutes of Health convened a working group to consider nonhuman primate research and concluded “that the oversight framework for the use of non-human primates in research is robust and has provided sufficient protections to date.” Similarly, a letter from over 400 scientists, including Nobel Laureates, rejected a claim from notable public figures that neuroscience research with non-human primates is no longer useful. The hundreds of scientists argued that, “primate research was still critical for developing treatments for dementia and other debilitating illnesses.” (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/13/brain-experiments-on-primates-are-crucial-say-eminent-scientists)

Consideration of the ethical justification for research and of the care for animals in research occurs at many levels and in public space. Public health, including the interests of patients and of society as a whole, is integral to those decisions. The scientific community provides expert knowledge about what types of studies are needed for progress in the basic understanding of biology, brain, behavior, and disease and also about how to move forward with new prevention, intervention, and treatment to address health challenges. Funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, are charged by the public to make decisions about science and do so through a process that involves multiple layers of expert review. Federal agencies also oversee research and standards of care for humans and animals involved in studies and provide opportunities for the public to comment on standards and to benefit from decisions.

The private workshop has the appearance of being secretive while also directly opposing the processes in place for responsible public decision-making. As such, it appears to be yet another attempt to influence decisions about science without adequately representing either public interests or the breadth and depth of expertise in the scientific community. Without adequate scientific representation the workshop conclusions cannot be taken as adequately representative of the current state of scientific knowledge. Without adequate representation of the public agencies that safeguard societal interests in scientific and medical progress the workshop conclusions cannot be taken as representative of fact-informed, balanced consideration of research.

Finally, without consideration informed by understanding the fundamental characteristics of the scientific process, the workshop conclusions will only reflect an agenda biased to reach a particular conclusion. As it is framed, it appears that the question of “necessity” is one that cannot account well for the role of basic research, of uncertainty, and of the difference between decisions based in a particular set of values and decisions about the best scientific course of action to answer questions and advance understanding of human and animal health.

For all of these reasons, the reports emanating from this private workshop must be critically examined with healthy skepticism, rather than taken as an authoritative account. We remain concerned that the products of a workshop will serve to advance an agenda that is harmful to public interests in scientific research.

[Note:  If you would like to sign on to this letter please add your name to the comments].

Signatories,

Christian Abee, DVM, DACLAM, Professor and Director, Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, Univ. of TX MD Anderson Cancer Center

Jeremy D. Bailoo, PhD, University of Bern

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Member and former chair, American Psychological Association Committee on Animal Research Ethics)

Michael J. Beran, PhD, Psychology Department and Language Research Center, Georgia State University

James Champion, Morehouse School of Medicine

Julia A. Chester, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University

Linda C. Cork, D.V.M, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Medicine, School of Medicine, Stanford University  (Senior member of the National Academy of Medicine;  Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists)

Robert Desimone, Ph.D., Director, McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience

Doris Doudet, PhD, University of British Columbia

Marina Emborg, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Physics; Director, Preclinical Parkinson’s Research Program, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Lynn Fairbanks, PhD, Emeritus professor, Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, Semel Institute, UCLA

Charles P. France, Ph.D., Professor, University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio

Patrice A. Frost, D.V.M, President of, and signing on behalf of, the Association of Primate Veterinarians

Michael  E. Goldberg, MD,  David Mahoney Professor of  Brain and Behavior in the Departments of Neuroscience, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Ophthalmology
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons,  and Senior Attending Neurologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital. (Past chair, Society for Neuroscience Committee on Animal Research)

Katalin M. Gothard, MD, PhD, Professor of Physiology, The University of Arizona

Kathleen A. Grant, PhD, Professor, Oregon National Primate Research Center

Sherril Green, DVM, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Comparative Medicine, Stanford Medicine

Nancy L. Haigwood, PhD, Director and Professor, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University

Keren Haroush, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University

William D. Hopkins, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience, Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University

J.David Jentsch, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Binghamton University

R. Paul Johnson, MD, Director, Yerkes National Primate Research Center

Joseph W. Kemnitz, Ph.D., Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Robert E. Lanford, PhD, Director, Southwest National Primate Research Center, Texas Biomedical Research Institute

Kirk Leech, Executive Director, European Animal Research Association

Jon Levine, PhD, Director, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center; Professor of Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Alexander Maier, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

