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Pro-Test: standing up for science
Pro-Test: Standing Up For Science
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Archives for: April 2009

23/04/09

Permalink 07:25:15 pm, by Tom, 534 words, 2597 views   English (UK)
Categories: News

UCLA Stands Up for Science

Pro-Test salutes the 800 academics, citizens and students who rallied yesterday to show support for scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who have faced threats, harassment and arson from animal rights extremists. UCLA Pro-Test, an organisation founded by neuroscientist David Jentsch, and a number of other scientists who have also been the victims of animal rights extremism in California, made a decisive stand for animal research and sent a clear message to animal rights extremists that "enough is enough".

As the rally stretched close to a quarter of a mile long Jentsch remarked that "I hope this rally lessens the sense of helplessness and fear that has pervaded our community, We’re just not going to take the harassment anymore", while fellow neuroscientist Neurology Professor Claude Westerlain, who uses animals in his research on epilepsy, said he came to the rally to oppose the terror tactics that some of his colleagues have faced.

"Even the [activists] with good intentions are mistaken when they say there is no need for animal research. There is no way to do research on epilepsy without animals, and the suffering we relieve is enormous. Animal research saves lives. There is no medical progress without it."

Among those attending the rally was UCLA neuroscientist Dario Ringach, who announced in 2006 that he would give up his animal research if activists would stop harassing him and his family but is now a member of the UCLA Pro-Test committee.

"I came because I don't think people should have to face a choice between the security of their family and their research" he said "I came to defend academic research and academic freedom."

UK Pro-Test member, Tom Holder, who recently founded Pro-Test's sister organisation in the US, Speaking of Research, flew across to the US to assist with the rally. Speaking at the rally he announced The Pro-Test Petition which supports biomedical research and condemns violent tactics used to campaign against it.

Well done to everyone who joined the Pro-Test UCLA rally, and especially to those brave scientists who made it happen!

Things have also also been busy on this side of the pond.

First the good news from Cancer Research UK that deaths from breast cancer are at their lowest levels for 40 years, an achievement that can be attributed to both improvements in screening that allows tumours to be detected earlier and new treatments discovered through animal research.

Second, as you may have heard the European Union is currently engaged in a much needed overhaul of its rules on the use of animals in medical research, and at the beginning of May MEPs will debate the proposed revisions in a plenary session of the EU Parliament. This revision is an opportunity to shape the future of medical research in Europe, if the new rules are sensible they will safeguard animal welfare while encouraging and facilitating top class research, if not then they have the potential to stifle much vital research throughout the EU and turn Europe into a medical research backwater. So if you haven't done so already we strongly encourage you to write to your MEPs and remind them to Remember the Patients when they vote in two weeks time.

07/04/09

Permalink 10:47:28 pm, by Tom, 561 words, 2548 views   English (UK)
Categories: News

Let Europe hear your voice: time to write to your MEP

The European Union is in the process of updating the laws governing medical research using animals across the EU (Directive 86/609), a revision that is necessary because the regulations included in Directive 86/609 when it was adopted in 1986 have failed to keep pace with the rapid pace of scientific and technological change over the past two decades. For example they do not adequately address the use of transgenic animals that are so important to many fields of medical research today, but which were only just becoming available in 1986.
In November the EU Commission published its proposals for over 100 revisions to Directive 86/609, and while these included many welcome improvements there were also some proposals that would have harmed European science through bureaucratic overload and overly tight limits on research involving monkeys. Happily the EU Parliament's Agriculture committee subsequently suggested several changes to the revisions in its report that have reassured many in the scientific community about the possible impact of the new laws on medical research in Europe.

On the 4th-7th May the European Parliament in plenary session will consider revisions proposed by the Commission, the amendments proposed in the Agriculture Committee report and some or all of those proposed by the Industry and Research Committee, which was given associated committee status due to its role in developing science policy . More amendments can also be proposed, either by the EU parliamentary political groups or by the signature of any 37 MEPs, so it's likely to be a very lively debate.

Make no mistake about it, while this is by no means the final stage in the long EU legislative process it is the most crucial stage; the revisions that are agreed in the plenary session are likely to become law with at most minor changes. Until now the task of making the case for animal research has been left mainly to the scientists who can discuss the detail of their work with MEPs, and warn them of the detrimental effects that the more ill-conceived revisions might have. While their efforts have met with considerable success animal rights organizations will now be working overtime to undo these gains, and this is where you can make a difference.

MEPs need to hear your voice!

To help you to make your voice heard we have formed a partnership with Understanding Animal Research through their Remember the Patients campaign. We encourage you to write to your local MEPs and tell them why you think it is vital that the future of animal research in Europe is safeguarded, and how you or members of your family have benefited from medical advances made through animal research. Remember the Patients has information on how to find your local MEPs and suggestions about what you should say in your letter or e-mail.

Please take the time to write to your MEPs, this really is a once in a decade opportunity to help shape policy on animal research throughout the EU and ensure that Europe plays a leading role in the future of medicine.

Pro-Test

More information about the revisions to Directive 86/609 can be found on the European Coalition for Biomedical Research website.

Further information on the contribution of animal research to medical progress is available on AnimalResearch.info

A detailed explanation of why research using monkeys is still necessary has been published by the EU Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks

03/04/09

Permalink 06:15:34 pm, by Tom, 699 words, 3880 views   English (UK)
Categories: Information

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!

Regards

Paul Browne

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