Tag Archives: education

Public Outreach – A Toolkit for Investigators

That public outreach is an increasingly important part of the scientific life in the 21st century should be news to no-one, and this is as true of biomedical research as of any other field of scientific endeavor. Allyson Bennett has written extensively for us on this subject, highlighting both the benefits of public outreach, and the perils of not engaging in it.

Of course getting involved in public outreach and education can be a daunting prospect if you have no previous experience of it, which is why we support initiatives such as the Michael D. Hayre Fellowship in Public Outreach, and recently launched our “Many Voices Speaking of Animal Research” series that highlights different approaches to public outreach, the most recent of which focused on community engagement at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

This week we are pleased to welcome a new initiative to the growing list of resources available to support public outreach.

The American Physiological Society has launched the online resource “Public Outreach – A Toolkit for Investigators” which offers scientists and scientific institutions advice on engaging with the public on animal research issues. The toolkit includes presentations delivered by Speaking of Research committee members Bill Yates, Dario Ringach and Jim Newman at a symposium earlier this year, which examined the topic from a range of perspectives.

We thank the American Physiological Society for making this valuable new resource available to the scientific community.

Speaking of Research

Part 3: Many voices speaking of animal research

We recently wrote about the many existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts, and also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the third in a series (Part 1, Part 2) hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

Foundation for Biomedical Research

Until I started my summer internship at the Foundation for Biomedical Research in May of 2012, I never knew just how much animal research really does benefit medicine. I knew that important discoveries were made, but I didn’t know how biologically similar animals were to humans. I now know that research with animals is critical to the advancement of medical science. Treatments and cures for the most debilitating diseases are being discovered and tested with animals for the benefit of both animal and humankind, and FBR acts as a liaison between scientists and general public to communicate these important discoveries.

Established in 1981, the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) is the oldest organization dedicated to educating the public about the vast benefits of responsible and humane biomedical research with animals. FBR focuses on outreach and education – everything we do is to promote and make the public aware of critical research being done with animals that benefits millions of people world-wide.

There are many ways FBR reaches out to the public, from lesson plans to award ceremonies – all for the purpose of highlighting the importance of animals in the field of biomedical research.

Every day we send out a newsletter called Total E-Clips to over one hundred and fifty thousand readers around the world, a number that grows every day. The newsletter is a compilation of the most important animal research-related news of the day. Contents include animal research news, animal activism news, political news and anything else of relevance we find that day.

FBR releases a quarterly magazine called ResearchSaves, which is a part of the larger ResearchSaves campaign. The campaign includes a website, TV, radio and print ads, and even the occasional billboard. The magazine is a compilation of stories submitted by non-profits, universities, companies from all over the country. Anyone can subscribe to the magazine and complimentary issues are offered to teachers K-12th grade.

FBR provides a lesson plan for middle-school aged children in the subject of animal research. These lesson plans are intended to educate students about the facts and ethical issues surrounding biomedical research and promote healthy, stimulating discussion. They encourage students to discuss their thoughts and questions about animal research. The lessons also inform students about the many benefits that have come from biomedical research with animals and provide them with possible career goals in this field.

As part of the educational outreach, FBR also provides a Career Day Kit for teachers to empower students to pursue biomedical research as an interest as well as a potential career. It also counters a different view than what school children are normally told by the animal rights organization: that animal research is cruel and unnecessary. The Career Day Kit was launched in response to the widening distrust of animal research within the general public, and the strengthening reach that animal rights groups have into the K-12 sphere.

Over the last year and a half FBR has been producing its new television show, Bench To Bedside. Each episode highlights a person who has gone through the diagnosis and treatment of a debilitating disease or injury. The most recent episode to air was called Liviya’s Story; it is about a six-year-old girl who develops a terrifying disease called aplastic anemia. In the end, she recovers with the help of a drug therapy that had been developed in horses.

Along with educating the general public, FBR acts as a liaison between scientists and journalists, encouraging a healthy relationship between the media and the scientific community and promoting balanced and responsible reporting of biomedical research. FBR is considered a definitive resource for both the news media and scientists.

