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11:36:16 pm, by Tom, 312 words, 4016 views
Pro-Test: Five Year Anniversary
Pro-Test: Five Year Anniversary – Friday 25th February 2011
Five years ago, in a climate of fear and harassment from animal rights extremists, 1,000 students, staff and members of the public marched through the centre of Oxford to defend life-saving medical research.
Led by a 16-year-old student, Laurie Pycroft, the Pro-Test rally helped change the attitudes of public, politicians and media towards animal research in the UK.
On Friday February 25th 2011 Pro-Test are holding a series of events to celebrate the progress Pro-Test has made over the last five years.
From 12 – 2pm Pro-Test will be manning a series of stalls on Cornmarket in order to show its continued efforts to educate the public about the crucial role of animals in medical research. Come along and support the cause!
At 4pm Pro-Test members will head online to Nature’s live Q&A on the animal research issue (link). Pro-Test members have already provided background articles for Nature to support this event.
At 7.15pm (Lecture Theatre 23, Balliol College) Pro-Test will hold a discussion in conjunction with the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society (PPE Soc) to talk about how Pro-Test’s efforts have helped to shift the public attitude on animal research. Speakers will be:
University members will be required to bring their university card. Non-university members should email tom[at]pro-test.org.uk to book tickets.
We look forward to seeing you there.
10:27:27 pm, by Tom, 731 words, 3814 views
A fish named Hope.
If you have watched TV in the past week or two, you may have seen the excellent ads produced by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) as part of a major fundraising drive to support their new Mending Broken Hearts campaign.
The Mending Broken Hearts campaign is a major new multidisciplinary initiative which seeks to harness the power of regenerative medicine to better treat, and one day cure, heart failure. If you want to learn more about this work, the BHF website has information on the science behind the initiative, and why their scientists are studying zebrafish.
It is an ambitious and fascinating project, and an excellent example of how the differences between species can be as valuable to medical advancement as the similarities.
But that’s not all that is striking about this campaign.
This is a fundraising campaign by a major medical research charity that not only acknowledges the importance of animal research, but places it centre stage. Little more than a decade ago that would have been unthinkable.
When I first started my career in science in the late 1990’s public support for animal research in the UK was considerably lower than it is now, and few scientists willing to discuss their work in public or counter the misleading propaganda of animal rights activists. Animal rights extremists appeared to be able to harass, intimidate and coerce at will, using tactics such as hate mail, vandalism, arson, grave robbing and violence to force several animal breeders to close, and even contributing to a decision by Cambridge University to abandon plans to construct a new primate laboratory in 2004. As the 21st century dawned the future of biomedical research in the UK looked very bleak.
But behind the scenes things were changing. The tireless efforts of research advocacy groups including RDS and the Coalition for Medical Progress (now merged to form Understanding Animal Research ), Sense about Science, and Seriously Ill for Medical Research, who spoke up for animal research and countered the distortions spread by animal research, and the bravery of individuals including the Oxford neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore and patient activist Andrew Blake, who continued to speak out in support of animal research despite threats against themselves and their families, began to yield dividends. As time went on more and more scientists were persuaded to discuss the role of animal research in their work in more detail when talking to journalists, rather than referring obliquely to “laboratory studies”, and by the middle of the decade opinion polls indicated that public support for the use of animals in medical research had increased dramatically. Politicians also began to wake up to the threat posed to science in the UK by animal rights extremism, and the danger that other unrepresentative minorities might adopt the tactics of animal rights extremists to foist their views on the rest of society: Something had to be done. A series of laws were passed to prevent intimidation and harassment being used as campaign tools, while for the first time sufficient resources were made available to police units to counter domestic extremism.
The tide finally turned in the spring of 2006 when hundreds of citizens, scientists, students in Oxford joined together under the banner of Pro-Test to march in support the construction of a new animal research laboratory. Responding to threats by animal rights extremists, and inspired by the example set by Laurie Pycroft, the marchers showed that they would not be silenced and would not be intimidated. That rally, and the widespread coverage it received in national and international news media, released a pent-up wave of support from animal research that almost instantly changed the tenor of the debate on animal research in the UK. The new Oxford laboratory was completed in 2008.
Now five years later many of the animal rights extremists whose terror campaigns made the lives of so many people a misery are behind bars, and scientists are more willing than ever before to talk about the contribution of animal research to medical progress.
So the zebrafish are not just an example of the promise of 21st century medicine, but show us that if scientists and supporters of science stand together we can defeat extremism, we can counter the lies and distortions spread by animal rights campaigns, and we can secure the future of scientific medicine. That's a lot of hope for such a small fish.
