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Having worked in animal research for over 14 years now I have not only gained a comprehensive knowledge of the requirements for animals used in research but have also seen significant improvements in this field. Currently, I work at as a Site Manager where I oversee three animal units.

The role of an animal technologist varies dependent on experience but all are there to provide the best possible life to animals in research. Trainee animal technologists will often perform general husbandry duties such as cleaning cages, feeding, and watering, whereas senior technologists may be involved in colony management, scientific procedures etc.

During my career, and the many tours of research labs I’ve given, one of the common discussion is the type of cages used and how they vary so much between species.

are stipulated by Home Office and as well as any additional institutional requirements beyond this law. Providing the correct type of environment is essential for species to exhibit their natural behaviour.

Example of UK minimum cage sizing for M. mulatta

Housing requirements vary between species but here are some examples of why cages are designed in such a way:

Primates

Primate caging is typically tall as this enables the animals to feel more secure, as in the wild they would use the trees to climb high and get away from prey. Providing higher cages also allows for a more complex environment. Bars are often horizontal to allow the animal to climb the cage and maximise this as much as possible. Cages are normally made out of steel to ensure the animals are safely contained and also withstand potential damage in what are often a strong and intelligent species.

Cages are often multi-tiered to allow primates better utilisation of cage height and enable primates to get away from each other when necessary.  Environmental enrichment such as mirrors and perches provide further security to primates.

Primates are socially housed in multi-tier caging. The perches allow the primates to watch what is going on around the room.

Rodents

Rodents have much smaller cages which are normally made up of a plastic, such as polysulfone. These plastics can withstand high temperatures during cleaning and have been shown to last a long time. Traditionally, animals were kept in open top caging but in recent years there has been a movement towards individually ventilated cages (IVCs). IVCs provide a more stable environment by having sealed caging and using air handling units for filtration; this has, in turn, provided a better environment for animal welfare and research. Controlling for the environment can both help control experimental variables, and prevent risks to animal health from external pathogens.

While the caging appears to be relatively small for rodents it is designed around the need of the animals. Rodents are often social species and in some cases larger spaces can cause anxiety due predator/prey relationships.

Environmental enrichment is used to encourage natural nesting behaviours which can be seen in the wild. In recent years red boxes have been implemented in some cages, humans can see through these but animals don’t see through this colour in the same way, therefore this allows better monitoring while making animals feel safe and secure.

Individually Ventilated Cages

Rabbits

Rabbits are often housed in floor pens as this provides space to exercise and express their social behaviour. Rabbits which are kept grouped housed tend to show less stereotypic behaviour and greater activity. Previously, rabbits were predominantly housed in single cages which caused more stress to the animals.  Enclosures are normally made up of wood frame with metal bars or completely metal frame with very small holes to prevent animals escaping.

Environmental enrichment such as cardboard boxes, hay/straw and raised areas can also provide more security and natural behaviours therefore reducing any abnormal behaviour which may be seen otherwise.  As albino rabbits are often used in research, boxes also provide a darker place to prevent damage to the retina of the eye.

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As humans we often believe that larger housing is better, just look at people who often want a huge home, but this doesn’t mean that an animal will be comfortable with this. The key is to tailor this to each species/individual’s needs for the highest welfare standards. Animals which naturally live in holes, or nests, often feel comfortable with less space compared with other animals. Other additions to accommodation such as environmental enrichment can enable expression of natural behaviour further and have significantly increased in recent years, no more barren cages!

In my 14+ years working with research animals, I have seen a huge amount of change. Improvements in caging and enrichment benefit not only the animals, but the pursuit of good science as well, and we should welcome it. I am also a strong believer that this has also improved the morale of staff, after all we all want the best for animal welfare which in turn will lead to good science.

Stephen Woodley

Research Roundup: March for Science, promising headway in stem cell treatments, new treatment for cystic fibrosis 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  or through the contact form on the website.

  • On , hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march in defense of science in cities around the world, including Washington DC, London, Paris. Toronto, Berlin and more. Speaking of Research has a history of holding rallies in defense of science, and we wish those who are attending events on Saturday the very best of luck. With science funding in many countries under threat, it is important that we all stand up and be counted.

 “The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”

#MarchforScience

  • and shows vision and promise. Using , a Japanese man is the first human to receive reprogrammed stem cells from another human being as a means of treating — a form of blindness that affects 1% of all humans over the age of 50. Before this procedure made its way to humans, safety and efficacy trials in mice (.e.g., ,,) and non-human primates were undertaken (e.g., ,,) — although it is worth emphasizing that some have about the stringency of Japanese preclinical regulatory process. Takahashi, the lead scientist behind this trial, stated that the surgery has gone well, but that success cannot be declared without further monitoring the fate of the transplanted cells.

