Monday, 3 October 2016

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - but are we winning the battle?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It also marks the five year anniversary of my own diagnosis (making me officially a “cancer survivor”), and while I am of course happy and grateful to still be here, it’s bittersweet for me. You see, during this time I have lost two people extremely close to me, and as I continue to watch others battle the dreaded “C”, it breaks my heart.

I know I’m not alone. There would be very few people who have not witnessed the horrific demise of a loved one through this insidious disease, but it sucks. It really really sucks!

There are some terrific screening programs now to catch cancer in the early stages when it can still be treated. By definition, ‘treated’ means surgically removed, poisoned with chemotherapy and radiated. I can say with authority that all are far from being pleasant experiences, and despite the aggressive attack on the disease the current ‘treatments’ are far from being a true cure.

What irks me most though is the “research”. Cancer is such a frightening word to hear that many people willingly donate to cancer research with the best of intentions, but without much thought, and what they don’t consider is that much of the money is spent on animal experiments. Rats and mice are most often used – despite their anatomic, genetic and metabolic differences to humans. In fact many cancers have already been cured in mice, but they simply don’t work in humans, suggesting that perhaps we should move away from these inappropriate and misleading models of human disease and embrace other more relevant methods of research.

When I was first diagnosed it was of huge concern to me that I would be taking drugs that had been tested on animals. Looking into the drugs I was given though, I learned that the chemotherapy drugs I was to take were discovered around 50 years ago. The logical question then is what has become of all the cancer research since that time and where were all these ongoing promises of cures?

I am currently taking tamoxifen – a common treatment used in breast cancer as it acts as an “anti-oestrogen” drug by blocking the action of oestrogen in breast tissue. However the discovery that this drug could be used to treat cancer was quite serendipitous as it was originally tested as a potential contraceptive.  With regards to its current use in breast cancer it has a similar effect (in low doses) in rats and monkeys, but in mice, dogs and rats (in high doses) it actually has the opposite effect, behaving like oestrogen.  There are also many differences in the drug’s risk factors and side effects.  It is therefore surprising that with such conflicting animal data it ever became available – but I’m very lucky it did!

So I am acknowledging Breast Cancer Awareness Month and appreciate and support the need for greater awareness and early detection, but when it comes to research, please think carefully about where your donations are going. You can donate to health and medical research charities that do not use animals – including cancer groups (which can be found on the Humane Charities List) or you can ask specifically that your donation goes towards awareness, patient care, (human) clinical trials or other non-animal research.

I am hopeful that one day we will - through scientifically valid, non-animal methods of research - find the Holy Grail: a genuine cure for cancer, and no longer will we have to watch as our loved ones succumb to such a cruel and indiscriminate disease.

Monday, 26 September 2016

New guidelines for primate research will not protect our closest relatives

The Principles and guidelines for the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes was issued last week by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), however it affords little protection for Australian primates used in cruel experiments.

The guidelines have been under review and public consultation for several years.  It is disappointing that the final outcome only serves to reinforce the perceived need to use these sentient and highly cognitive animals.

On both scientific and ethical grounds, HRA is opposed to the use of primates for research purposes and considers that instead of updating policies, more emphasis should be placed on a commitment to sourcing non animal alternatives and phasing out the use of these animals.  In the interim however, the revision of guidelines should have been an opportunity to introduce stricter requirements and policing of their use.

As part of their submission, HRA proposed the following actions:
   tighter regulation and monitoring of all primate research through creation of a national expert Animal Ethics Committee to ensure that there is no repetition and no alternatives to primate use
   a ban on the importation and exportation of primates for research purposes
   establishment of a retirement sanctuary for primates no longer required.

Unjustified cruelty:
The new document states: “The complex and highly social behavior and advanced cognitive capacity of many non-human primates make it difficult to adequately provide for their needs in a captive environment or research setting. In addition, many non-human primates have long lifespans and are often used in long-term research programs or re-used in multiple experiments over the course of their lives, presenting additional challenges for their care and welfare. Consequently, there is concern that the compromise to their life associated with their confinement and use in scientific research may cause greater psychological suffering than with other species.”

This, in itself, should be sufficient reason to end the use of primates in research, but when we also consider the growing evidence[1][2] showing that even chimpanzees (our closest genetic relatives - though not used in Australia) are poorly representative of human biology and diseases, then that makes their use in research even more unjustified.