For the last 11 years, FBR holds the annual Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Awards, which is considered one of the most prestigious awards in science journalism. Award winners are judged by an independent panel based on relevance, clarity, and technical skills. There are six categories, each one featuring a different medium – print, both small and large press, digital, TV, radio, and magazine. These journalists represent the forefront of outreach that FBR strives for. These journalists are telling stories about the beneficial outcomes of biomedical research with animals.

I’ve learned that research with animals is absolutely necessary in the search for treatments and cures, but much of the general public is not convinced. Scientists need help reaching out to the public, and the Foundation for Biomedical Research is here to help in that endeavor.

JoAnna Wendel

Part 2: Many voices speaking of research

We recently wrote about the many existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts, and also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the second in a series hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

American Association for Laboratory Animal Science Foundation

I remember interviewing for my first job in an animal research facility. I didn’t know what to expect. Like many people, I had weird images in my mind and wondered what I would encounter. Would there be crazy experiments going on? Would the people be caring? What was I getting myself into?

The interview process was detailed. I was asked a comprehensive series of questions relating to my behavior, values, and animal care experiences. It was clear the facility where I was applying to work placed a great deal of importance on the hiring process, even for an entry level position providing basic animal care.

During my training period, there was so much information to digest and memorize! It seemed like everything we did had a standardized process to ensure we were exceeding animal care regulations and standards. The people I met were diverse, but they all had one thing in common: they deeply cared for the animals involved in the research projects. They connected the importance of what they did to the success of the research study.

Since then, I’ve had many roles in the animal research community. In those roles, I realized it was important for me to dedicate my time and energy to educating the public about the importance of quality laboratory animal care and research. This was often just a result of talking with people I met about what I did for a living. It was clear to me that many people really didn’t know what happened in a research facility, just like I didn’t when I started.

AALAS pamphlet on animal research

After getting involved with the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), I eventually joined the AALAS Foundation Board of Directors. The board oversees, develops, and implements projects to help the general public understand that laboratory animal science professionals care for animals, so progress can occur for both animals and people.

The Foundation has approached this goal from multiple directions. There are websites, like Kids4Research.org, that provide information for teachers and students about the care and study of animals in research. We have a series of games in the virtual community of Whyville where students care for animals.

Both of these ventures are aimed at connecting with schools so students, teachers, and parents get an in-depth look at the concerns, the solutions, and the professionalism that goes into working with animals.

We also annually conduct the Animal Research Education and Awareness program, an enlightening and entertaining event that introduces science students to laboratory animal science and the vast array of career opportunities in laboratory animal science. The program model has been expanded so that individuals or institutions can create and conduct their own version of the AREA Program in their communities.

These efforts have been successful, as the resources produced by the AALAS Foundation and other research advocacy organizations positively influence public perceptions about animal research.

A New Direction in Outreach

We all know that, on some level, work involving animals has resulted in numerous cures and breakthroughs benefiting people and animals. What most people don’t know is that providing the best care environment for these animals, including access to 24/7 veterinary care, is the basic building block for these success stories.

The AALAS Foundation is leading efforts to adopt a new approach to increasing awareness about the caring, compassionate, and extensive training that is involved in our profession.

A public awareness campaign is being developed to connect the importance of the care we provide laboratory animals to the medicines and medical procedures that have bettered our lives.

The video portion of the campaign will focus on the people who care for laboratory animals and their passion for making sure animals are treated in a respectful, responsible way. This will help the public understand that care, compassion, and commitment are very much a part of animal research.

The campaign will also highlight how people who work in animal research are motivated for a variety of reasons.

For me, my mother died from breast cancer. It was hard to watch the strong woman I knew slowly succumb to this horrific disease. Luckily for us, she was able to receive treatments for the cancer. It gave her more quality time. She got to see her granddaughter.

My mother benefited from treatments initially developed with animals. Although she eventually lost her battle with cancer, she participated in some early human clinical trials with a breast cancer treatment that is widely used today.

In supporting research involving animals, it’s possible that I will assist in helping a scientist discover the cure for devastating diseases like breast cancer. In addition to my work, sharing my story with the public is another way to ensure that responsible research moves forward.

Get Involved

You, too, can contribute to the public’s understanding by getting involved with the many advocacy organizations that promote the responsible care and study of animals needed in research.

Whether you’re a research professional seeking public outreach materials, a student writing a paper on animal research, or a teacher seeking educational resources, the AALAS Foundation has a wealth of outreach materials you can order from the AALAS bookstore for free.