Juan Carlos Marvizon, PhD, Adjunct Professor, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Earl K. Miller, Ph.D., Picower Professor of Neuroscience, The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

John H. Morrison, PhD, Director, California National Primate Research Center, Professor, Department of Neurology, School of Medicine, University of California Davis

Michael Mustari, PhD, Director, Washington National Primate Research Center and Research Professor, Department of Biological Structure, University of Washington

J. Anthony Movshon, University Professor and Silver Professor, Center for Neural Science, New York University

William T. Newsome, Harman Family Provostial Professor, Stanford University, Vincent V.C. Woo Director, Stanford Neurosciences Institute
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Melinda Novak, PhD, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Kimberley A. Phillips, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of Neuroscience, Trinity University; Affiliate Scientist, Southwest National Primate Research Center, Texas Biomedical Research Institute

Peter J. Pierre, PhD, Behavioral Services Unit Head, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dario Ringach, PhD, Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology, University of California Los Angeles

Marcello Rosa, PhD, Professor of Physiology, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

James Rowlett, PhD, University of Mississippi Medical Center (Chair, American Psychological Association Committee on Animal Research Ethics)

Mar Sanchez, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University (Chair, Society for Neuroscience Committee on Animal Research)

Jeffrey D. Schall, Ph.D., Bronson Ingram Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, Director, Center for Integrative & Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

Igor I. Slukvin, MD, PhD, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

David A. Washburn, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Georgia State University

Robert Wurtz, PhD, Scientist Emeritus, National Institutes of Health

 

Research Roundup: A new approach to treating Parkinson’s, designer pig organs, the benefits of dragon blood, and more!

Welcome to this week’s Research Roundup. These Friday posts aim to inform our readers about the many stories that relate to animal research each week. Do you have an animal research story we should include in next week’s Research Roundup? You can send it to us via our Facebook page or through the contact form on the website.

  • Scientists may have discovered a new way to treat Parkinson’s disease (PD), a devastating neurological disease that causes tremors, rigid muscles, and changes in speech. In PD, a person’s brain cells (neurons) die causing a reduction in the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Researchers in Sweden were able to reprogram human astrocytes – brain cells that normally support the functions of neurons – to behave more like dopamine producing neurons. They did this by bathing the astrocytes in a petri dish in a number of molecules that affect changes in the cell’s DNA. This proof of concept allowed researchers to take the next step and try this therapy in a mouse model of PD. Injecting the same cocktail of molecules into the brains of PD mice caused the astrocytes to become more like the dopamine producing neurons, and this change lessened the PD symptoms in the mice. Obviously, many more studies are needed before this potential therapy can be tried in human patients with PD, but this is an exciting advancement in our quest to treat this disease. This research was published in Nature Biotechnology.
animal testing, animal research, vivisection, animal experiment

Mice were key to this Parkinson’s breakthrough

  • A new study finds that a reovirus may be implicated in the development of celiac disease. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten, leads to damage of the small intestine. Gluten is found in many common foods, and is the general name for wheat derived proteins. “It affects 1 in 100 people worldwide, and 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications”. Mice, were infected orally with two derived forms of a human reovirus, T1L and T3D; both capable of infecting the hosts` intestine but affecting its functioning in different ways. They found that while mice were able to successfully clear the virus from the system; exposure to the virus can disrupt intestinal homeostasis, lead to a loss of oral tolerance to the antigens produced by the body, and promote immunopathology similar to the symptoms of celiac disease. This study will of course need to replicated and further research investigating other reoviruses and the subsequent link to the development of celiac diseases firmly established. This study, using mice, does however, provide hope for the millions of individuals suffering from celiac disease and if a strong link to reoviruses is established; can lead to the development of a vaccination. The research was published in Science.
  • A promising vaccination for Zika virus has been found, reducing the occurrence of congenital abnormalities in mice. Zika virus is an emergent global health threat, that is transmitted by mosquito bites and more recently it has been discovered that it can be passed on via sex with an infected person. The most debilitating effects of the virus are death in the young and elderly are with compromised immune systems and perhaps most strikingly birth defects — in particular, microcephaly; a sign of incomplete brain development. For the first time, these researchers tested a live attenuated version of the Zika virus in mice. In comparison to an inactivated vaccine, live attenuated vaccinations have the advantage of single-dose immunization, rapid and robust immune response, and potentially long-lived protection. They found that this live attenuated vaccination was able to confer sterilizing immunity (complete protection from infection), a robust T-cell immune response, and a promising safety profile; similar to that of other clinically approved vaccinations. This study was published in Nature Medicine.