The Australian breeding colonies were established to “provide a consistently high standard of care and management” yet earlier this year two marmosets, imported from France died unexpectedly and from unknown causes. The NHMRC argues that importation (and exportation) of primates is outside their jurisdiction:

Regulatory responsibility for the importation and exportation of non-human primates rests with relevant Commonwealth government departments
yet their new document also states:
NHMRC requires compliance with this document as part of its funding agreement”
And under “Use of Great Apes” (page 4):
Great apes must not be imported from overseas for use for scientific purposes.”

Why then, can’t the ban on importing great apes for research be extended to a ban on all primate importations? Subjecting these sentient and highly cognitive animals to long arduous journeys in the cargo of a plane is cruel and unnecessary.

Under Provisions at the conclusion of their use (page 6)
Retirement must be considered as an option if suitable in term of the health and temperament of the animal, and space and resources are available at a facility that can meet their species-specific physical, social and behavioural needs.”

Depending on the type of research conducted on the animals, it is acknowledged that some may be left in such a traumatised and/or dilapidated state that euthanasia may be the most humane option. However HRA recommends that the decision to kill the animals at the end of their use must be determined by an independent and qualified rehabilitator rather than the researcher or the animal ethics committee. Some animals may still have the ability to sustain a quality life and HRA strongly feels it should be up to the rehabilitator to make the judgement as to whether a quality life can be attained.

To merely dispose of these animals when they are no longer required is a total disregard of their individual worth.  If their use has been funded by the taxpayers then the NHMRC and/or research institution must take responsibility to ensure that the wellbeing of these animals is guaranteed for the remainder of their natural lives. The establishment of a retired primate sanctuary could be funded primarily by the NHMRC and supported (and overseen) by animal welfare groups.

These animals deserve a dignified retirement in return for their ‘contribution to mankind’.

After reading the new guidelines one can't help but get the feeling the NHMRC are planning on increasing the number of primates used in research rather than phasing them out.

[1] Monkey-based research on human disease: The implications of genetic differences. Bailey, J. (2014). Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 42: 287-317
[2] It's time to end the use of non-human primates in research and testing - Antidote Europe's submission to the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

We need more epiphanies

Last weekend a colleague sent me a link to the following article:

It’s a heartening account of a vivisector who saw the light and acknowledged that what he was doing to sentient beings went beyond his moral boundaries. It restored a little bit of my faith in humanity.

Another colleague then sent me another story – a bit older (from 2004) but of the same theme.  Don’t Fall in Love With Your Monkey

Each of the articles made me wonder – could those who willingly inflict suffering on animals “in the name of medical progress” actually have an epiphany?

Like many others, I honestly struggle to understand how anyone can inflict fear, pain or any harm on another – regardless of whether that other is human or non-human. Humane Research Australia generally focuses on the scientific arguments that oppose animal use (ie HRA supports alternatives to animals in research in order to expedite real medical advancement), but even if it was of human benefit, is it right to use animals? 

No doubt we could gain valuable knowledge if we used a human child in medical experiments, yet no one would dream of doing such an atrocious act. Regrettably, it seems this moral boundary does not extend past our own species, allowing other sentient and some highly cognitive animals to be used (or abused) in any manner of research, so long as the researcher convinces their institutional Animal Ethics Committee that the use is justified as it might lead to an increase in knowledge.

“The physiologist is no ordinary man. He is a learned man, a man possessed and absorbed by a scientific idea. He does not hear the animals' cries of pain. He is blind to the blood that flows. He sees nothing but his idea, and organisms which conceal from him the secrets he is resolved to discover”. ~ Claude Bernard

So who actually does this ‘work’ today?  If we look to the researchers we find that they often have no physical contact with the animals involved in their research. Their work is often administrative and tied up with securing grants. This might suggest cognitive or emotional dissonance on their part. Then there are the PhD students who often simply do as they are told in order to obtain their doctorate. And there are the technicians – often caring people who mightn’t even agree with animal experiments but are there to “do what they can” in order to provide those animals with the best life possible – short though it may be.