With your help, the AALAS Foundation and our research advocacy partners can continue to produce and distribute powerful public outreach resources that educate students, teachers, and the public at large about the importance of quality laboratory animal research.

And we can continue to share the stories of caring, compassionate research professionals who are working every day to advance human and animal health.

Stephen J. Durkee

Steve is a member of the AALAS Foundation Board of Directors.  He currently serves as IACUC Administrator for Oregon State University. To learn more about the AALAS Foundation’s public outreach efforts, please visit the AALAS Foundation Public Outreach Page and the AALAS Bookstore.

Many voices speaking of animal research

We recently wrote about the range of existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts. They also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the first in a series hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

American Psychological Association:  Committee on Animal Research and Ethics

Scientific societies are sometimes portrayed as being loath to openly advocate for animal research. It’s time to lay that myth to rest.  A wide range of scientific societies actively support and advocate for the animal research conducted by its members, including the American Psychological Association (APA), of which we are members.

APA has one of, if not the oldest, governance groups dedicated to safeguarding and promoting ethical research with nonhuman animals. The APA Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) was established in 1925 by psychologists who were also animal researchers and were concerned about animal welfare during surgical experiments.

For over eighty years, CARE (or one of its precursors) has played a leading role in promoting and supporting ethical research with nonhuman animals in the behavioral and psychological sciences. As early as 1925, many research psychologists recognized both the need for attention to animal welfare and the need to participate actively in public discussion of this work.  They also recognized that psychologists have appropriate expertise to make unique contributions to each of these goals.  The early membership of CARE reflects this expertise and the range of research areas represented by the committee, including for example:  Edward Tolman, Robert Yerkes, Frank Beach, Harry Harlow, Neal Miller, and Paul Thomas Young.

American Psychological Association Committee on Animal Research and Ethics brochures

In keeping with its mission, CARE advocates at the federal level by promoting evidence-based legislation and regulatory proposals that enhance animal welfare while at the same time support valuable research.

Recognizing the need to maintain the public’s trust in science, in general, and animal research in particular, CARE’s educational and outreach activities focus on disseminating accurate information about nonhuman animal research in psychology, including a brochure and a DVD series for classroom use at the high school and early college levels.

CARE also takes an active role in science education. CARE encourages teachers at the K-12 level to expose their students to the responsibilities and obligations that are integral to conducting research with nonhuman animals. One way to accomplish this is by involving students in science fair projects that include animals. To assist these teachers, CARE developed and routinely updates its Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Behavioral Projects in Schools (K-12).

CARE provides valuable resources for researchers.  These include developing and updating a set of guidelines for ethical conduct in the care and use of animals. Adherence to these guidelines is a requirement of all research articles published in APA scientific journals. Furthermore, the APA recognizes that ethical standards and guidance for treatment of animals in research are not static and evolve with new scientific evidence. As a result, the society maintains a dynamic process for continuing evaluation and updating of the guidelines.

Finally, CARE provides resources for researchers who are targeted by anti-animal research groups.  Support and encouragement is extended to institutions to maintain their animal research programs and to continue supporting their faculty who conduct such research.

Contrary to the misperception that scientific societies do little to advocate for animal research, even a brief review of the APA CARE history and current activities demonstrate a long-standing and effective commitment to this goal.  But more importantly, psychologists recognized and acted decades ago to strongly support the ethical use of animals in research and to consider the balance of animal welfare and scientific progress.  CARE’s activities support not only the APA membership of over 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultant, and students but the field of psychology as a whole, as well as all scientists who conduct research with animals.

Barbara Kaminski, PhD, APA CARE member, (2008-2011), Division 25 and Division 28

George F. Michel, PhD, APA Fellow, Division 3 and Division 6

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD, APA CARE member (2011-2013), Division 6

The Basel Declaration: Standing up for Medical Progress

Top European scientists have pledged to engage in more public dialogue, openness, and education about animal research. Concerned about threats to the future of medical research, the scientists met recently and drafted a declaration that affirms commitment to responsible research and animal welfare and calls for increased effort to facilitate public understanding of the essential role that animal studies play in contributing to scientific and medical progress.  The call for “trust, transparency, and communication on animal research” was adopted by the first Basel conference “Research at a Crossroads” November 29th.  The Declaration can be found here, along with an invitation to sign up to it.