Illustration of a baby with microcephaly (left) compared to a baby with a typical head size

  • A new study finds that the human body’s peripheral nervous system could be capable of interpreting its environment and modulating pain. The sensation and perception of pain has historically been associated with the brain and the spinal cord (central nervous system(CNS)) and drugs for pain target the CNS. However, these drugs sometimes lead to unintended side effects such as addiction and tolerance. Drugs which target the peripheral system may allows us to avoid these unintended side effects. Using mice, these researchers demonstrated that the peripheral nervous system was able to interpret the type of stimulation it was sensing, although further research is needed to figure out how these sensations are interpreted by the brain. While further replication and validation is needed, this study widens our view of pain, its sensation and potential means of treatment. This study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

  • Luhan Yang, Chief Scientific Officer at eGenesis, is working to create ‘designer pigs’ which could be used to help alleviate the organ crisis. By inserting up to 12 human genes into pig ova they hope to overcome the rejection problems which currently prevent xenotransplantation from providing viable organs for human use. Yang hopes the use of the gene-editing technique CRISPR will make it possible to create human-animal hybrid organs that can be used to save lives.

  • New study finds that variant of protein in komodo dragon blood (VK25) contains antimicrobials that may one day form the basis of a new antibiotic. Researchers at George Mason University synthesized a new molecule,DRGN-1, based on a peptide found in the blood of the Indonesian lizard. This molecule was shown to promote healing in mice with wounds infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. This synthetic compound also made these bacteria cell membrane more permeable – making it easier to kill these bacteria. The research was published in Biofilms and Microbiomes

Disappointing lack of context by Cruelty Free International, as worst press release on animal testing numbers is revealed

Cruelty Free International (CFI), a British-based animal rights group (formerly known as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection), has produced its annual press release about animal research numbers at British Universities. The release, entitled: “Disappointing lack of progress at UK universities as worst offenders for animal testing are revealed”, is full of hyperbole, half-truths and even a few outright factual mistakes. The release is likely to leave those readers who have little prior knowledge of animal research, with a less accurate impression of what it entails than if they’d consulted the universities themselves. The full CFI release can be found at the bottom of this article.

The press release begins with

Cruelty Free International has today revealed the five worst offending universities for animal testing in the UK, which are each responsible for carrying out experiments on over 175,000 animals per year. The universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Cambridge, University College and King’s College London, forced 997,839 animals to suffer in experiments in 2015. This represents a collective increase of 7% compared to 2014.

This might be more “revealing” if it wasn’t for the fact that these universities (and five more) came together six months earlier to proactively press release their 2015 animal research numbers. This release included nine case studies of research being done at the institutions in order to provide additional context to the numbers. The article was picked up by the Huffington Post (and a few other outlets).

From Huffington Post UK

The article included the number of procedures on animals carried out by each institution:

Perhaps CFI didn’t see it, you may ask? Well no, CFI’s Katy Taylor is quoted in the Huffington Post article, responding to the information provided by the Universities.  Interestingly, CFI ends the first paragraph of its press release by noting that this represents a 7% rise by the top five universities over their 2014 statistics. This rise is exactly in line with the 7% rise in animal experiments that happened across all institutions in the UK (on average).

Cruelty Free International goes on to provide a table of the numbers (which they erroneously describe as “number of animals” when they mean “number of procedures” – a rookie mistake for an organisation which claims to be an authority on the issue). It notes the rise in the number of procedures at four out of the five universities, but describes the (very small) decline in numbers at the University of Oxford as “virtually no change”. That probably sounded better for their release. CFI also gets the number of procedures at the University of Cambridge wrong – it is 181,080, a number which is freely available on the university website.

The five universities mentioned also appear together in another list – they account for five of the top six British Universities on the QS World University ranking. Perhaps what CFI describe as the “worst universities for animal experiments” are in fact some of the best universities in the world for biomedical research (all five are also in the top 50 world institutions for “biological sciences”) and for advancing human health.