I was disturbed some years ago when I attended a seminar/workshop for animal technicians and there was a discussion on how best to deal with the guilt of causing harm to animals. Some of the tactics used were to allocate the animals a number rather than a name to avoid attachment, keeping a “spare” animal in the lab which was not used in experiments but instead petted and shown affection, and paying more attention to their own animals at home – to make up for what they were doing to the lab animals. If indeed these people required a coping mechanism to appease their guilt wouldn’t that suggest that their sub conscious was simply telling them that what they were doing was wrong?

Similarly when I was at university, a colleague (who was also an animal technician) was telling a group of us that when her daughter’s friends visited she lied about what she did at work because they “wouldn’t understand”.  Perhaps they did – and it was she who didn’t.

At Humane Research Australia we often hear from people who feel uncomfortable – sometimes outright enraged - about what they are expected to do in an animal laboratory or what they have witnessed. I suppose they see us as an outlet. However when we suggest a meeting, request evidence or further information we consistently see a wall go up – a retreat from previous statements or not wanting to go “on record” and it’s always out of fear of possible repercussions, whether simple negativity from their colleagues or the threat of their studies or careers being quashed.

Some months ago I provided evidence at a senate hearing about the use of primates in research. Also presenting was Assoc. Prof. James Bourne, Chair of the Gippsland primate breeding facility and himself a researcher who uses primates in invasive neurological experiments. He proudly proclaimed “I am about making cures to humanity. I want to know that, in my career, I have done something for the benefit and welfare of humans.” A noble endeavour perhaps, but I question humanity when it requires the inhumane treatment of others.

I can only hope that Bourne and others in his field will some day have an epiphany like those in the articles linked above and come to the realisation that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Our morals should extend to all those that may suffer. Only then will humanity truly be worthy of his cures.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

You CAN support health and medical research charities without funding cruel animal experiments.

Several decades ago (at the risk of divulging my age) I, a rather shy and unassertive girl, sat at my desk, working diligently, in a large investment corporation. I enjoyed my career – assisting clients, the satisfaction of completing a hard day’s work - yet it was not my passion.  What I felt really passionate about was the injustice toward animals – animal experiments in particular.

It was for this reason that I felt my anxiety levels rising as I became aware of a work colleague walking from desk to desk soliciting donations in exchange for badges and tokens for Red Nose Day – a well-renowned annual fundraiser for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). 
As she edged closer to my desk I panicked. I knew that donations to Red Nose Day likely funded animal experiments and I was so vehemently opposed to that. But what was I to do?

I actually faced two dilemmas – speaking out to someone I felt intimated by (for no good reason other than my shyness) and being seen as someone who cared more about animals than dying babies. Of course the latter wasn’t true. As many readers will agree, spending valuable resources on research using a different species will not help dying babies at all - in fact it could delay the cure!  Should I speak up and state my disapproval, or should I just hand over a small donation which in the scheme of things was not going to contribute much either way?  

Sue finally reached my desk. She asked – rather nicely – whether I would like to make a donation to Red Nose Day.

I turned to her not knowing what would come out of my mouth, but said confidently, “I understand that you are collecting money for medical research and I wish all the best for those babies who are sick, however I am very much opposed to animal experiments, which I believe the money will contribute to and I’d therefore feel very uncomfortable making a donation.” Almost in disbelief at myself I waited on Sue’s response. She told me that she respected my view and thanked me for letting me know. Phew. Did I really just do that?

Being much older now, hopefully much wiser, and nowhere near as bashful as I was back then, this scenario seems almost cowardly. I mean, why wouldn’t  I be confident in speaking out against something I felt so strongly about? However the reality is that many people do indeed suffer from such anxiety and this is a concern. So I did something about it to help others in a similar situation. I initiated the Humane Charities List.

To be fair, it wasn’t my original idea. I’d heard of a similar scheme in the United States and contacted them to set up a similar thing in Australia and they were happy to assist.

The Humane Charities List is a list of health and medical research charities which have advised HRA that they do not fund animal-based research. This means that you can safely make a donation to these organisations knowing that you are not financially supporting cruel and unnecessary animal experiments. The list now stands at 96 and includes many well-known charities such as HeartKids, Beyond Blue and the Fred Hollows Foundation.

These days I’m not so shy and I do speak out against animal experiments at every opportunity, but I hope that the list provides some ease to others who, when solicited for donations can now ask “Are you on the Humane Charities List?” making it much easier to express their disapproval of animal experiments.

