The Brösarp project brings nature and showjumping horses together

I don’t usually write about horse behaviour and welfare, despite the fact that my love for these animals was the reason that led me into making the study of animals my profession. I grew up with horse breeding (my dad and my uncle bred sports horses) and horse riding and my first job as a 16-year old was training foals and young ponies. But it’s been a long time since, and for the last 20 years I haven’t spent much time around horses or even thinking or reading about horses. Perhaps combination of having once been so dedicated to them and now not being quite distanced makes me a little more hesitant to write professionally about horses, more so than a species I have had less contact with?

But occasionally my professional interest and my teenage passion meet – as was the case the other day when a short video about the Brösarp project came across my twitter feed.

In this interview in World of Showjumping, the veterinary expert behind the project Dr Ingvar Fredricson shares his philosophy of how to prepare horses for a long and healthy career in sports.

Is the idea of rearing future sport horses in a natural environment that stimulates locomotor activity revolutionary? Probably not from the perspective of what we know about the nature of horses, but definitely from the perspective of what is standard practice in equestrian sports.

From a research perspective, studying the effect of the early environment on health and durability in long lived animals such as horses is a huge challenge. We will only get to know if the summers spent roaming the hills of Brösarp make the horses better prepared for sustaining the pressure of international show jumping 10 years from now. And that is only for the first group of horses – this likely will have to continue for a number of years in order to generate data from a large enough number of animals.

But the first results regarding measurements of movement are already available – and great food for thought about how to keep horses. The horses kept in the 70 hectars enclousure in the nature reserve of Brösarps backar move about 13 km a day, about twice the amount compared to the control horses in a loose housing system with access to 2 hectar farmland pasture, and 4-5 times as much as the group which were stabled in combination with daytime access to a 0.5 ha pasture. The latter is unfortunately probably most representative of the way sport horses are kept – most likely to the detriment of both their mental and physical health.

Painting mice

Why are we recording a video of my colleague Rita Santos painting the back of a white IKEA mouse with a black marker pen?

The background story is that nearly 50 years ago, in 1974, a US researcher painted real laboratory mice as part of what has become a well known story of scientific misconduct in biomedical research. The story isn’t as well-known among biologists and animal scientists as it is among immunologists (or at least so I assume, based on anecdotal evidence = whom among my contacts and colleagues who were or were not aware of it when I asked), despite being both striking and somewhat sad.

Striking, because once you’ve heard the story, you are likely to remember it. Dr William T Summerlin was doing research into transplantation immunology. He believed that by keeping the tissue in laboratory culture for some time before transplanting it into the recipient animal, it could be transplanted without rejection. His proof-of-concept experiment was to graft skin from black mice to (genetically unrelated) white mice. Did he actually ever transplant skin? I don’t know – this amount of detail is not given in the easily accessible internet sources. But what is very clear is that his demonstration of success was a fraud. An attentive technician discovered that the black patch on the back of the white mouse could be rubbed off with ethanol. As reported in this NY Times account of the case, published only a month later, Summerlin admitted to having painted the mice.

Sad, for a number of reasons, going beyond the actual misconduct itself, which is of course in itself highly lamentable. The painted mice seems not to be a one-off event – when Summerlin was investigated the committee also discovered a seemingly very dubious case of cornea transplant experiments in rabbits. Whereas having their backs painted would hardly have harmed the mice, the failed cornea transplants must have caused the rabbits pain. And none of this was justified. Scientific experimentation is not about simply trying something to see if it works: there has to be a reasonably developed idea of what mechanisms are involved. I don’t find any reference to a theory about mechanisms involved in the purported transformation of a xenograft (from a genetically different individual) into tissue that is not recognised as foreign when transplanted into a recipient. All that is to be found is that Summerlin had claimed for some years that he had a method for laboratory culture of tissues that removed the problem with transplant rejection, and that other researchers were unable to make the procedure work when they tried to repeat it in their own labs (a classic way through which fraudulent or poorly conducted research is discovered). The requirement that an experiment is based on a reasonably developed theoretical framework and previous, related studies is even stronger when the health and well-being of living beings are involved.

Why, then, are we painting mice? As part of the INTEGRITY project, we are developing teaching material into ethics and research integrity issues in animal experimentation, for high school students, ready for road testing in about a month. And please note, we’re not painting mice, we’re painting toy mice. The first R, Replacement, of the 3Rs principle of course. Knowing what mice are like, I actually believe that using real mice for this purpose would not only have been stressful for them but a pain for us!

What if the slaughterhouse came to the farmgate? Interview with Jan Hultgren about mobile slaughter.