11:12:30 am, by Tom, 2088 words, 7475 views
Albert Sabin and the monkeys who gave summer back to the children.
Albert Sabin has been called “the doctor who gave summer back to the children.”*
Because of his decades of research to develop the oral polio vaccine, children today know nothing of the fear that polio brought to the United States every summer well into the 20th century. Swimming pools and movie theaters were closed and children were kept inside their homes by frightened parents. Worldwide, the disease killed millions of people and left legions of others permanently disabled.
We’ve just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Dr. Sabin’s vaccine. Estimates suggest that in just its first two years of worldwide use, the vaccine prevented nearly 500,000 deaths and five million cases of polio. Today, the world is on the brink of realizing Dr. Sabin’s lifetime dream: the eradication of polio from the planet.
The development of the oral polio vaccine required years of extensive research with rabbits, monkeys and rodents.
Animal rights activists long ago seized on a single phrase by Dr. Albert Sabin, and have been using it ever since to try to support their outrageous claim that the developer of the oral polio vaccine(OPV) opposed the use of animals in research.
That phrase, “The work on prevention (of polio) was long delayed by an erroneous conception of the nature of the human disease based on misleading experimental models of disease in monkeys” spoken by Dr. Sabin during a congressional hearing in 1984, has been used in animal rights publications and comments for over two decades.
Dr. Sabin, a member of the Board of Directors of the pro-research Americans for Medical Progress until his death in 1993, spent years working to correct the record. Here is a letter he wrote to the editor of the Winston Salem Journal, published in 1992.
It is true that in the early years of polio research some lines of inquiry eventually proved unsuccessful. An overreliance on a strain of the virus known as the MV strain that had become adapted to survive only in nervous tissue, and the fact that the Rhesus macaque, while a good model for many aspects of polio, cannot be infected through ingestion via the mouth, led to the incorrect assumption that polio could only infect nerve cells (despite evidence to the contrary from both clinical studies and laboratory studies with other polio strains and monkey species). These mistakes were unfortunate, though understandable given the fact that virology as a science was in its infancy.
However, these failed attempts do not cancel out the fact that animal research, and research using monkeys in particular, was absolutely crucial to the development of vaccines for polio. Without it the polio vaccine would certainly not have been developed by the end of the 1950’s, and we might even still be waiting for it.
These vital contributions made by animal research to the development of polio vaccines were not limited to the work of Albert Sabin, and include:
(i) The discovery by Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper in 1908 that polio was caused by a virus, a discovery made by inoculating macaque monkeys with an extract of nervous tissue from polio victims that was shown to be free of other infectious agents.
(ii) The subsequent discovery by Simon Flexner that blood serum from infected macaque monkeys could protect against polio infection.
(iii) The discovery by Carl Kling and colleagues in 1911, following an earlier discovery that polio virus could be isolated from the lymph nodes of the small intestine of monkeys, that polio virus was present in the throat and intestinal tissues of people who dies from polio. Soon afterwards they isolated virus from the intestines of patients suffering from acute polio, and importantly from family members who did not display the symptoms of polio, establishing that healthy carriers played an important role in spreading the disease. In these studies the presence of polio was demonstrated by injecting filtered fluid from the patients into monkeys, the only method then available to confirm the presence of polio (Introduction to Epidemiology, fifth edition, by Ray M, Merill, Jones and Bartlett Learning).
(iv) The discovery in the early 1930’s by the Australian scientists Macfarlane Burnet and Jean Macnamara that antibodies against one strain of polio did not always protect macaque monkeys against infection with another strain.
(v) The discovery by John Enders, Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins that the polio virus could be grown in a number of tissue types, not just nerve tissue as previously assumed, a discovery that required the use of mice and monkeys to prove that the cultured virus was indeed polio and still capable of causing paralysis.
(vi) The determination in 1949 by David Bodian and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University that there were three major families of polio virus, referred to as types 1, 2, and 3, and that a separate vaccine would be necessary for each to give broad protection against polio.
(vii) The confirmation by David Bodian and colleagues in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s that the polio virus entered the body through the mouth, and then needed to pass into the blood stream before it could infect nervous tissue, and that if you could block the infection in the blood you could prevent the virus from entering nerve tissue and causing paralysis. The work of Enders and Bodian paved the way for the development of vaccines by Salk and Sabin.
(viii) The evaluation by Jonas Salk and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh of vaccine candidates produced by inactivating the virus with formalin under a range of conditions, until a vaccine was identified that was effective and safe enough for human trials.
(ix) The evaluation by Albert Sabin of hundreds of polio virus strains in hundreds of monkeys and scores of chimps before identifying attenuated strains that were capable of efficiently entering the body through the digestive system and provoking an adequate immune response to protect against the different pathogenic strains of polio while not causing the disease themselves.