I would love you to support the Humane Charities List by joining its Facebook page, downloading the app and approaching your own favourite charities to ask if they fund animal experiments, and if they don’t, encouraging them to apply online to be on the list. The longer the list grows and the more people refuse to fund animal experiments the more charities will realise that they need to move toward more humane and scientifically valid methods of research which will bring more effective solutions to our urgent medical needs.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Guidelines for conducting unethical and dangerous research should NOT be sanctioned in Australia

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has been conducting a public consultation on its proposed guidelines for performing clinical trials in xenotransplantation – a dangerous and unethical method of research. Submissions close today.

Xenotransplantation involves the transplantation of cells, tissue or organs from one species (usually genetically-modified pigs) to another and carries the risk of inactive viruses jumping across the species barrier resulting in a ‘xeno-zoonotic’ disease.

In 2004, I served on the NHMRC’s Animal Issues Sub Committee which provided recommendations to the Xenotransplantation Working Party (XWP) as part of the NHMRC’s review on this subject.  I was therefore privy to the full set of submissions received which addressed grave concerns and illustrated huge public opposition to the practice. After a lengthy consultation process the NHMRC recommended that no clinical trials involving animal to human transplantation should be conducted in Australia for five years as the risk of animal to human viral transmission was not well understood.  

The moratorium was sanctioned for good reason:
  • Continuing risks to the community
  • Public opinion
  • Animal welfare and suffering

The NHMRC reviewed its decision in December 2009 and the ban was overturned pending release of ‘guidelines’ for conducting xenotransplantation.  Now that these so-called guidelines have been released, clinical trials of xenotransplantation can proceed once the expected commencement date has been agreed.

Importantly, it has recently been reiterated to Humane Research Australia by medical experts that the critical concerns, which resulted in the 2004 moratorium being announced, remain unchanged.

The uncertainty of risks of disease transmission, particularly across the species barrier, has been acknowledged by researchers.  Clearly, this is not just a theoretical possibility but a very possible outcome.  AIDS is already believed to have been contracted from chimpanzees. BSE and Ebola viruses originated from cross-species contamination.  Some of the major flu epidemics from the start of last century were believed to have originated from pigs.  Porcine Endogenous Retrovirus (PERV) has already been discovered in the animals intended to be used as source animals. With continued emergence of new zoonoses from unexpected sources, the inability to diagnose potential xenozoonotic viruses with current tests and their unknown pathogenic behaviour, the chances of cross-species infection seems to be exceedingly and unacceptably high.  Even more alarming is that, even if detected, the viruses are largely untreatable.

The global panic over Swine flu could perhaps serve as a (very modest) precursor of how the world might react should a new zoonotic disease emerge from xenotransplantation. While the outbreak of the H1N1 virus (Swine flu) was declared by the World Health Organisation to be a “public health emergency of international concern”, a more virulent strain might easily have a much higher level of transmissibility and far more serious health consequences.

Chapter 3.6 of the draft guidelines acknowledges this risk and states:
“Xenotransplantation differs from most other medical research where it is research participants who are predominantly exposed to risks. In xenotransplantation, not only the research participant but also their identifiable contacts and members of the wider community may be exposed to risk. Xenotransplantation research involves some known and, potentially, some currently unknown infection risks to those other than the research participant. The possible risk of xenotransplantation causing novel or latent infectious and potentially untreatable diseases raises an ethical issue that cannot be addressed by the consent of the research participant alone, since others may also be exposed to risk by the research. Further, because of the possible public health risk, research participants will need to participate in long-term monitoring programs.”

There remains serious concern about allowing this research to proceed. Aside from the individual patient’s risk of contracting a zoonotic disease, they are putting the health of the entire community at risk.  An individual has the right to expose themselves to any risks involved in scientific research but to further expose that risk to the wider community that has not given consent, is highly unethical.  The number of individuals that could suffer and die from a new epidemic  or without wishing to overstate the risk, even pandemic, could greatly exceed those potential lives which xenotransplantation was supposed to have saved in the first place.

Xenotransplantation research also inflicts great suffering on animals. HRA has uncovered disturbing cases including baboons rendered diabetic and set to receive pancreatic islet cells from genetically modified piglets; and a baboon known as Conan who received a renal transplant (a kidney from a transgenic pig) and was then killed  due to the development of disseminated intravascular coagulation. [Widespread activation of clotting in small blood vessels throughout the body leading to compromise of tissue blood flow and multiple organ damage.]