Prof. Michael Hengartner, Prof. Dieter Imboden and Prof. Stefan Treue sign the declaration

The Declaration underscores the importance of a wide range of animal research, from basic research that seeks to understand fundamental biological processes, to applied research that seeks to turn such knowledge into new medical treatments, and the critical ongoing need for this work:

“Over the last 100 years biomedical research has contributed substantially to our understanding of biological processes and thus to an increase in life expectancy and improvement in the quality of life of humans and animals. However, the list of challenges and new opportunities remains long.

Without research using animals, it will not be possible to overcome the social and humanitarian challenges posed by these problems. Despite new and refined alternative methods, animal experiments will remain essential in the foreseeable future for biomedical research.”

The Declaration makes clear that:

“Biomedical research in particular cannot be separated into ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research; it is a continuum stretching from studies of fundamental physiological processes to an understanding of the principles of disease and the development of therapies.”

A Nature report on the meeting and an accompanying editorial highlight the crucial considerations underlying the scientists’ call for action, including not only the actions of extremists, but also the broad consequences of failing to build understanding of animal research:

Biomedical scientists in Germany perceive a separate crisis — increasing legislative restrictions that make it more difficult to carry out animal experiments. Hearing little to the contrary from researchers themselves, the public tends to assume that animal experiments are an unnecessary evil, so politicians respond with more restrictions.”

That problem was a major motivation for the Basel Declaration — drafted and signed at a meeting in Basel, Switzerland, last week (see page 742). Its signatories pledge to engage in open debate with the public about their work on animal experiments, to stress the high ethical standards to which they adhere and to explain why they have to do it. They intend, for example, to visit local schools or to mention that their research used animals when speaking to the press about new results.”

Such efforts have already yielded dividends; the Nature report notes how a determined effort over the past decade by scientists in the United Kingdom to inform the public about the reality of animal research resulted in greatly increased support for it.

Speaking of Research applauds this effort and joins in urging others not only to sign on to the declaration, but also to act on the pledge to continue to increase efforts in outreach, education, and engagement.

In fact, there are many groups and sources for information and conversation to which scientists can turn to for advice on outreach. They include advocacy groups and collaborative networks such as Understanding Animal Research, Americans for Medical Progress, States United for Biomedical Research, and the Foundation for Biomedical Research. They also include scientific societies such as the American Physiological Society, Society for Neuroscience, American Association of Laboratory Animal Science, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.  Many academic institutions have actively built outreach and education programs that offer good models for others.

Speaking of Research also offers information, tools and support for those who choose to contribute to public discussion of animal research.  There are many resources and avenues to support individuals who want to learn more and identify a range of effective ways to contribute to the public discussion of animal research.

Before we finish we’d like to draw your attention to an excellent example of the importance of basic animal research, Christina Agapakis writes on the Oscillator blog about a fascinating study which used gene therapy to restore vision in blind mice.  This news comes only a few weeks after scientists in Germany reported that they had used a vision chip containing 1,500 light-sensitive elements to partially restore sight in patients who were blind due to damage to the light-sensitive cells in their eyes.  In an open access paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team who carried out this important clinical study highlight the importance of in vivo studies in rats, cats, and pigs, and in vitro studies using isolated chicken retinas, in establishing both the theoretical basis for this study, and subsequently in determining the safety of the implant they developed. These advances in vision research suggest that devices available to help blind people see in the 21st century will soon eclipse those that Star Trek predicted for the 24th century!

This is of course exactly the kind of groundbreaking biomedical research that the Basel declaration seeks to defend.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D*. and Paul Browne, Ph.D.

Speaking of Research

*The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.


Who’s Afraid to Talk about Animal Research?

Part 1:  Outreach and Education Programs by the Nonhuman Primate Research Community

One of the misleading claims often made about members of the community of scientists and others engaged in, or supportive of, animal research is that they don’t talk with the public about their work. To the many scientists and others actively involved in a broad array of both formal and informal education, outreach, and community engagement efforts it is obvious that there is, in fact, a great deal of talking about animal research. At the same time, as with any other aspect of science or area of public interest, there is always a need for more outreach and more public engagement.

