I recently read a report called: Scientific research and animal experimentation – the state of the question or taking stock if you prefer. It was written in May this year and issued by the Veterinary Academy of France. The conclusion of the report was issued as an opinion to the General Assembly of the Veterinary Academy of France and adopted by it on the 21st of June, 2012.
The report is well written, concise yet articulated enough to take the reader through various aspects of animal research and why it is needed. The report is unapologetic although accommodating in tone, if not spirit and an important step in the right direction by a scientific body in support of those that over many years are under attack by animal extremists. One can only wish that more entities will join the effort and stand up to animal research and highlight its contributions to society.
The report contains a summary, an introduction, three chapters, a conclusion, bibliography, some annexes and a glossary, for a total of 109 pages. For those of you that master the French language you can read or download the report from here:http://www.recherche-animale.org/lexperimentation-animale-evaluee
From its summary one can read that in accordance with the societal needs of longevity and health, research in biological and medical sciences builds largely on animal research. In a society where the place of an animal has considerably evolved, the use of animals for research purposes is increasingly questioned despite its historical justification. The controversies, that oppose researchers to a part of society, have as origins convictions and beliefs that cannot be modified or changed by means of rational arguments. These beliefs are furthermore strengthened by a global sentiment of defiance towards science even though paradoxically expectations towards (medical) progress and safety (health) have never been as high.
The first chapter is called a societal debate and talks about the necessity of biomedical research to our societies of yesterday, today and tomorrow. It points to animal research as a fundamental aspect of the scientific approach towards health. Further subsections deal with the historical background to animal research and the different medical milestones achieved naming the animal species used and the resulting benefit. The positions of both researchers and their opponents are further discussed and elaborated upon. Regulatory instruments, oversight and amount of animals used are also provided. Not surprisingly here, rodents continue to be the flagship species and primates the exception rather than the norm.
In the second chapter animal models are discussed, as are replacement and alternative models in research. The conclusions from this chapter cast a light on animal research that is often overlooked, ignored or deliberately obscured by those that oppose animal use.
The complexity of organisms cannot be modeled through the addition of elementary biological systems. It is the highly integral nature of life that leads the disciplines of biology in general and the biomedical discipline in particular to the use of more complex systems found in animals that are similar to those in humans.
Furthermore results found through in vitro models must necessarily go through in vivo tests when integrated into an entire system. This is true for fundamental research, be it physiological, immunological or genetic in nature and also applies to research concerning knowledge or understanding of physio-pathological mechanisms, the basis of surgical and medical therapies.
From the preceding two chapters, four main principles emerge to form the third chapter and that are cast as potential foundations of academic behaviour. These would be:
· To re-affirm an undeniable preamble: in the current state of science, the use of animals in research is essential to progress knowledge and the advancement of medicine.
· To express respect towards research animals based on their character of sentient beings and their common phylo-genetic origins with mankind.
· To recognise that the experimental process in biology in general and bio-medical research in particular, uses without any preference and in an objective manner, the whole of the methodological possibilities created by it.
· To define the conditions of a societal debate based on knowledge and mutual respect.
In its opinion on animal research, its role and perception in society the Veterinary Academy of France considers that (not an exhaustive enumeration- see document for full details):
In human and animal health, society expresses an increasing demand which in turn requires a considerable effort from research;
That animal research has played and continues to play a decisive role in the accumulation of biological knowledge and in contributions to the progress of medicine;
That experimentation on humans can only be envisioned on a limited number of situations, strictly defined by bio-ethical principles such as in clinical trials indispensible to the evaluation of new treatments and that as a consequence the use of laboratory animals in research remains unavoidable, in particular when evaluating harmlessness and efficacy of any therapeutic innovation.
The academy further re-affirms the irreplaceable role of animal models in research of life sciences, fundamental and biomedical; a research that would only rely on in vitro and in silico models would limit itself whilst ignoring the complexities of the biological processes at the organism level.
In its recommendations the academy supports the further optimal and reasoned use of animals in research and that the societal dialogue continues in order for biomedical research to proceed with determination and in line with societal expectations whilst considering the concept of an evolving man to animal relationship.
As I said at the start of this post the report is a welcome step by a credible scientific body. As important is the need to refute animal extremist claims that are based on half truths, misinterpretation or simply spin. Whilst the popularity of fending for animals is undeniable so are the multiple actions undertaken by research to save the lives of us all, including animals. What prevents you to claim your right to fame or to simply stand up for the valuable work you do?
You can join the action by reading the posts on the blog roll (on the right), follow tweets by like minded organisations or individuals, educate friends, children and colleagues around you about animal research, contribute by writing a guest post on a blog, start a discussion on a Linked in forum or leave a comment on a web page when you see wrong or one sided information. Work with your industry associations and inform regulators of the importance of your work. Sign petitions in support of medical advancement and medical charities.
Of course as always nothing beats a real life time example of medical progress as is illustrated here by my colleagues of speaking of research http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/12/17/brain-machine-interface-success-allows-paralysed-woman-to-feed-herself-for-first-time-in-a-decade/
Remember that without your informing the public what it is you do, ignorance will prevail and animal extremists will continue to claim high moral grounds unopposed!