For such dangerous research to even be contemplated we would need:
  • A full public debate, making it a community decision rather than leaving it to the research community as it will be the general public that will pay the ultimate penalty of any fallout;
  • The Productivity Commission to report on the full economic impact of xenotransplantation should it be allowed to proceed – including the possibility of epidemics and emergency response plans in such events ;
  • A moratorium on all current pre-clinical xenotransplantation studies until further notice. 

Australia simply cannot allow research into xenotransplantation to proceed. Not only does it expose the recipient to further complications and disease, but it exposes entire communities to the risk of potential zoonotic epidemics, causes extreme and unnecessary cruelty to countless animals and holds little promise of resolving the problem of a shortage of suitable human organs and tissues. The added shame is that people with conditions awaiting transplants may believe that xenotransplantation is an effective cure – it is not - and may only lead to more misery, disappointment and complications.

A full copy of HRA’s submission can be found here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Illogical and unsubstantiated claims will NOT convince us that primate experiments are necessary

Animal researchers have finally been drawn out of the woodwork to defend their cruel and unjustifiable use of animals and they are looking more and more amateur.  Why?  Because the claims they are attempting to make in defence of their unnecessary practice are simply not factual.

Animal experimentation has been shrouded in secrecy for so long with few people even aware of the use of primates for research in Australia, but the recent introduction of a senate bill and subsequent senate hearings concerning the importation of primates for research has forced vivisectors to speak out in an attempt to justify their actions.

So, what are these claims they are making? The following is a link to one of the presentations made at the recent IQ2 debate: Animal Rights Should Trump Human Interests.

We shall consider each claim in the order it was presented.

“The use of some animals in medical research remains necessary. Remembering for every monkey in research over 4 million are used in the food and dairy industry.”

This is irrelevant.  Two wrongs do not make a right - the question is not solved in the positive simply due to other unethical practices. 

“As a scientist whose work utilises monkeys I knew that a ban on importation would lead very quickly to a level of in-breeding in Australian facilities that would render valuable research impossible and force it into countries known for their unregulated practices.”

Australia already has three government-funded breeding facilities where primates are bred specifically for research purposes. Opponents of the bill have been arguing that they need to continue importing more animals in order to maintain the genetic diversity of the colonies. Such a claim raises a red flag suggesting that they intend using higher numbers of animals in future research. That contravenes the universally accepted 3R’s principle (Reduce, Refine and Replace animals) that all researchers are supposed to adhere to. 
Australia does not have a good record in that department, because we are the fourth-highest user of animals in research in the world. For these reasons we should be looking at reducing the number and replacing primates in experiments – not increasing stock, which only illustrates a lack of commitment to the 3Rs.

“Reason always comes off second-best in the face of fear and suspicion. Fear and suspicion characterises much of the debate about animals in research and is cloaked in deliberate and wilful misinformation.  Images of horrific animal experiments undertaken in the 50’s regularly feature today in animal rights literature, even though these experiments have been outlawed for many years.”

There are a number of sweeping statements that cannot go unchallenged.  Which experiments have been outlawed for many years? What are the horrific images featuring in today’s literature and in what context? These generic claims are extremely non-specific and therefore cannot be taken seriously. It’s likely that any “fear and suspicion” is self-fulfilling and has arisen from the industry’s own strong reluctance to divulge information. 

What of the current literature which addresses current practices? Opposition to animal experiments has matured over the years to a far more professional approach which addresses current practices. In fact, case studies published by Humane Research Australia are based on scientific publications from recent years. Their purpose is to break down the scientific jargon and inform the public – in lay terms – exactly what is happening to animals in laboratories and for what purpose. They demonstrate that accounts of monkeys (and other animals) being locked into restraining devices, having electrodes implanted in their skulls, induced with artificial diseases and undergoing other highly invasive procedures are not some exaggerated claims from yesteryear. They are happening right here and now.

“The Bill, defeated as it was, recycled many myths about animal experimentation… dangerous myths that computers and petri dishes can replace animals, that experiments inflict unnecessary cruelty and suffering, that baby monkeys are every day being ripped out the arms of their dead mothers in the jungle by poachers and then traded through unregulated corrupt profiteering to end up being tortured by mad scientists addicted to outdated scientific models.”