These are the six top ranked British Universities on the world university leagues tables. The numbers on the left represent their position in the world, including institution outside the UK.

CFI’s press release then goes on to make unverified claims about things going on at the five universities. Because CFI provides no evidence or paper references for the claims that, for example, monkeys were “deprived of food or water”, or were “restrained for hours”, it is impossible to speak to the veracity of these claims. However, similar claims by other animal rights groups have often been found to be either false or misleading.

Dr Katy Taylor, CFI’s Director of Science, who is quoted in the press release, suggests these universities should be leading in “replacing and reducing animal testing”. Setting aside the fact that these institutions do animal research, and very little animal testing (which is a term for safety tests, usually done by pharmaceutical companies and CROs, and require by law before potential new medicines can move into human trials), the truth is that these institutions are leading the way in both animal and non-animal methods. For instance, researchers at the University of Cambridge have won NC3Rs Prizes, for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research, in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013; Oliver Britton at the University of Oxford won the prize in 2014 for a computer model of cardiac electrophysiology; and Dr Anna Williams at the University of Edinburgh was highly commended in 2011 for her work on cell cultures which can reduce the number of mice needed to test MS treatments. King’s College London, meanwhile, has developed a number of animal alternatives, such as this artificial gill system which reduces the need to use fish, and University College London is the home of the Replacement of Animals in Research Conference  alternatives conference. Just because an institution is doing great work Replacing and Reducing animal research, doesn’t mean overall numbers will come down – as this is influenced by many factors.

Finally we come to one of trickier claims. Katy Taylor goes on to say:

63% of the 65 universities that reported testing on animals in 2015 still do not publish their animal testing statistics online, despite claiming that they agree there should be more transparency.

It is worth noting that the Universities that do the most animal research DO publish their statistics online. A quick search found 22 institutions that definitely published their statistics – they accounted for 1,612,166 procedures, of the 1,977,928 procedures conducted by all universities and medical schools in 2015 (Table 11). So rather than saying 63% of universities do not publish their figures (remembering that some of these institutions may only do a few dozen procedures), it might be more meaningful to say that 81.5% of procedures are accounted for in the data published by universities. It is unclear where CFI’s figure of 1,920,171 animals comes from as it does not appear in the 2015 statistical report.

Taylor then goes on to attack the University of Bristol over its statistics:

Bristol University now stands alone as the only university experimenting on animals that still refuses to provide its figures on the grounds that it does not hold the information centrally, despite promising to update its record keeping.

The Freedom of Information Act sets limits on the time that institutions can be expected to spend answering any single FOI question. The Information Commissioner’s Office has agreed with the University of Bristol and has upheld their claim that the University would be unable to provide the information asked of it due to the excessive lengths of time it would take to collate. The institution is in the process of changing how this information is collated and has expressed its intention to proactively publish this in the future.

It is an open question as to why, six months after a press release from UK universities went the extra mile to inform the general public about how many animals were used for what purposes at these institutions, anyone would strip it of its context and case studies, add the word “revealed” and republish it alongside their own anti-animal research diatribe.

Given that Cruelty Free International regularly calls for greater transparency in animal research, surely they should be welcoming the work that top universities are doing to provide more information about the research they conduct – rather than using this information as the basis of a press release criticising such research. We must hope that journalists choose to report the accurate numbers and representative case studies of medical progress released by the universities, rather than the account of an organisation whose sole purpose is to end the use of animals in experiments.

