Posted by: thearkhive | December 17, 2013

Your Turn to Speak of Your Research…

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

Speaking of Research have regularly had guest posts. Scientists have different fields of expertise, and who better to get to write about a scientific field than an expert in it. The most powerful voice on this issue continues to be that of the scientist.

We need more scientists to explain their research. Why do they use animals? How do they look after them? Why can’t you use cell cultures or people? What do you hope to find out?

We call out to our followers and supporters. We need you not only to help us by writing an article about your research, but by passing this post to your friends and colleagues, your students and your teachers. Help us find people who will write about their research for the Speaking of Your Research campaign.

There has never been a better time to get involved in Science Communication. More scientists than…

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Posted by: thearkhive | December 11, 2013

Should chimps have rights?

thearkhive:

Should Chimps have right?

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

Steven M. Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project think so.  In Wise’s own words, chimpanzees are complex, autonomous beings that should have the basic right “to be left alone.”

Seeking a court’s support for their position, the organization petitioned New York courts for writs of habeas corpus on behalf of several chimpanzees they view as being held unlawfully.  Habeas corpus petitions have been used to seek freedom from unlawful detention of human beings.  The Nonhuman Rights Project believes the statute should also apply to non-human animals as well.

In part, the New York statue states that the petition may be brought by:

“A person illegally imprisoned or otherwise restrained in his liberty within the state, or one acting on his behalf […] A judge authorized to issue writs of habeas corpus having evidence, in a judicial proceeding before him, that any person is so detained shall, on his own initiative…

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Posted by: thearkhive | November 19, 2012

Protect transportation of animals for medical research

After successful lobbying by some anti-vivisectionists groups, various airlines have discontinued transporting research animals into the UK. This leaves medical institutes and pharmaceutical companies with only 3 UK animal breeders to buy from. Furthermore, the difficulty of obtaining research animals in the UK has been cited by some pharmaceutical companies as a reason for them to move their R&D capacity overseas, directly leading to scientific job cuts. and a research “brain drain” from the UK. 

Consequently, it is important that we lobby the government to persuade hauliers to resume animal transport and to provide them with more encouragement, advice and protection.

Therefore, I urge all my readers to sign this petition aimed at protecting the transportation of animals for medical research.

Posted by: thearkhive | October 26, 2012

On Animal Research – An Article for The Endocrinologist

Here is an article I wrote for The Endocrinologist on the importance of animmal research in science.

It is rarely out of the news for long, eliciting strong emotions in both scientist and the wider public, but the use of animals to advance medical research continues apace to deliver vital scientific discovers.   For us endocrinologists, whether our interests lie with understanding how hormones affect cancer, the metabolic processes involved in skeletal muscle, or the cause of rare sexual disorders, animals provide the key to translating our cellular results into whole physiological models. In fact, without animal research advances would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, in almost all fields of biological research.

However, despite the mountains of Home Office paperwork that we all complete concerning the ethical  and moral conduct we take to ensure animal welfare, we rarely  step forward to discuss and defend why animals are so critical to our, and the public’s, scientific understanding.

Although a significant majority (about 75%) of the public broadly accept the use of animals to further research goals, there is a vocal and significant minority that abhor the idea. Strengthened by the musings of moral philosopher Peter Singer and his popularisation of speciesism – a belief that the treatment of individuals is based on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences – they argue that humans have no right to cause suffering to another animal, and in so doing are demonstrating speciesism.  Parroting Jeremy Bentham’s the “question is not, can they reason? nor, can they talk? but, can they suffer?”, Singer further argues that, although there may be differences between animals and humans, they share the capacity to suffer, and we must give equal consideration to that suffering.

As researchers who cause animal suffering, we should be acutely aware of the arguments that affect the moral and ethical dilemmas our work entails. The majority of us, I think, take a more balanced approach than Singer, pointing to evidence of the unusual rapid evolution of the human brain and the consequent exceptional aptitudes that we possess compared to other animals.  As one commentator put it, “Over the course of human history, we have been successful in cultivating our faculties, shaping our development, and impacting upon the wider world in a deliberate fashion, quite distinct from evolutionary processes”. Jeffrey Alan Gray, lecturer in experimental psychology at Oxford, has written that: “I would guess that the view that human beings matter to other human beings more than animals do is, to say the least, widespread. At any rate, I wish to defend speciesism…” We choose to use animals in our research because we believe in order to understand biological complexity, and ultimately to enhance medical benefits, we must reluctantly sacrifice animals to that cause.