    Somatic stem cells exist naturally in the body. They are important for growth, healing, and replacing cells that are lost daily through wear and tear.  Source:

  • finds that exposure to low doses of antibiotics early in life can have long term consequences on behaviour in mice. Adding to a growing body of literature, this study found that low but clinically relevant doses of penicillin administered prenatally in mice can lead to lasting effects in both sexes on , immune functioning, and alters anxiety-like, social and aggressive behaviour. Concurrent supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 via drinking water prevented some of these alterations — potentially via alterations to the vagus nerve. Subsequent replication and extension of these findings needs to be undertaken, particularly in regards to the length of exposure and when exposure occurs (early or later in gestation or even postnatally). The authors of this study concluded that “these results warrant further studies on the potential role of early-life antibiotic use in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, and the possible attenuation of these by beneficial bacteria.” This study was published in .
  • for zebrafish released on the Humane Endpoint website at Utrecht University in English, Dutch and German. “A humane endpoint is the earliest indicator in an animal experiment of or in the animal. Researchers can use these indicators to avoid or limit pain and distress in laboratory animals.” Zebrafish are a commonly used as laboratory species and, for example, in the Netherlands, an average of 5000 experiments are performed on zebrafish each year. Consistent with the 3Rs, these guidelines contribute the refinement aspect of the 3Rs “since it teaches scientists, animal technicians and animal caretakers how to prevent unnecessary pain and distress in laboratory animals.” Access to this website is free and for further details on who can and how to access all content can be found .

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    Zebrafish: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

  • of planned in an effort to save the black footed ferret. are members of the weasel family and were brought to the brink of extinction in the 1960s due to habitat destruction. By the 1980s it was estimated that only 18 remained. Due to conservation efforts, there are now approximately 300 of these ferrets in the wild and a further 300 in captive breeding facilities. Approximately 90% of the diet of these ferrets are comprised of prairie dogs. However, because of the , prairie dogs living in the habitats of the black footed ferret are now in danger of being decimated and spreading this disease to the ferrets that eat them. To combat this problem, wildlife conservationists such as the are planning to a in specific habitats of the black footed ferret. This is a great example of the reach of biomedical research with being used to save other animals.
  • Potential for cystic fibrosis found. Cystic fibrosis is a that leads to persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe. In particular, it affects the Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. In addition, it can prevent the pancreas from releasing digestive enzymes due to the buildup of mucus. It affects approximately 70,000 people worldwide. These researchers investigated whether thymosin alpha 1 (Ta1) — a naturally occurring protein with an excellent safety profile in the clinic — can rectify some of the multiple tissue defects associated with cystic fibrosis. Using inbred mice, they found that this protein leads to reduced inflammation and increased CFTR maturation, stability, and activity — indicating that Ta1 has a strong potential to be a single-molecule therapeutic agent to treat and stop the progression of cystic fibrosis. This study was published in .

Image courtesy of National Library of Medicne

  • Two re-purposed drugs may  such as dementia. Scientists at the  1040 existing drugs on nematode worms, human cells, and mice, in order to find one that can block a major pathway in the brain responsible for brain cell death in many neurodegenerative conditions. Two existing drugs, which have shown to be safe in humans, showed prevented cell death in mice, and the researchers are now looking to begin clinical trials. The research was .

Animal Research in South Korea in 2016

In February 2017 the (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 . 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%.

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, , on the growth of R&D in South Korea over the same period.

From Nature:

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 ().

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:

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.” ()

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 or through the contact form on the website.

  • a new way to treat (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 – 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 .

Mice were key to this Parkinson’s breakthrough

  • that a reovirus may be implicated in the development of celiac disease. is a serious autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten, leads to damage of the small intestine. Gluten is found in , 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 .
  • , reducing the occurrence of congenital abnormalities in mice. , that is 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, ; a sign of incomplete brain development. For the first time, these researchers tested a of the Zika virus in mice. In comparison to an , 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 immune response, and a promising safety profile; similar to that of other clinically approved vaccinations. This study was published in .

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

  • 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 () and drugs for pain target the CNS. However, these drugs sometimes lead to unintended side effects such as . Drugs which target the peripheral system may allows us to avoid these unintended side effects. Using mice-i need a fake id, 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 .

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

  • 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  and . This synthetic compound also made these bacteria cell membrane more permeable – . The research was 

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 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 . This release included of research being done at the institutions in order to provide additional context to the numbers. The article was picked up by the (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 .

The five universities mentioned also appear together in another list – they account for five of the top six British Universities on the . 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 , for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research, in , , and ; Oliver Britton at the University of Oxford won the prize in for a computer model of cardiac electrophysiology; and Dr Anna Williams at the University of Edinburgh was 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 which reduces the need to use fish, and University College London is the home of the  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 (). 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 .