James

————————————————

Press Release sent by Cruelty Free International
Disappointing lack of progress at UK universities as worst offenders for animal testing are revealed
Nearly 1 million animals tested at five worst universities for animal experiments
Cruelty Free International has today revealed the five worst offending universities for animal testing in the UK, which are each responsible for carrying out experiments on over 175,000 animals per year. The universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Cambridge, University College and King’s College London, forced 997,839 animals to suffer in experiments in 2015 (the year for which the most recent figures are available). This represents a collective increase of 7% compared to 2014.
In 2015 the following numbers of animals were used by each of the top five universities:
  • Oxford University (226,214) – virtually no change on the previous year
  • Edinburgh University (212,695) – 6% increase
  • University College London (202,554) – 15% increase
  • Cambridge University (181,090) – 13% increase
  • King’s College London (175,296) – 6% increase
According to the Home Office, testing in universities continues to make up almost 50% of all animal experiments in Great Britain. Despite claims that animals are only used in tests where there is no viable alternative, the figures collected for 2015 by Cruelty Free International under Freedom of Information (FOI) requests or accessed from university websites show a collective increase of 7.5% in animal testing at universities from the previous year. In 2015, over 1,920,171 animals were used in tests.
Four of the worst five universities reported subjecting macaque and/or marmoset monkeys to experiments (all except for Edinburgh). Recently published experiments from these institutions included monkeys being deprived of food or water, being restrained for hours in ‘primate chairs’ to perform repetitive computer tasks, having electrodes surgically implanted into their skulls, coils implanted in their eyes, having portions of their brain damaged, being trapped inside plastic boxes or injected with antidepressant drugs.
Experiments by university staff were also carried out on rabbits, sheep, guinea pigs, ferrets, fish, birds, frogs, rats and mice. Recent examples include blocking or cutting the arteries of pigs and rabbits to induce heart attacks, and purposefully stressing rats by restraining them inside plastic tubes, restricting their food and keeping them in isolated, barren cages.
Dr Katy Taylor, Director of Science at Cruelty Free International, said: “Our top universities should be leading the way in replacing and reducing animal testing, yet they remain some of the biggest users of animals in Britain. The public wants to see meaningful and lasting changes towards ending the use of animals in laboratories; our universities should be setting the example not adding to the problem.”
63% of the 65 universities that reported testing on animals in 2015 still do not publish their animal testing statistics online, despite claiming that they agree there should be more transparency. Bristol University now stands alone as the only university experimenting on animals that still refuses to provide its figures on the grounds that it does not hold the information centrally, despite promising to update its record keeping. A Cruelty Free International complaint to the Information Tribunal about this failure is ongoing [1].
ENDS

Research Roundup: Death of a pioneer, 2017 Brain Prize, and unsubstantiated claims by PETA

Welcome to the first in a series of weekly Research Roundups. These aim to inform our readers about the many stories that relate to animal research each week.

Do you have an animal research story we should include in next week’s roundup? You can send it to us via our Facebook page or through the contact form on the website.

  • Thomas Starzl the father of organ transplantation has died. Beginning with his work on liver transplantation in dogs in the 1950s, and subsequent refinement of the procedure using livers from pigs and primates, today “more than half of the liver-transplant patients who underwent surgery in 1998 were alive ten years later, and in 2009, almost 50,000 Americans carried a transplanted liver” (Lasker Foundation).” Read more about this here and here.

The father of organ transplantation, Thomas Starzl.

  • 2017 Brain Prize announced – Peter Dayan, Ray Dolan and Wolfram Schultz. Collectively, their work examines the ability of humans and animals to link rewards to events and actions. This research, involving non-human primates, provides valuable insights into motivation to perform both positive and negative behaviour, how those behaviours regulate emotions such as happiness and how dysregulation may affect addictive/compulsive behaviours such as gambling. Read more about this here.

  • An unannounced four-day inspection of the animal research facilities at the University of Pittsburgh found no wrongdoing. The inspection was triggered by unspecified allegations by the animal rights group PETA, though USDA officials could not find evidence corroborating the claims by PETA. This is not the first time we have noted that animal rights groups claims against labs which cannot be substantiated by inspectors. More here.
  • Tasmanian devil cancer is a major threat Tasmanian devils with more than 80% of the population being wiped out since it emerged 20 years ago. Fighting cancer with cancer, and in a culmination of 6 years of research, scientists have managed to achieve a 60% survival rate (3 out of 5). The application of animal research takes all forms, and this is a good example of techniques being developed in the lab on nonhuman animals being used to save other nonhuman animals. More here and here.

Tasmanian devils under threat

  • Ethical deliberation of the killing of wild animals humanely for conservation is considered here. The killing of animals by humans warrants moral and ethical consideration. Animal research can be used to inform such decisions so that they are grounded in sound scientific evidence.
  • In a concerning move, advisors to President Trump suggested removing regulations requiring pharmaceutical companies to perform pre-clinical trials which ensure human safety before bringing them to the market. You can read more about the value of animal research in pre-clinical trials here.
  • The NC3Rs has awarded the 2016 3Rs prize to Daniel Weary who investigated possible refinements to the legislative requirements for rats housed in the laboratory for research. Read more here and here. This prize and this research highlights governing bodies’ and researchers’ dedication to the health and well-being of the animals under their care. Well done, Daniel!