The public, who fund a significant amount of science across the UK, has a right to know how this money is spent and how we are dealing with our ethical obligations. Unfortunately, the scientific community generally remains reluctant to speak out and defend their use of animals. This is not surprising. Recent unnerving reports show that staff at Harlan Laboratories in Oxfordshire, which is continually targeted by animal rights activists, not only risk verbal and physical abuse, but being branded sex offenders. As one employee commented, “It is part of their (the animal activist) methodology to equate animal work with paedophilia. If they find out your name, you will appear on their website as a paedophile. It is disgusting.”

Such intimidation is a frequent weapon for activists. Harlan’s staff have remained resolute, but elsewhere the effect on the breeding of laboratory animals in the UK has been seriously affected. In 1981 there were 34 companies breeding laboratory animals. Today there are just three because of intimidation of workers and of companies supplying services and products to laboratories.

This situation is now critical. The closure of another UK breeder would make research in the UK, at best, difficult. Scientists have begun to fight back as they recognise the importance for both greater public and ethical transparency with their work.  Supporters of the necessity for animals in research have rallied under the Pro-Test banner and march annually in Oxford.  Furthermore, there are various webpages (Understanding Animal Research, Speaking of Research and The Ark Hive) that highlight how critical animal research is for furthering our biological goals of understanding life and curing disease.

However, more still needs to be done and to further this, I have put together the views of leading endocrinologists and scientists, as well as post-doctoral associates and Ph.D. students, who rely on animal research (for comments see The Endocrinologist – page 21-22). Most still feel inhibited about openly discussing their work, and many think the public do not fully comprehend why their research is necessary. A greater need for transparency, possibly through publishing in open access journals, was highlighted as a way to further engage the public.

Personally, I believe that we should be open and honest regarding our use of animals for research needs. Indeed, within my teaching capacity, I frequently highlight where animal research has aided biological understanding, and I run a website (www.the-ark-hive.org) dedicated to promoting debate on recent scientific advances that have relied on animal research. I am keen that many more scientists across the UK speak up to defend their use of research animals. With the continued threat to animal breeding facilities it is paramount that we continue to inform the public about the important life-changing research we do.

Posted by: thearkhive | September 6, 2012

Let Sleeping Mice Lie

‘O sleep! O gentle sleep! Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee’   

Henry IV Part 2.

Feeling tired? Work exhausting? Wish you’d slept that little bit longer this morning? We all know that feeling; a bad night’s sleep, effecting the whole day ahead. We all struggle sometimes to get those 40 winks.

But recent research suggests that little bouts of insomnia may be telling us something more fundamental about our future health and wellbeing.

Scientists have discovered that mice genetically more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease display disturbed sleep patterns when young (see the article here).

One of the causes of Alzheimer’s is plaque formation, known as β-amyloid aggregation, in the brain. These plaques slowly develop over time, increasing susceptibility to neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.  Using genetically modified mice predestined to develop plaques early in life, researchers noted these animals exhibit disturbed sleep patterns months before showing signs of neurological problems.

On closer examination, sleep disruption was associated with plaque formation in the brain. Elimination of those plaques, using immunisation with aggregation of β-amyloid42 (a technique that stops plaques forming), normalised mouse sleep patterns.

Obviously, it is too early to claim that these findings can be extrapolated to humans. However, this research does suggest that those with disturbed sleep may be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Now there’s something to keep you awake at night.

Posted by: thearkhive | July 9, 2012

Fredrick Banting and the Discovery of Insulin

On 31st October 1920, Fredrick Banting, a scientist working in Toronto, wrote these words in his note book, “Ligate pancreatic ducts of dog….Try to isolate the internal secretion of these to try to relieve glycosuria”.

It was a pivotal moment in hormone and animal research.

Other scientists had already suggested that the cause of diabetes was the loss of secretion of a hormone, now known as insulin, by the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. Theories suggested insulin controlled sugar metabolism, consequently its loss led to an accumulation of blood sugar and excess of sugar in urine. Attempts to provide insulin to diabetic patients by feeding them fresh pancreatic extracts had failed, presumably because insulin is destroyed by enzymes found in the pancreas. Therefore, the problem was to develop a way to extract insulin from the pancreas before it had been destroyed.

