Tag Archives: Animals in Research

Why animal research is done humanely — Reason 1: Stressed Animals Yield Poor Data

When we are run down or stressed we often find ourselves more prone to getting coughs and colds. Stress changes us physiologically; it puts pressure on our autonomic nervous system, changing how drugs react inside of us. The same is true of animals.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Aysha Akhtar notes that when you catch a monkey with a net, it can cause much stress to the animal. She is right, and she uses this line of thinking to argue that animal research cannot produce useful results; at this point she is wrong.

What Akhtar has done is explain why the 3Rs exist. Developed by Burch and Russell in 19591, these principles of humane research are Refinement, Reduction and Replacement of animal research. The key “R” here is Refinement – improving the conditions of animals involved in research. This can take many forms including better diets, improved animal housing, and better training for both technicians and animals.

This training of animals is vitally important. Akhtar links to a video of monkeys being caught using a pole-and-collar technique. The pole-and-collar technique is used for a subset of studies and much time dedicated to habituating and training primates to participate in this task calmly and without stress. For example, this technique is used for those monkeys participating in behavioural and cognitive tasks that make use of neural recording. For tasks that do not require animals to remain in one place, primates can be trained (using treats) to voluntarily offer an arm or leg for injection (below) or blood sampling.  We have written about this previously, with a video featuring this training with chimpanzees in the U.S. All of this contributes to a less stressed animal that provides more accurate and reproducible data.

Akhtar makes some misleading statements about animal research and stress. For example, in a study cited by Akhtar, it is noted that mice in smaller cages developed heart defects. What she does not note from the paper is that the larger cages were enriched with a wheel, shelf and tunnel which would promote healthy living associated with fewer heart problems. Indeed the paper shows how better results can be attained from improving the environmental enrichment of animal housing.

Akhtar also notes that rats can have intestinal inflammation in labs. She does not note the article says this is if they are left in “small, empty cages, with bedding if they are lucky”. Such conditions are becoming increasingly uncommon, with socially housed rodents kept in larger plastic cages with bedding and enrichment designed to meet their needs.

While removing an animal from a cage can cause stress, it needn’t – and perhaps Akhtar would do more good propagating good practise, as groups like the RSPCA and NC3Rs do, than trying to find new ways to attack animal research.

Claims that animals are often denied food, water and pain relief is again misleading. Food and water are sometimes denied prior to procedures, but this is in much the same way a human might be told not to eat or drink anything prior to an operation.

The fact is that Ahkthar is part of a tiny minority of scientists who try to argue animal research does not produce useful results. Perhaps, she should note The Lancet which wrote that

The use of animals in medical research and safety testing is a vital part of the quest to improve human health. It always has been and probably always will be, despite the alternatives available. Indeed, in this era of genomics and proteomics, more rather than fewer animals will be needed. Without animal testing, there will be no new drugs for new or hard-to-treat diseases.2.

Given that the last year has shown advances through animal research which include the first ever progeria treatment and a new diabetes treatment, Lixisenatide, it certainly seems incorrect to suggest that such methods are “fundamentally flawed”.

Speaking of Research

1Russell, WMS and Burch, RL. The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. Methuen & Co Ltd.: London. 1959.

2 The Lancet, Volume 364, Issue 9437, Pages 815 – 816, 4 September 2004

Society for Neuroscience encourages scientists to speak up for animal research

A standing room only crowd of over 200 heard a panel of two scientists, a public relations expert and a reporter describe the whys and hows of discussing the use of animals in research (CAR) at the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting.   The panel was sponsored by the Society’s committee on animals in research and led by the committee’s outgoing chair Sharon Juliano.  It was part encouragement for speaking up and part a primer on how to do it effectively.

David Friedman, from the Wake Forest School of Medicine and a member of CAR, has long been engaged in defending the use of animals in research. He led off with an impassioned call for scientists themselves to engage the public.  He pointed out that most scientists who use animals in their work do little or nothing to help the public understand what it is they do and why it’s important.  Noting that animal researchers are doing morally admirable work and in today’s climate are courageous for doing it, he called on researchers to be proud of their good work and defend it vigorously.

Dario Ringach, from UCLA hit similar themes in his presentation on the top five reasons we should talk to the public about animal research. He cited a variety of surveys showing support for animal research, including one that found that more scientists believe in the importance of animal research than believe in evolution.  He went on to argue for greater transparency from the research community to build public confidence and for scientists to weigh in on the ethical challenges posed by animal activists.

Lisa Newbern, chief of public relations at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center laid out the nuts and bolts of how to speak to the public effectively.  Among her points were that practicing what you want to say is important and that interactions with the public should be a dialogue and not just one way communication.

The final speaker was Tom Whipple a British reporter for The Times of London, who has extensive experience in covering animal activism and other forms of anti-science zealotry.  He noted how concerted effort in England had turned the tide against the activists. He cited the case of a protest against genetically engineered wheat that had derailed a research project until the scientists themselves stepped and made their case.

The crowd as largely younger scientists and students, and the lively discussion period that followed the presentations, showed just how engaged they are.  A number of speakers described their own experiences that supported the points the panel had made.

This is the second year in a row that the room was full for the annual “animal panel,” a hopeful sign that more scientists will be engage with the public about their work.