In reality the Bill didn’t recycle dangerous myths at all. The Bill instead brought the public’s attention to the dangers of relying on data from species which differ from us in their anatomy, genetics and metabolism. HRA does not espouse such a simplistic approach to replacing animals with computers and petri dishes, but rather acknowledges the need to undertake a battery of human-specific tests, embracing new technologies such as (but not limited to) body-on-a-chip, human tissue banks and non-invasive imaging techniques amongst others.  An arsenal of information obtained from a range of human-specific research methods will result in more accurate data than that obtained from another species, whose intricate cellular differences account for exponential variants that can result in dangerous outcomes when extrapolated to humans.

“Indeed, while humanity is making ever more incredible scientific advances, regular polling shows a growing and alarming public disagreement about basic scientific facts, including human evolution, the safety of vaccines and whether human-caused climate change is real.”

Notwithstanding the topics mentioned, could the “growing and alarming public disagreement” be interpreted as concerns raised from a growing public awareness, and if so, isn’t this a good thing? Don’t taxpayers deserve accountability for their public investments? For too long, researchers have remained unchallenged and have continued to waste valuable resources on animal experiments. Meanwhile, millions of people are suffering and dying of diseases for which still have no cure – because scientists continue to use the wrong species!

“But let me indulge here in some very recent examples of why I believe non-human primate research is important.  Recently researchers infected monkeys with the Zika virus because it is the closest scientist can get to understanding in real time what is happening when humans are infected with this virus.
In 2015, the world witnessed the worst epidemic of the Ebola virus to date. Monkeys were treated with an antibody isolated from a human Ebola survivor and developed almost complete protection against a lethal dose of Ebola.
And yet opponents of animal research argue that knowledge gained from monkey research is inapplicable to humans.  This claim is utterly and dangerously false. Anyone that argues that insights gained from animals are meaningless, is either poorly informed or knowingly untruthful.”

Both sides of the debate can cherry pick examples of the utility or danger of using animal data. It is often argued that the use of primates has been instrumental in the development of major medical breakthroughs but examples often used, such as the development of the Polio Vaccine and treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, are often misrepresentative of the facts.
[Polio is contracted through the digestinal tract in humans whereas in monkeys, it’s contracted through the respiratory system.   The original vaccine ‘successfully’ tested in monkeys, resulted in numerous human deaths and paralysis.  
Deep brain stimulation for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease is often credited to the cruel work with monkeys, yet the practice has been used to treat human sufferers since the 1940’s - decades before the current primate model. ]

Conversely we might consider the recent much publicised drug disaster in France whereby six healthy men participating in a Phase 1 clinical trial of a new drug, code named BIA 10-2474, ended up with serious neurological damage (and one of whom died). The drug, intended to treat pain and anxiety, was believed to have been tested on chimpanzees yet the test results did not extrapolate well to humans.

Even more recently, Pacritinib, a test drug for the treatment of a rare blood cancer called myelofibrosis, caused volunteers to suffer brain haemorrhages or heart failure – after animal models failed to predict these outcomes.

Now we appear to be traveling down a familiar trajectory with the Zika virus. Shouldn’t we learn from our past mistakes and not succumb to scare tactics?

The bottom line is, cherry picking will not assist either side of the debate. We therefore need to consider the empirical evidence – systematic reviews, meta analyses and retrospective analysis – and these continually indicate the lack of utility of primate experiments.

“The political reality, however, is that the imagery and language peddled by animal research opponents is utterly confronting.”

It would worthwhile getting examples of this so called imagery and language so peddled, to support the case.

“The facts, if you care to accept them, are:
First, non-human primates used for research in Australia are sourced from regulated breeding facilities overseas. They are not taken from the jungle.”

Until recently, macaques were sourced from Tinjil Island in Indonesia – a free-living colony which has been documented and filmed by Cruelty Free International. Undercover footage has revealed crude capture methods, separation of family members and stark holding cages. This is all available on film. HRA has also received confirmation that macaques used for HIV studies in Australia were indeed sourced from Tinjil Island.