Banting, using dogs and the method already briefly described from his notebook, solved this conundrum. Later, working with calves, he refined this insulin extraction method and proceeded to save millions of lives and win himself the Nobel Prize. Without his laboratory animals, which were key components in the breakthrough, Banting would have failed, making the collection of insulin and the subsequent diabetic treatment impossible.

Much maligned, but scientifically incredibly important, the use of laboratory animals, although still able to cause controversy, is vital to research. From the zebrafish and the rat, to the dog and the marmoset, scientists routinely experiment on animals in order to further humanities understanding of life and disease. Without them, research would be stifled and many lifesaving treatments would remain undiscovered.

The naysayers would have you believe that this is not the case. Animals, they say, because they look and act differently to us, cannot possibly represent the human body or mimic his diseases. But, as modern science points out, all life is actually at the cellular and molecular level. We are made of trillions of cells that contain molecules, such as hormones, which make us, and the zebrafish, rat, dog and marmoset, possible.

Cells are life and we are a composite of them.

Consequently, when we look at life at the cellular level almost all life is remarkably similar. For example, we possess almost all the same hormones that a dog and a calf possess. Remember the insulin that Banting extracted from the pancreas of his dogs and calves? That insulin, when given to diabetic patients, was only effective as a treatment because the insulin molecule is so similar across species. If this had not been the case then that calf insulin would have been ineffective and developing a treatment for diabetes would have been seriously compromised.

And it is not just our understanding of hormone-related disorders, such as diabetes, that have benefited from the use of animals. Rabbits aided Louis Pasteur to cure rabies, Rhesus monkeys provided Jonas Salk with the polio vaccine, dogs and the technical advances of Albert Starr pioneered heart valve replacement surgery, armadillos harbouring the leprosy bacteria led to the synthesis of leprosy antibiotics, and macaques helped develop effective drugs against the AIDS virus. This list could go on and on.

Like it or not, at the cellular and molecular level, the fact is humans are similar to other animals and this makes those animals good models to use in order to understand human biology and find new treatments for disease.

This is not to say that alternatives to animals should not be thoroughly investigated. In fact significant money, primarily provided by the National Centre for the 3 R’s (NC3R – see their website here), is invested for the replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in science. Furthermore, regulations and the ethical management of animal research are regularly re-assessed and refined, with the UK having the toughest laws on these issues. Most scientific societies, including the Society for Endocrinology, highlight their importance and scientists constantly have to justify their requirements for the use of animals in their work.

Encouragingly, the UK public’s perception of animal research is generally supportive. Nine in ten conditionally accept the idea of animal research and testing to some degree, with three in five accepting the idea unconditionally. About three quarters accept animal studies as long as they are for medical research purposes.

Sometimes, however, small vocal anti-vivisectionist groups hog the media limelight to suggest these facts are otherwise. Recently, scientists have begun to fight back as they recognise the importance of greater public transparency of their work. Supporters of the need for animals in research have rallied under the Pro-Test (see here) banner and march annually in Oxford. Furthermore, there are various webpages (Understanding Animal Research, Speaking of Research) that highlight how critical animal research is for furthering the biological goals of understanding life and curing disease.

It is now over ninety years since Fredrick Banting’s historic hormonal studies. Since then, through the plethora of vaccines, surgery techniques, antibiotics, and drugs, animal research has saved countless lives.  Alternatives are in development, but the use of animals to further scientific understanding and combat disease will remain for the foreseeable future.

By Nadia Jones (see more of her blogs at online college)

For several months, animal rights activities in the UK have been putting extreme pressure on companies involved in the transport of animals intended for scientific testing, to the extent that in January, according to BBC News, the last major ferry operator willing to transport animals capitulated, and will no longer participate in the shipment of animal research specimens.

Most of the animals used in British laboratory experiments are raised on the island — only 1% of the animals are imported — but scientists say that the unofficial embargo on research animals threatens to undermine bio-medical research, and may ultimately have severe consequences for human patients.

Furthermore, without access to the specific animal strains they need, which are often imported from specialist breeding facilities around the world, it’s not just the research that will be significantly impacted.

BBC News reported that, “the life sciences sector generates some £50 billion a year and employs more than 165,000 highly skilled workers.  But that won’t last if researchers can’t get the animal models they need to study disease and develop new drugs.”

Unfortunately, this is not a new story.  The recent campaign against transportation companies is just one of many efforts by animal rights activists over the past century to put an end to animal testing.