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

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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: Fighting antibiotic resistance with maple syrup, epigenetic effects from light and diet, and HPV vaccine success

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  or through the contact form on the website.

  • finds that phenolic extract from maple syrup may boost antibiotic action. is on the rise, with at least becoming infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics each year. Producing antibiotics to fight these “” is proving to be with occurring in 2016. Researchers, learning of the anti-cancer properties of maple syrup, decided to investigate its antimicrobial properties. By mixing the syrup’s phenolic compounds — which gives syrup its characteristic golden color with the antibiotics ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin, they found the same antimicrobial effect with less than 90 percent of the antibiotic. They then tested the extract in fruit flies and moth larvae and found a similar effect. Further experiments are now planned in mice and the researchers are hopeful that one day this extract will be turned into a widely available, plant-based medicine.

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  • Parental exposure to dim light at night may lead to a — Researchers at the Ohio State University exposed male and female adult hamsters to either a standard light/dark cycle or one with dim light at night for nine weeks. Offspring with parent(s) that experienced dim light exposure had an impaired immune response and decreased endocrine activity compared to offspring from standard light exposure parents. What is most interesting is that these were transferred from the sperm and/or egg, and they were independent of light exposure in utero. The study suggests further research into light exposure at night from sources such as tablets, phones, and TVs should be done in humans.
  • using mice finds that paternal diet affects offspring cognitive ability. Increasing evidence suggests that offspring development is not only impacted my maternal factors, such as the mother’s diet, but also by factors that the father has been exposed to. modification of has been implicated as one major causal pathway for the transmission of such changes to the offspring. In the present study, one group of male mice were fed a diet containing nutrients required for methyl group metabolism — methionine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline, betaine and zinc, while another group was fed a standard diet of lab chow. After six weeks on the respective diets, the male mice were mated with female mice, and the offspring tested on a series of learning and memory tasks. The offspring of the male mice fed with methyl donors performed less well in all learning and memory tests. Related changes were also observed with poor activity in the hippocampus (associated with learning and memory) and downregulation of a gene associated with neuroplasticity. The study has implications for countries such as the USA, where dietary supplementation is prevalent.

Research mouse being held

  • A new function for the cerebellum — the encoding of expectation of reward. accounts for approximately 10% of the brain volume, but contains more than 50% of its neurons. The cerebellum is often thought to function outside the realm of consciousness, being primarily involved in motor function and processing sensory input. The present study used genetically modified mice that expressed a (GFP) and . Scientists trained mice to push a lever to obtain a sugared reward. They found that one set of cells in the cerebellum fired when the mice pushed the lever (motor response), another set fired when the mice were waiting for the reward to arrive (cognitive response in regard to expected event) and third group fired when the reward was removed entirely (cognitive response in regard to unexpected event). This study challenges the current way of thinking about the role of the cerebellum and highlights how more research is needed to further understand how structures within the brain function in an interconnected way.
  • Discovery of a gene related to congenital blindness in zebrafish may lead to a cure for similar disease in humans. One type of congenital blindness is termed Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LBA), and leads to deformed or absent rods and cones in the eyes of children — resulting in blindness. While researching blindness in zebrafish, , and discovered a mutant. These genetically mutated zebrafish also have degenerated cones in their eyes, similar to humans with LBA, but the rods are not affected. Future research investigating the molecular and cellular mechanisms of rod and cone development using this new animal model may lead to a possible cure in humans.

  • In the news, we sometimes hear stories being created to save loved ones from debilitating diseases. Sometimes these drugs work, in part because of some previous validation in using non-human animals. Other times, they result in because they have not gone through appropriate safety trials. It is important that our readers and the public in general understand why clinical safety trials are important and have a proper understanding of the associated risks if they are not conducted.
  • (VUB) has at its lab in Brussels. Work was temporarily suspended late last year after an by the animal rights group GAIA. The institution began both internal and external audits to assess its own processes, and they have taken various measures to further improve animal wellbeing, administration, and infrastructure – with a further €13.8m earmarked for a new animal facility in the future. The decision to restart means that 27 approved projects that were on hold can now begin.
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, provided free to girls in Scotland aged 12-13 years old has resulted in a . HPV is believed to account for around 90% of cervical cancer cases. The HPV vaccine owes much of its development and subsequent efficacy testing to animal models, including rabbits (), cows () and dogs (Canine oral papilloma virus). It is forecast that the HPV vaccine will lead to a 90% drop in cervical cancer cases in Scotland.

Jeremy Bailoo and Justin Varholick