Jan Hultgren, SLU.

Jan Hultgren, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, livestock transport is one of the huge challenges for animal welfare. Every day, hundreds of thousands of animals are loaded onto lorries for road transports which may last several hours.

One of the main reasons for transporting animals is to take them to slaughterhouses. A possible implication of your recent CABI Review is that we may not need to transport animals as much as we do now if we made better use of mobile slaughterhouses and on-farm slaughter. Can you tell us more about these approaches?

A major challenge is to produce food in a sustainable way with regard to environmental impact, social cohesion and economy. Sustainability requires fair trade and markets, authenticity of products and consideration for animal welfare, food and occupational safety, as well as waste management. At present, meat from livestock and poultry is severely overproduced and overconsumed in most countries where the population can afford it, which is associated with industrialized animal husbandry and slaughter, negative environmental impacts and public health issues. Unfortunately, retailers mainly compete with low prices, despite the fact that food has never before made up such a small part of consumers’ disposable income. A large number of animals are transported and slaughtered to meet the demand for cheap meat, and despite strict animal welfare legislation in many countries, conditions are often far from perfect. Time constraints for stockpersons, imperfect slaughter-plant designs and rough animal handling result in stress and poor meat quality. Due to urbanization and a change in lifestyle, the gap between producers and consumers is widening, and it is already huge in some parts of society. Many citizens do not know at all how farm animals are kept and how meat is produced, because they only see pre-packaged pieces of meat in the store. Some farmers and slaughterhouses are afraid of criticism from animal rights activists and the transparency of their activities is very limited. Many citizens may not want to know how farm animals are treated, and as a result of how production is organized, they do not even have the chance to learn. Even some farmers do not have the opportunity to see how their animals are treated during transport and slaughter, let alone to influence it. Mobile and small-scale slaughter have the potential to alleviate or solve some of these problems, thus connecting meat producers and consumers, providing access to locally produced meat, stimulating economy in rural areas and reducing the transport of live animals. But for small-scale slaughter to have a significant impact on the meat market, overconsumption will probably also have to be limited. And consumers must be willing to pay for the luxury product that meat is.

Cattle before slaughter at one of the farms under study in Sweden. Photo: Anne Larsen, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

What is the uptake of these technologies like, and what are the main obstacles?

Like any other business, meat production must be profitable in order to survive. There is a great public awareness of the importance of sustainability and animal welfare, which creates a demand. There is also a growing interest in relatively expensive, high-quality meat. Small-scale and low-stress slaughter can thus create added value that producers can benefit from. Nevertheless, some pioneers probably must be willing to take financial risks to develop new technologies and methods as well as good role models for a major change to take place. Today, slaughter alone does not seem to pay off. But if the meat can be marketed as an exclusive high-quality product to a limited consumer segment, it can. There are many examples of small-scale farm-based slaughterhouses for cattle, sheep and pigs that receive slaughter animals from the same farm or nearby holdings. In Sweden, many of these abattoirs have been able to start thanks to advantageously reduced fees for establishment permits and meat inspections, which may not continue. For decades, mobile slaughter of smaller species such as sheep, reindeer and poultry has been practiced in several countries. There are also examples of mobile slaughter of calves, pigs and horses, but mostly for consumption in the farm household. To market the meat, official meat control is required, which can be expensive, especially for small-scale businesses. The political interest in modernized meat inspection is great, and new technology for video-assisted remote control may prove useful, which would reduce inspection costs. Conditions vary between countries due to tradition, consumption patterns and official policies. More recently, as I described in my review, mobile slaughter of large cattle has been developed. Various types of mobile plants for large livestock have now been introduced in many countries, including the United States, Australia and parts of Europe. Some of the methods and techniques used in small-scale and mobile slaughter differ from large-scale stationary slaughter and therefore time is needed for development. The slaughter industry has a long history of development and staff training for large-scale operations, so it is no surprise that small-scale abattoirs are technically and financially challenging.

Is it possible to make an estimate about how much road transport of livestock could realistically be avoided?