Though there are several arguments leveraged against animal testing, the primary thrust of most activists’ cases is that animal testing is unethical and cruel.  A report by the British Royal Society also notes that “opponents of the use of animals in research frequently use the availability of alternative, non-animal, research methods as evidence that using animals is unnecessary.”

Researchers and scientists, however, have a strong counterargument.

US researchers, for instances, recently made the case at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that, “not doing animal research would be unethical and cost human lives,” further saying that testing on animals has led to “dramatic developments in research that have improved and affected the quality of human life.”

Similarly, Science Minister David Willetts in the UK told BBC News that “the use of animals in research remains essential to develop new treatments and drugs, improve our understanding of disease and prove the safety and effectiveness of drugs and chemicals before they go forward for human trials.”

The Royal Society, in the report The use of non-human animal in research: a guide for scientists, claims “almost every form of conventional medical treatment, such as drugs, vaccines, radiation, or surgery, rests in part on the study of animals.”

And there are numerous cases that support their claim: in the early 1950’s and 60’s polio vaccines were introduced to the world, virtually eliminating the disease, developed with animal testing; in the late 1970’s, immunosuppressive drugs, which make kidney and other organ transplants possible and effective, were developed using animal testing; testing on animals continues to provide new insights into the CFTR activators that play such a large part in cystic fibrosis, bringing us ever closer to new treatment and therapy solutions.

Animal testing works because non-human animal biological systems act as models for human systems and allow scientists to determine a compound’s “safety and efficacy, whether a compound is safe for human ingestion and also whether or not a product works for its intended purpose,” according to Frankie Trull, president of the non-profit Foundation for Biomedical Research.

Trull went on to explain that while animals are not perfect analogs of human biology, “they’re still as close as we’re going to get without using a human.”  Scientists hope one day to rely fully on computer modeling and other non-animal models, but that realizing that hope is still far away, and until we reach that level of sophistication, animal testing is a resource that has the potential to solve many human problems.

Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.

 

Posted by: thearkhive | March 28, 2012

Speaking out on animal research

An excellent post published yesterday by Fiona Fox, Director of the Science Media Centre, focusing on the recent news that over the past 7 years UK airlines and all ferry companies have withdrawn from carrying animals for scientific research after a campaign by animal rights activists.

A must read! – See it here.

Posted by: thearkhive | February 3, 2012

Mice solve cancer blood supply mystery

All cells require oxygen to survive, and this axiom also holds true for cancer cells. Without a constant blood supply which delivers red blood cells rich in oxygen, cells will die. Tumours are uniquely adept at developing their own blood supplies, a process called neovascularisation, in order to maintain growth (see here for more on neovascularisation).

But could this fact be cancers Achilles’ heel? If treatments could block neovascularisation then it would be possible to effectively starve cancer cells. Many new drugs aim to do just that and many of them have completely failed in when given to patients, especially if they suffered from breast cancer.

Why this is the case has flummoxed researchers for years. Despite the loss of a blood supply tumours just kept on growing. Starving cancer didn’t work.

However, recent work published in PNAS (see it here) has thrown light onto this problem. To mimic human cancer, scientists implanted human cancer cells under the skin of mice. These cells happily live in this environment and as they multiply they require more oxygen to survive. So, just like in humans, these cells release various chemicals that initiate neovascularisation, highjacking and stimulating mouse cells to develop a new blood supply required by the growing tumour.

Mouse models like these are the bread and butter of cancer research and have for years been integral for drug development.

But what the researchers did next was of significant importance.

These cancer-bearing mice were given treatments designed to block neovascularisation. Not surprisingly they reported a loss of blood supply and a reduction of oxygen content (known as hypoxia) to the tumour.

But what they also observed was an increase in the number of cancer stem cells within those tumours: low oxygen conditions had created more cancer stem cells helping the tumour survive. Cancer stem cells are thought to be vital for the continued growth of many tumours, and any process that increases their number should not be encouraged.

Therefore, it seems that drugs that block neovascularisation inadvertently increase cancer stem cell populations and might actually help tumour development.

These mouse models have elegantly shown us that new treatments should target cancer stem cells as well as trying to block the tumours new blood supply.

Posted by: thearkhive | December 17, 2011

Cuts to US Chimpanzee Research.

Good news this week as the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report stating that most uses of chimpanzees in medical research are unnecessary. They recommended a significant reduction in any government funding that supported chimpanzee studies with the aim of curtailing research on our animal cousins. In a further positive move, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has taken on board these recommendations and will implement them as soon as possible.

See the full story in Nature here

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