More recently, marmosets have been flown in from a French facility. So far, two of these animals have been found listless, bleeding and gasping for breath. They both died earlier this year. According to Monash University, their deaths were unexpected and unexplained.  So, regardless of whether animals have been wild-caught (which is actually illegal) or obtained from a “credible” breeding facility, surely we can agree that the long-distance transportation of these highly cognitive animals in the cargo hold of a plane is major cause for concern?

“Second, All animal research in Australia is conducted under the strictest scrutiny and follows the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement known as the 3Rs. Under these principles, animal-based research is only approved by a qualified animal ethics committee, which includes members of the lay public, welfare organisations and veterinarians.”

The current regulatory system is in fact self-regulated and is known to be far from protective for lab animals. Recent concerns have been raised with the Victorian government – responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act., but not even aware of the aforementioned incidents involving the unexpected and unexplained deaths of marmosets.

Further concerns about the role of animal ethics committees are the inconsistencies in decision making, the lack of scientific expertise of the animal welfare and layperson to challenge the scientific validity and justification of the protocols they are expected to approve and the non-requirement for animal facility inspections to be unannounced.

Despite the many inadequacies of the system, ethics committees are held up to provide assurance to the public that the use of animals has been carefully considered and justified. This does not correlate with the worries expressed to HRA by members of these committees.

“However, researchers remain hesitant to speak out as history tells us that this can have significant repercussions on the individual and the research program. I fear with recent activist developments in Europe, scientific advances in health have been retarded.”

Retarded? …or challenged?  The key measure to good science is its ability to be questioned and to withstand scrutiny. Without this fundamental requirement it becomes nothing more than a religious doctrine.

To use sentient, highly cognitive animals as “tools for research” is certainly cruel, but just as importantly, it does not represent good science. Despite the genetic similarity, primates are not sufficiently predictive of human outcomes due to the many genetic, metabolic and anatomical differences between them and us. There have been several research papers and systematic analyses published recently that confirm this. In fact it has been suggested that the predictability of primate models is no more accurate than the toss of a coin.

Finally, it has been said that during the IQ2 debate, a participant debating against animal experiments was referred to as “demented”.  Clearly, the vivisectors would do well to nominate a new spokesperson to defend their work, as resorting to personal attacks and innuendos only weakens their position and deflects from the core issue – the (ir)relevance of using non-human animals as models for human disease.

Whilst animal experiments has always been, and will remain, a highly polarising issue, what we now need is a non-emotive, science-based discussion that addresses the shortcomings of animal-based data and the urgent need to develop and validate human-based methods of research. Until then, both animals and humans will continue to suffer needlessly.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Old Brown Dog

The original statue erected in 1906 and believed to have been
destroyed in 1910
The Brown Dog was a bronze statue of a dog, erected in February 1906 after being commissioned by anti-vivisectionists, as a memorial for a brown terrier dog used by  William Bayliss of the Department of Physiology at University College London. It was claimed he performed an illegal vivisection, before an audience of 60 medical students, on the dog – adequately anaesthetized, according to Bayliss; conscious and struggling, according to the activists.   Bayliss was outraged by the assault on his reputation. He sued for libel and won.

Medical students were angered by the provocative plaque on the statue –  "In Memory of the Brown Terrier Dog done to death in the Laboratories of University College in February, 1903, after having endured vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed over from one Vivisector to another till death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902.  Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?" – leading to frequent vandalism of the memorial and the need for a 24-hour police guard against the so-called anti-doggers. 

On 10 December 1907 a thousand medical students marched through central London waving effigies of the brown dog on sticks, clashing with suffragettes, trade unionists and 400 police officers, one of a series of battles known as the Brown Dog riots

Tired of the controversy, Battersea Council arranged under darkness for the statue to be taken down and melted down by the council's blacksmith, despite a 20,000-strong petition in its favour.  A new statue of the brown dog was commissioned by anti-vivisection groups over 70 years later, and was erected in Battersea Park in 1985.

The Old Brown Dog:  Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian England.

Author: Coral Lansbury 1985

“In 1907, an extraordinary series of antivivisection riots took place in Battersea over the structure of a brown dog in the Latchmere Recreational Ground.  Medical students came across the river from London University and tried to destroy it, and a crowd of trade unions and feminists, momentarily united by their opposition to vivisection, battled to defend the brown dog.”