I am Speaking of Research

Most of the people reading this blog will proudly announce that they are “Pro-Test”, but are you “Speaking of Research”? On several occasions hundreds of you have posted here to announce that you are Pro-Test. Well over 11,000 of you signed the Pro-Test petition to agree with our principles. Now it’s time to act, it’s time to be Speaking of Research.

You may have noticed that after a slow summer, SR has begun to ramp up its posting efforts thanks to an energetic committee of writers; the number of people viewing the website has likewise increased. Now it’s time to accelerate this process. There are three ways we want you to do this:

1. Share SR articles with your friends online!

Follow us on Twitter – and retweet our posts. Join our Facebook group, and share our articles with your friends (note the Facebook button on the bottom of each of our posts). Hell, just start telling your friends about this website – everything helps!

www.speakingofresearch.com2. Write for us at Speaking of Research

Have something to say about the important role that animals play in research – please help us! We need people to write about the latest advances in medical research, to deconstruct the latest misinformation by animal rights activists, to write about their experiences in labs – just drop as an email (tom [at] speakingofresearch.com) and tell us what you want to write about. Articles are usually a few hundred words (with a picture – everyone loves a picture!) – see previous posts for examples.

3. Start an SR chapter

Why not help spread information about research from your own city or university. We need people to help start SR groups – this can be as simple as a few friends trying to provide information to colleagues about the role of research, or somebody trying to organize a city-wide demonstration in support of research (only advised when activists have begun to step outside legal means to get their message across). We will be providing more information in coming weeks over how to start an SR chapter in your area.

So, in summary, it’s time to get sharing, it’s time to get talking, it’s time to be Speaking of Research.


Tom Holder

UCLA challenges AR misinformation

In the rush of other news including the SfN conference and the Pro-Test for Science gathering I forgot to mention this important development.

On Sunday, October 18th, UCLA put a full page advert in the LA Times aimed at educating the public on the important role of animals in lifesaving medical research. On top of this it spells out its opposition to animal rights extremism and urges readers to sign the Pro-Test Petition.

Inroads against disease can originate from a variety of sources. Yet there is overwhelming agreement among physicians, veterinarians and scientists that laboratory animals provide invaluable and irreplaceable models for human systems and for how the human body functions. While the vast majority of research conducted at UCLA does not involve the use of animals,this work has played an essential role in creating lifesaving breakthroughs that could not have been accomplished without it.

View the full advert here.

UCLA Advert LA TimesIt is bold actions like this, aimed at winning hearts and minds, which can have the most effect in dismantling support for extremist actions, and consequently their activities. Speaking of Research applaud this step forward in clearly explaining why animal research is crucial for medical progress. I finish this post as the advert does, by urging readers who have not done so to sign the Pro-Test Petition.

UCLA needs and welcomes your support on this critical issue. While questioning our work is everyone’s right, attacking our researchers and administrators is criminal. To add your name to thousands who’ve signed a Pro-Test petition that supports this necessary work, please visit www.raisingvoices.net.


Tom Holder

Speaking of Neuroscience

All three organizations behind the Pro-Test Petition came together in support of lifesaving research at the Society for Neuroscience this weekend gone. Both Pro-Test for Science founder, David Jentsch, and Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, made appearances at Americans for Medical Progress’ booth to encourage students and scientists to sign the petition. The petition, now at well over 11,000 signatories, recently gained the backing of the Society for the Study of Reproduction who emailed all their members – adding their name to the list of bioscience organisations in supports including the American Physiological Society and the Society for Neuroscience.

Holder also addressed scientists during the “Animals in Research Workshop: Widening the Tent: Building Support, Creating New Allies for Animal Research“. The workshop was chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Kordower, who recently wrote an article for the Journal of Neuroscience about the need to address animal rights extremism in the US. The first speaker, Jasper Daube – Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic – talked of the importance of using a wide range of social media to bring our message to the public. The second speaker, Robin Elliott, urged scientists and institutions to contact Patient Advocacy Groups – a natural ally of modern research – to get involved. Elliott also mentioned the problem that a passionate majority will trump a quiet majority – a point picked up by Tom Holder during his talk on getting the science community to stand up publicly for research. Holder spoke of the change in public opinion in the UK, and parallels with the US before offering some practical suggestions on how the science community must approach this issue. Finally Helmut Kettenmann, President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, talked about the new European Directive on animal research. One particularly good idea made in this final speech was for scientists to encourage their PhD students to give local school talks on the importance of animal models – such students are often more energetic and of a closer age to their high school counterparts.

PeTA (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also made an appearance. After a national press release they attracted a grand total of nine activists to stand outside the SfN conference wielding emotive and completely out of context images of animals in research. When approached, the activists appeared to have no idea of where, when, or even what country, the pictures on their banners were from.

To finish with a quote – the blog Neurotopia covered the Animals in Research workshop:

I got to hear Tom Holder, the founder of Speaking of Research , talk about the progress that has been made. In the UK, people have vocally supported animal research, marches in support have easily outnumbered and overwhelmed the vocal minority. In the US, that is not yet the case, scientists are still scared.

But, as David Jentsch told me later, we cannot let fear hold us back, we need to let our outrage overwhelm the fear that we are all feeling. And we are outraged. In biomedical research, we scientists have made huge strides in developing cures for illness. Cancer drugs, psychiatric medications, the new flu vaccine, treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, arthritis. We need animals to do our research. We use other techniques in cells and humans, of course, but the fact is, we just don’t know enough about the body to make non-animal models which are useful.