Comment »Posted on Thursday 1 October 2009 at 5:42 pm by Emma Stokes
In Biology, Health & Medicine

The last few weeks have seen some interesting developments regarding animal research, catch up on the lastest news with Understanding Animal Research:

Lack of sleep linked to Alzheimer’s

Studies using mice suggest that lack of sleep could increase the development of toxic plaques in the brain, accelerating the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

To read more on this story, please follow the link.

White blood cells found to set the pace of wound repair

After more than fifty experiments in mice, scientists have mapped out how a set of white blood cells (lymphocytes) set the pace of recovery after serious lung injury.

To read more on this story, please follow the link.

Gene therapy for colour blindness

A team of scientists have restored colour vision to two colour blind squirrel monkeys using gene therapy.

To read more on this story, please follow the link.

Also….

Last week two prominent scientists in America published an article about the need for change in the communication of issues surrounding animal research.

The article, We Must Face The Threats, tackles the difficult topic of animal rights extremists, and the effect they are having on the scientific community.

Animal research is always a difficult topic to discuss. Trying to present a balanced argument can be as difficult as trying to avoid a mine in a field of landmines. However, I believe that in this case, the authors of the paper, Dario Ringach and David Jentsch have managed to keep to the facts, rather than reverting to ‘mud slinging’ and ‘calling names’.

Ringach and Jentsch also describe how the public are often influenced by groups other than scientists when it comes to the topic of science. This is a problem for science across the whole of the field, not exclusively animal research

The article describes how the entertainment industry contributes to the “misperception of science, producing movies that increasingly portray humans and technology as the source of evil”. Only last night I was watching Spaced – the episode where a dog was snatched by an ‘insane’ scientist who was conducting animal research in an illegal lab – hardly how animal testing happens in this country…!

Ringach and Jentsch also voice their frustrations (which I share), at celebrities wearing AIDS or cancer ribbons one day, and then supporting PETA‘s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) fundraising events, or featuring in their advertising campaigns the next. Many of you will have heard about the recent scandal with Naomi Campbell, who posed naked in the 90s as part of PETAs I’d Rather go Naked than Wear Fur campaign, but recently became the face of an advertising campaign for a luxury New York furrier, Dennis Basso. Cases like this make me wonder the reasons why celebrities support PETA – are they fully informed of all of their policies?

However, Ringach and Jentsch do well to steer clear of these questions (better than me anyway), and do not waste their time repeating what others have done before them – pointing out the countless problems with the animal-rights views. Instead, their overall message is that these issues only cause a problem because the message is being presented with little opposing force from the scientific community.

They are therefore calling for the “scientific community to make a concerted effort in condemning animal-rights extremism and in reaching out to the public to explain our work, its importance, and out commitment to the strictest ethical guidelines of animal research”.

They also emphasize the need to “acknowledge an increasing divide on how animal experimentation is perceived by the broad public.” They believe that “we should open a discourse on the topic, explaining the key role animal research plays in our work and what our society stands to lose if we were to stop it.”

To all those scientists who are sceptical of openness about their role in animal research, it should be pointed out that Ringach and Jentsch, along with their families, have suffered at the hands of extremists, therefore their conclusions come from first hand experience.

They are also out there, putting these ideas into practice. Ringach and Jentsch are members of a US organisiaion called Speaking of Research. Speaking of Research can be compared to the UK’s Pro-test, indeed Tom Holder spokesperson for Pro-test, has been in the US for the past few years getting this fledgling organization onto it’s feet. Drawing on the success in the UK, where animal rights extremism has decreased over recent years, the group aims to support and campaign on behalf of scientists against the extremists.

I believe that this paper not only makes solid points in regards to animal research, but also to the scientific community at large. Yes there are some who are already trying to stem the tide of pseudo-scinece (Ben Goldacre’s column and Sense about Science are just two examples), but they are just a drop in the ocean, and it is the scientists who must take action together, whatever their field of research. As Ringach and Jentsch conclude:

“We must prove that ‘scientific community’ means something more than the mere fact that we publish in the same journals and attend the same conferences. We must stand together to defend those colleagues under attack and defend the research we believe to be ethical and critical for our understanding of the brain in health and disease. The public is ready to listen.”


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