So begins a detailed and often confronting account which draws parallels between the fight against vivisection, trade union rights and women’s suffrage in Edwardian England as the author, Coral Lansbury, contends that workers and feminists identified themselves with the trembling animal strapped to the operating table.  Her rendition is supported through analysis of novels and events of the time. The book is not specifically about antivivisection, but does present a fascinating history of the movement exploring the hurdles faced by antivivisection pioneers such as Frances Power Cobbe (founder of NAVS and BUAV), Anna Kingsford and Louise Lind-af-Hageby.

While tremendous progress has been made over the years in the areas of both workers and women’s rights, the same cannot, unfortunately, be said about vivisection.  We are today still subjecting hundreds of millions of animals worldwide to often painful and invasive procedures for what we know now are dubious degrees of relevance. Their treatment is much the same as that described by Lansbury when she details the invasive nature of genital examination of women by trainee doctors (p.85-86) or the callous treatment and sexual exploitation of female servants by their landlords (Ch.7).

Lansbury writes strongly about vivisection demonstrations: “When observers like Frances Cobbe and Louise Lind-af-Hageby witnessed these demonstrations, they felt as though they were in the presence of a new pornography, and all the animals stretched out writhing on boards were like women on the gynaecologist’s table or bound to some chair…” (p.111)

Over 100 years later one can compare this with extracts from recent scientific publications about primate research in Australia:

“… a circular aluminium frame that enclosed the entire scalp was fixed to the skull using 6-8 stainless steel pegs. Access to brain areas for recordings was through small conical tubes that were placed in 2.5mm diameter holes drilled in the skull.”[1]

“Animals were infected with a 104 TCID50 dose of SIVMAC251 either intrarectally or intravaginally… SIV infection was confirmed in all animals”[2]

Lansbury also tells us (p123) “catalogues for physicians and surgeons were replete with descriptions for the new gynaecological operating chairs and tables illustrated with line drawings or photographs showing a woman strapped into ...position” and that Johnson’s operating chair of 1860 ... is described as “a frame supported on four legs, a shallow stuffed seat and a stuffed back with was maneuverable to various angles by means of a frame and ratchet. It had two attached bars ending in stirrups or footrests, which could slide in and out of a groove, or be removed entirely”.

Today’s researchers use similar contraptions called stereotaxic frames for immobilising animals in a similar manner. A typical (and disturbing) protocol is documented in “Preparation for the in vivo recording of neuronal responses in the visual cortex of anaesthetised marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)[3].
 A new statue, by Nicola Hicks,
was erected in 
Battersea Park in 1985.

Of particular interest was the violent reaction of medical students who vehemently opposed the statue and sought aggressively to destroy it with sledgehammers. Then during a heavily guarded antivivisection meeting held by Louise Lind-af-Hageby as described by Lansbury:, “over a hundred students managed to smuggle their way in, and soon the meeting was pandemonium, with broken chairs, fistfights, and smoke bombs” with medical students demanding to have the statue’s inscription removed(p.18).

It is often argued by those who conduct animal experiments that they must remain secretive about their work due to the perceived threats of “animal liberationists”. However, like the previous passage, it is not the animal activists who react aggressively, but rather the researchers themselves who object to the questioning of their right to treat animals as their tools.

Lansbury, who died in 1991, was estranged from her son Malcolm Turnbull since he was aged ten, however it is understood she remained an influential force in his life.  It is disappointing then, that her recognition of injustice – including that of animals – seems not to have swayed the government’s support of animal-based research under Turnbull’s leadership.

[1] Information processing bottlenecks in macaque posterior parietal cortex: an attentional blink? Ryan T. Maloney, Jaikishan Jayakumar, Ekaterina V. Levichkina, Ivan N. Pigarev, Trichur R. Vidyasagar, Exp Brain Res (2013) 228:365-376 DOI 10.1007/s00221-013-3569-2
[2] Comparison of Influenza and SIV Specific CD8 T Cell Responses in Macaques (2012) Sinthujan Jegaskanda, Jeanette C. Reece, Robert De Rose, John Stambas, Lucy Sullivan, Andrew G. Brooks, Stephen J. Kent, Amy Sexton
[3] “Preparation for the in vivo recording of neuronal responses in the visual cortex of anaesthetised marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)” James Bourne, Marcello Rosa, (2003)