Speaking of Research encourages new outreach efforts and increased participation in dialogue about the responsible use of animals in humanely-conducted and ethical research. For those seeking to become more involved in speaking out about animal research there are many sources of information and existing programs that provide good ideas, models, and assistance in setting up new efforts.

This post will begin a series that highlights different approaches to science outreach and education, particularly those focused on research with nonhuman animals.  We begin with community outreach and education programs at primate research centers.  Many primate centers have active outreach programs built around educational objectives and service to local schools, including programs that provide opportunities for K-12 students to learn about research, internships for college students, and tours of their facilities.  The focus on educational outreach and opportunities for students is in keeping with the role of scientists as educators.

The California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) is one with a long-standing educational program.  Initiated in 2003, “the Education Outreach Program (EOP) was developed as a free, public-service program to introduce K-6 students to nonhuman primates, general health science concepts, animals in research, and biomedical research programs and careers. It supports the California Science Content Standards. This program has been a huge success with the classes visited since it began in June 2003. Comments we have received indicate that the children, as well as the adults, have a greater understanding of primates and health sciences, and the positive benefits that the primate center has on their lives.”  The CNPRC website includes links to the curriculum for their outreach program as well as many resources for teachers.

The Oregon National Primate Research Center also has an active outreach program, with its mission described as:  “Scientists have a responsibility to communicate their research findings to the public, and ONPRC scientists and administration take this responsibility seriously. The Office of Education Outreach hosts tours for over 3,000 visitors to the Center each year.”  As well, “ONPRC scientists speak to Center visitors, serve as mentors for teachers and students, and visit area classrooms. In addition, they participate in various programs through OHSU’s Science Education Opportunities Office (SOAR), and collaborate with several local and regional institutions, including Saturday Academy, OMSI, and the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR).”

Rhesus Monkeys at ONPRC

Outreach programs at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Tulane National Primate Research Center also support interactions between local schools and scientists engaged in primate research.  At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, a description of outreach programs illustrates an approach that, like others, includes many different audiences:  “The Department of Veterinary Sciences plays a vital role in helping to develop an appreciation for and an understanding of biomedical research by offering teachers, regional youth and the public a unique avenue to actively participate in the research process. Our formal education programs provide opportunities for individuals to dramatically increase their content knowledge in the sciences; access to scientists, veterinarians and other career role models in the sciences to both educators and students; practical hands-on student activities that coordinate with national science standards and curricular frameworks; and professional development for employees.”

At the Wake Forest University Primate Center the community outreach and education program “serves the community by providing children in grades K-12 and their teachers with opportunities to visit the WFUPC and learn about biomedical research. These tours are designed to give visitors educational information about nonhuman primates and the unique role that they play in translational research, to highlight the wide range of human health disorders that are addressed by the Translational Science Institute and the WFUPC, and to educate children about careers in science.”

Among the sources for educational and outreach materials about nonhuman primates are those provided by the American Society of Primatologists (ASP). ASP has a long history of encouraging and supporting “the development of educational programs in primatology” and “promoting improved instruction regarding primates.”  Their website includes helpful links and materials for teachers and others “looking for ideas on incorporating nonhuman primates into their lesson plans and anyone interested in learning more about nonhuman primates.”

Finally, the Primate Info Net (PIN), begun in 1995, provides many resources, links, and helpful educational material to those interested in primates, primate research, and outreach activities.  The PIN is maintained by Lawrence Jacobsen Library at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC), University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Primate Info Net is designed to cover the broad field of primatology, providing original content and links to resources about nonhuman primates in research, education and conservation. Through email lists and other resources, PIN also supports an informal ‘primate information network’ comprised of thousands of individuals around the world working with nonhuman primates in a variety of roles.”

There are many other ongoing outreach, education, and community engagement efforts. Those highlighted here provide just a few examples of the types of programs that encourage interaction.  Speaking of Research encourages scientists and others supportive of animal research to get involved in public outreach activities through the broad range of existing programs such as those highlighted above, but also by developing new initiatives.  Members of the Speaking of Research Committee work actively in many different types of public outreach and education and are available to share advice and experience with others.  We encourage you to use the comments section or to write posts to share your own experiences and programs and, by doing so, help to continue to build networks for supporting and increasing these efforts.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.