Theoretically, all animals could be slaughtered on farm, in that way avoiding all transportation of live slaughter animals. This will not happen, at least not in the foreseeable future. The degree to which transportation can be avoided will of course depend on farming structures, local traditions, consumer preferences, official policies and the extent to which different slaughter methods are found to be reliable and acceptable. As I described in my review, Swedish researchers have estimated that mobile abattoirs may decrease the number of long journeys drastically; five mobile plants would decrease the proportion of Swedish cattle transported for more than 4 hours by 78%, and the proportion of Swedish pigs by 91%. However, these researchers have also shown that new small-scale abattoirs cannot be expected to shorten driving distances or improve animal welfare unless the plants are located strategically. In regions with very small and sparsely located farms, mobile slaughter is less viable. In 2017, a Swedish mobile abattoir slaughtered 4630 large cattle or 1.2% of the Swedish commercial cattle slaughter, operating all over the country. The following year it went out of business due to poor profitability. Many of the methods that together can be termed small-scale slaughter are not always applicable and they will not likely replace industrialized slaughter completely. But they can still mean a lot to many animals and the rural community. It is not only a question of avoiding road transports.

Replacing the use of animals in research

How can we change the current thought culture of the research community in regards to animal use in basic research? The question was asked by Kathrin Herrman in this online conference that I’m attending today.

With 20 years experience of working with animal welfare and 3Rs research in a biomedical research institute, I certainly have thoughts around that question. For transparency, the evidence base for this is only my own experience; I haven’t systematically collected data.


A challenge when tackling the question is that we don’t know a lot about how researchers actually think about the use of animals versus non-animal replacement alternatives as research models. But if we think about the research community and its practice as a reflection of collective and individual thinking, there certainly is a rather large acceptance of the use of animals. That doesn’t mean that researchers wish to use animals, it means that at least in their current context they understand that it is sometimes the best way.

Legislation is definitely not going to change this. We have very good legislation regulating animal use in research in Europe, but however much that legislation includes the aim of total replacement of animal research with non-animal methods, it is not (and should probably not be) designed to lead to that replacement. The legislative mechanism for what kind of research will be allowed is the review process for licensing experiments. In this process, researchers present their project plan to an ethics committee (or something similar, the names vary between countries). The review can lead to many changes of the project, but the choice of research method isn’t really something an ethics committee can influence much. Only people who are real experts on the research in question can in an authoritative way challenge the choice of methods, and the discussion in an ethics committee which has to evaluate projects from a wide range of topics can’t be on that level.

But there can be other types of “external” influence on researchers’ choice. The currencies in research are successful funding applications and published papers. So decisions that affect funding attribution and publication acceptance will be highly influential. The challenge in influencing culture that way is that funding and publication decisions are still made by scientists – so it is still about changing how scientists think.

My own personal belief is that the change from animal to non-animal methods come through a combination of concerns about the use of animals (which many scientists have; they are after all often the ones who have to carry out the experiments) and availability of non-animal models which are actually better than animal models. The current development of organoids and advanced 3D models is very interesting from this perspective.

The overall research infrastructure is also important. Funding and publication decisions are part of that, but also the support structure that exist in the immediate environment. If I think about my own organisation, we provide excellent support for people who plan to use animals (and we are legally required to do that, people need to have training to get a license, the animal house need to be licensed and have enough personnel etc). We need to provide the same amount of support for people who want to use advanced non-animal models.

And in most research institutions that is far from where we are today.

Reading to update my teaching

Opening a Twitter account has consequences. I’m carefully keeping to scholarly activities, and so the main side effect for me has been an ever expanding list of interesting papers I really need to read. This is mainly a good thing: as a senior researcher and group leader I certainly don’t read enough new papers simply because they are interesting and relevant (as opposed to: because I need to do something with them as I’m either a co-author of, editor for or reviewer of them).

It’s nearly August and I teach in September. My reading list for now is about what I would like to read and think about to update my teaching:

The challenge for me is to find the right balance in helping students to do what they can where they are as researchers using animals, and challenging them to find ways of doing better. Unless I challenge myself, I easily settle too much on the status-quo side!

There’s also Heather Browning’s very recent PhD thesis If I could talk to animals: Measuring subjective welfare, of which I’m very interested in the second part which addresses measuring welfare from a philosophy-of-science perspective. And I want to take Daniel Lakens’ Coursera courses Improving your statistical questions / Improving your statistical interferences.

And then there are a couple of books on my desk…

 

Human-Animal Studies in Portugal: Interview with Verónica Policarpo

Verónica Policarpo, you are coordinating a new postgraduate course at the University of Lisbon, Animais e Sociedade (Animals and Society). Tell us more about this course!

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The course Animais e Sociedade is part of the activities in the context of the Human-Animal Studies Hub. In late 2018, my research institution ICS-ULisboa submitted an application to the US-based International Development Fund do Animals and Society Institute, to bring Human-Animal Studies to Portugal. In this application, we proposed a number of initiatives to launch the basis for this discipline in Portugal, in order to ensure a stepwise and sustainable development of the field. This postgraduate study program is one such initiative. In fact, this type of initiative is what the development fund is for: to promote the implementation of courses in countries where there is little or no activity in the field of human-animal studies. In February 2019, our proposal was awarded funding, which allowed us to continue existing activities as well as launch new ones, such as this course.