Check back next Friday for another weekly roundup.

Jeremy Bailoo and Justin Varholick

Nonhuman primate research gives us otherwise impossible treatments

stuart-bakerLast week, Dr. Stuart Baker, a Professor of Movement Neuroscience at Newcastle University, wrote an article in The Conversation detailing not only the lifesaving research that nonhuman primates contribute to, but also the exceptional care they receive while contributing to human health. Stuart last week also published a paper describing his laboratory’s development of a new device that helps stroke patients to recover, a device that was dependent on development first in rhesus monkeys.  In his piece in The Conversation, Baker highlights the following:

  • Why it is important to understand how the brain controls movement
  • Why nonhuman primates are superior to other animal models for this type of research
  • The state-of-the-art care his laboratory primates receive

Why it is important to understand how the brain controls movement

“We typically take the ability to move in a fluid, coordinated way for granted,” Baker writes. Yet many adults “suffer damage to the brain’s pathways for movement, for example after a stroke. Suddenly, everyday tasks become a tiring, frustrating struggle.” Baker studies how the brain controls movement in order to understand the connections between our brains and our limbs. By understanding how brain cells adapt their neuronal activity during movements, how neurons are connected, and how they reconfigure after injury, Baker can then develop devices for therapeutic treatment like the one he published about in The Journal of Neuroscience last week.

Why nonhuman primates are superior to other animal models for this type of research

In his article in The Conversation, Baker emphasized the need for nonhuman primates in movement neuroscience research. In order to understand the deepest inner workings of the brain – those that don’t contribute to scalp recordings, which can be used in humans – one must probe deeper than the surface. Baker uses an analogy of an airport: “When we record from the scalp, we average the signals from many millions of cells. It’s a bit like placing a microphone on the ceiling of an airport departure hall, and measuring the sound levels.” This type of information is useful because it can tell you “what times of the day the airport is busy.” But “some aspects of the airport’s operations – those outside on the tarmac – would be missed.” Similarly, Baker says, some brain centers that control movement are so deep beneath the skull that a deeper exploration beyond scalp recordings is required. Enter monkey models: “Many pathways for movement control are different between primates such as humans and other animals such as rats. Only a primate model can give us information which is relevant to human diseases.

One of Newcastle’s macaque monkeys. Newcastle University, Photo credit: S. Baker

One of Newcastle’s macaque monkeys. Newcastle University, Photo credit: S. Baker

The state-of-the-art care his laboratory primates receive

Stuart is well aware that there are inaccurate and baseless claims that his lab animals suffer. In The Conversation, he describes in detail the care his monkey receive, from positive reinforcement training so that they learn to perform complex tasks with their hands or arm to undergoing surgery “in a fully equipped operating theatre, with sophisticated anaesthetics and painkilling medication borrowed from state-of-the-art human care.” The monkeys are carefully monitored to ensure they are not distressed or in pain.

Baker also emphasizes the “huge effort [that] goes into minimizing suffering every day.” This effort is not optional, but “an integral part of what we do and who we are.”

Baker’s article is a wonderful example of the type of transparency that scientists should engage in more frequently. Without such candor, the public is unaware of the extent to which animal models contribute to lifesaving therapeutics – and also of the excellent care they receive from the people who truly love working with them.

What can you share about your research and the animals you work with?

Nobel Prize 2016 – how yeast and mouse studies uncovered autophagy

Congratulations to Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi Tokyo Institute of Technology on being awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy“!

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Yoshinori Ohsumi. Image: Tokyo Institute of Technology

The process of autophagy is hardly one familiar to most people, but is is absolutely crucial to all complex life on out planet, including ourselves. The name autophagy comes from the Greek words for “self” and “eating” and describes the ordered process through which cells break down and recycle unnecessary or damaged structures or proteins, and allows the cell to reach an equilibrium between the synthesis and degradation of proteins.