Animal rights activists are free to express their opposition to the use of animals in research, but they cannot do so by blatantly robbing society of scientific achievements. This one fact is clear -- if our critics had their way, today millions of children would be dead or disabled from polio and other infectious diseases.
* Of course Jonas Salk is equally, if not even more, deserving of this accolade.
05:54:36 pm, by Tom, 1011 words, 3312 views
Animal studies point to clinical trial of hypothermia for stroke victims
On Monday Dr Malcolm Macleod, head of experimental neuroscience at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, joined scientists from the European Stroke Research Network for Hypothermia (EuroHYP) in urging European governments to fund a trial of moderate hypothermia for the treatment of ischemic stroke victims. In ischemic stroke the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked, leading to the death of nerve cells in the affected area, which can result in death or long-term disability. In an interview with the BBC Dr Macleod was reported as saying that:
This call does not come as a great surprise for me; when I was researching the role of animal research in the development of brain cooling to treat perinatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HEI), a condition where a lack of oxygen and reduced blood supply during or shortly after birth causes brain damage, I found that all the papers I read cited animal studies of hypothermia to prevent damage in ischemic stroke. This is not surprising as in both conditions injury results from impaired blood supply.
IMAGE: CT image of an ischemic stroke. The dark area in top left quadrant of brain shows the damaged brain area. Welcome Images.
The publications page of the EuroHYP website lists the most important publications supporting their decision to initiate large-scale clinical trials of hypothermia in stroke. Among them is a 2010 review by Bart van der Worp, Malcolm MacLeod and Rainer Kollmar entitled “Therapeutic hypothermia for acute ischemic stroke: ready to start large randomized trials?” which highlights the importance of studies in animal models of stroke in demonstrating the potential of hypothermia in stroke, and states:
Among the papers cited by this review is a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2007 by a group of neurologists led by Dr Mcleod and Dr van der Worp which made a very thorough examination of over one hundred studies of different hyporhermia techniques in a range of animal models of ischemic stroke. This study is clear about the limitations of the studies, and identifies several areas where further animal studies are warranted, such as the longer term effect of hypothermia on the risk of developing pneumonia. Overall the authors conclude that:
This is important, as anyone familiar with stroke research will recognize Dr Macleod and Dr van der Worp as fierce critics of inadequate design and reporting of some preclinical animal studies, and of mistakes made when designing clinical trials due to the misinterpretation and misapplication of the results of animal studies. Quite often they found that the design of clinical trials was so different to the design of the preclinical study that it was impossible to tell whether the failure of a treatment in human patients actually contradicted the earlier success in an animal model, both outcomes were entirely plausible even if you assumed that there was absolutely no fundamental biological difference between the effects of stroke in the animal model and in human patients. For example, one problem is that the majority of neurprotective drugs evaluaded in the past few decades were shown to be effective in animal models of stroke only when administered very soon after induction of stroke - usually after less than half an hour - whereas in clinical trials there were usually long delays - four hours or more- before initiation of treatment. The fact that hypothermia has a neuroprotective effect in animal models up to three hours after stroke onset will make design of a clinical trial that matches the conditions under which treatment was successful easier, though as with all stroke treatment the earlier it is started the better!
It is notable that unlike animal rights campaigners who use deficiencies in some animal studies to call for a ban on it, Macleod and van der Worp understand its continuing importance to medical progress, and have worked with animal researchers to improve both the design and reporting of the preclinical animal studies that underpin the decisions to initiate clinical trials. Initiatives such as the ARRIVE guidelines are similar in many ways to recent improvements the design of clinical trials supported by the work of the Cochrane collaboration, and the widespread adoption of standards for the reporting of clinical trials.
So the animal evidence supporting the clinical initiation of trials of hypothermia for ischemic stroke had to satisfy a very strict panel of judges, we hope that funding is provided to initiate these important trials in the very near future.
Finally, and completely off topic, there was an interesting item in Nature news on the use of RNAi to attack block viral replication in a mouse model of HIV infection. It’s an interesting application of an exciting new technology that I have discussed several times on the Speaking of Research blog, indeed back in 2008 I covered the work of another group who are using a mouse model of HIV to aid development of RNAi based therapies for HIV infection. It is fascinating work, though as the Nature article stresses the technique needs to be refined, re-evaluated and improved a lot in animal models before it can be tried out in clinical trials of HIV patients. I expect that Drs Macleod and van der Worp would agree with that sentiment.
11:31:05 am, by Tom, 857 words, 3542 views
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.
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:
The Declaration makes clear that:
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:
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.
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