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Permalink 06:15:34 pm, by Tom, 699 words, 4361 views   English (UK)
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Some good news from Europe

As many of you will no doubt be aware the EU is in the process of updating Directive 86/609, the directive that covers the "laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States regarding the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes". The proposals for the revision of Directive 86/609 that were adopted by the EU commission in November last year contained many welcome improvements on the previous rules, and would bring the regulation of animal research in the rest of the EU up to the high standards that we are used to in the UK.

However a few of the proposed changes led to widespread fears among European scientists that huge additional bureaucratic burdens would be placed on those undertaking animal research, often with little or no animal welfare gains. Scientists were also concerned that the proposal to limit research on monkeys and other non-human primates to projects that focus on the “avoidance, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of life-threatening or debilitating clinical conditions in human beings”, a restriction that would stop EU scientists from undertaking research on the basic function of the nervous system, even though such research greatly improves our understanding of the biology of many terrible diseases. In the UK a coalition of nine scientific organizations that together represent the overwhelming majority of medical researchers published a Declaration of concern to highlight the particular items that they felt should be changed or removed. The nine organizations included charities that fund vital research into diseases such as muscular dystrophy and Alzheimer's disease.

Fortunately on Tuesday the EU parliament's Agriculture committee, which was tasked with producing a report on proposed revisions and suggesting ammendments, listened to scientific community (including several Pro-Test members who submitted evidence and talked with MEPs) and addressed most of their concerns in its report. While they supported higher standards for animal welfare and the need for animal studies to undergo compulsory ethical assessment, they rejected some of the revisions proposed by the EU commission that would have pointlessly increased the bureaucracy associated with animal research and in particular rejected "...the idea that tests using non-human primates should be restricted to "life-threatening or debilitating" conditions, as this would seriously hinder research into some forms of cancer, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease".

As it happens science writer Ed Yong has just reposted a 2007 post on his "Not exactly rocket science" blog that illustrated just how useful research that does not address "life-threatening or debilitating" conditionsis to neuroscience. In a study published in Nature Tianming Yang and Michael Shadlen from the University of Washington measured the activity of individual nerves in Rhesus macaque monkeys in order to determine how the pattern of nerve cell activity in an area of the brain known as the lateral intraparietal area (LIP) changed as the monkeys learned to base their decisions about which of two targets to choose for a reward on the combined probabilities indicated by four shapes, each associated to a varying degree with one target or the other. The ability to calculate probablity is strongly associated with decision making and unltimately reasoning this study which gave a new insight into how nerve cells in the brain's control centres, such as the LIP, extract probabilistic information from a set of symbols and to combine this information over time in order to help later decision making. Their results also provided the first solid experimental evidence to support role of the log likelihood ratio, a statistical test for making a decision between two hypotheses, as the common currency with which the brain constructs an informed guess between two options, an important discovery that will aid future research into how we make decisions.

While the report published by the agriculture committee represents an important victory for science the future of animal research in the EU is the by no means assured, and scientists and supporters of medical research must continue to argue their case and lobby their MEPs as the revisions to Directive 86/609 go before the full EU parliament. We will soon suggest ways in which you can help us in this effort, so keep an eye on Pro-Test news and be ready to stand up for science!


Paul Browne

Stand Up For Science

May 2020
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