The discovery of autophagy

The process itself was identified through studies in tissues of mice and rats back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, by scientists including Christian de Duve, who was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for this and other work. They first discovered that mammalian cells contain a compartment which they termed the lysosome where proteins are broken down, and then that proteins and other molecules that were to be degraded were first isolated from the rest of the cell by the formation of a membrane sac around the protein in question  (later called the autophagosome). The process through which the autophagosome fused with the lysosome to deliver its protein cargo for degradation was given the name autophagy by Christian de Duve.

Image: NobelPrize.org

Image: NobelPrize.org

Progress in understanding how autophagy worked was slow, as at the time the genes or proteins involved in regulating the process had been identified. With the research methods available at the time it was difficult to measure autophagy as it happened in mammalian cells, and hence difficult to determine how altering different components affected the overall process, a key step towards understanding their role. It may have seemed an unpromising field to join, but Yoshinori Ohsumi had a different career philosophy to most researchers, which he described in an interview given in 2012:

I am not very competitive, so I always look for a new subject to study, even if it is not so popular. If you start from some sort of basic, new observation, you will have plenty to work on.

From cells to genes

What was needed was a simple experimental system in which to study the process, and the bakers yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae  – a simple single celled organism separated from us by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, but sharing many of our key biological processes – was one candidate. Yoshinori Ohsumi had worked with yeast, and in particular had identified many proteins in a subcellular component of the yeast cell known as the vacuole, which was important as there was evidence that the vacuole performed the same role in yeast cells as the lysosome in mammalian cells. Still, as the Nobel Prize website highlights there were still hurdles to overcome as he began his study of autophagy in yeast at the end of the 1980’s:

But Ohsumi faced a major challenge; yeast cells are small and their inner structures are not easily distinguished under the microscope and thus he was uncertain whether autophagy even existed in this organism. Ohsumi reasoned that if he could disrupt the degradation process in the vacuole while the process of autophagy was active, then autophagosomes should accumulate within the vacuole and become visible under the microscope. He therefore cultured mutated yeast lacking vacuolar degradation enzymes and simultaneously stimulated autophagy by starving the cells. The results were striking! Within hours, the vacuoles were filled with small vesicles that had not been degraded (Figure 2). The vesicles were autophagosomes and Ohsumi’s experiment proved that authophagy exists in yeast cells. But even more importantly, he now had a method to identify and characterize key genes involved this process.

With an experimental system available Yoshinori Ohsumi and his team studied the process of autophagy in thousands of mutant strains of yeast, and identified 15 individual genes (most of them of previously unknown function) that are essential for the process in yeast, tho order in which the key events in autophagy take place, and the roles of the individual genes in them. This was the work for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

From yeast genes to us!

But it is not the end of the story! Identifying the genes essential for autophagy in yeast, and their roles in the process, was a major breakthrough, but what about humans and other mammals?

It turns out that that in humans and other mammals there are counterparts to almost all the yeast autophagy genes, though the situation is made a lot more complicated by the face that mammals have more than one copy for each of the genes…starting with yeast was a wise move! Professor Noboru Mizushima of the University of Tokyo made an important advance when, working with Yoshinori Ohsumi,  he developed a transgenic mouse in which a protein called LC3 that is found in the autophagosome membrane is fused to Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP – see Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2008) which allowed him and his colleagues to observe and monitor the process of autophage in vivo in mice for the first time.

Laboratory Mice are the most common species used in research

This LC3-GFP transgenic mouse proved to be a very powerful research tool for studying mammalian autophagy, allowing not only the role of indicudual genes in the process to be determined, but also the role of autophagy itself in processes as diverse as early embryonic development, tumor suppression, nerve cell survival and function, and protection against infection.

This research is still at a relatively early stage, but techniques such as the LC3-GFP system in mice – and others used in organisms such as fruit flies, are showing us how defects in autophagy contribute to many diseases, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, and metabolic disorders such as type 2 Diabetes. While the development of specific therapies to correct these defects in autophagy is still some way off, it is already clear that understanding autophagy has the potential to improve the treatment of a wide range of illnesses.

What the work of Yoshinori Ohsumi demonstrates once again is the crucial contribution of basic biological research in model organisms that may at first glance appear to share little with us to the advancement of medicine.

Speaking of Research