What is the unique objective of this course? To provide a scientific, pluralistic and interdisciplinary perspective on the relationship between human and non-human animals, from the viewpoint of the Human-Animal Studies field, and in Portuguese. The course brings together a broad and diverse set of themes, to suit the training needs of students from different professional and disciplinary backgrounds. The program includes themes as diverse as companion animals and multi-species families, the relation between children and animals, the situation of animals in disasters, questions related to wildlife conservation, animals for food production, the welfare of animals used for entertainment and kept in captivity, animal rights and animal politics, media representation of animals as well as the questions of animal law under discussion in Portugal right now. Teachers and specialists from different disciplinary fields will contribute: sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, biology, veterinary medicine and law. The aim is to stimulate critical thinking about human animal relations, based on state-of-the-art scientific information from a variety of fields of knowledge.

The course is part of the initiative you coordinate in establishing this new field of study in Portugal. Tell us more about the field internationally!

Human-Animal Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study. It started to develop in the 1980s, in the USA, in parallel with the modern animal rights movement, following the publication in 1975 of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and in 1983 of Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights. This first phase is characterized by philosophy coming back to the question of the value of animals, a question raised by philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century – changing the focus from the capacity of animals to think to their capacity to suffer. At the same time, the social sciences were producing emprical evidence of the extraordinarily diverse and complex relations that develop between humans and animals, with focus on the human benefits. Focus was on companion animals and primarily using quantitative methods. In response to this movement, the more interpretative social sciences and the humanities (fields such as history, literary studies and cultural studies) explored the cultural aspects of the framework in which these relations develop. This includes studies of how animals are represented in literature, art and media, or how human-animal relations have changed over time in a historic perspective.

In the 1990s, the second development phase of Human-Animal Studies widened the scope to include all types of human-animal relations: past or present, physical as well as virtua co-existence, harmonious and beneficial relations as well as those characterized by conflicts and risks to one or several of the species involved. Qualitative methods became more common, and geography, especially human geography, emerged as an important field. In disciplines such as psychology, emphasis is on the human-animal bond. In the humanities, the focus is on deconstructing what it is to be an animal, and in the attempt to understand what animals are. In this phase, important input also comes from gender and feminist studies, looking at correlations between different groups that have been oppressed historically: women, ethnic minorities, animals. Criticism of the patriarchy and the notion of intersectionality become important.

Starting around 2000 the field of study virtually explode in what can be described as the third wave. In North America and the UK, courses or university program multiply. From the field of anthropology, innovative ethnographic perspectives emerge, in which animals are integrated as research subjects in multispecies ethnographies. A parallel development are the Critical Animal Studies, a current which brings together academic research with an activist agenda of animal liberation. The academic publishing is thriving and in 2012 the main journal in the field is established:  Animals & Society. In 2014 the International Development Fund of the Animals and Society Institute is established, providing support for courses and training programs in countries where there is no tradition of Human-Animal Studies.

In Portugal there is much less research and far fewer researchers dedicated to the study of human-animal relations, compared to the vibrant international production. Nevertheless, during the last decade there has been some work, although not under a common framework. The Human-Animal Studies Hub aims to be that framework, bringing together under the same “intellectual ceiling” researchers from different fields with a common interest in animals and the human-animal relationship.

The Hub is organized along three axes: research, training and society outreach. I invite all researches with activity in this field to visit our web page and read our Mission, Values and Vision. If you identify with these, you are encouraged to contact us. The objective is to establish a network of synergies, creating a space for dialogue and collaboraiton. At the moment, the Hub hosts projects about companion animals, animals in disasters, feral and abandoned animals and production animals. There are several training activities, including a biannual International Summer School, a monthly reading group and this recently established postgraduate course. We also organize workshops, conferences and seminars.  grupo de leitura mensal, ou este recentíssimo curso pós-graduado Animais e Sociedade.

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Outside the academic context, for whom is this course relevant? In which walks of life do we need more knowledge about animals and society?

We definitely need to produce, and to share, more knowledge about how we live together with animals in society. In my view, everyone who works with and for animals in society need more training: ONGs, animal shelters and other organizations. Training needs to be available for professionals who deals with complex human problems such as poverty, unemployment, separations and physical and mental disease. Social assistants, psychologists, lawyers, educators, teachers. These problems have a human origin but they affect human and animal lives. And also complementary training for professionals who work directly with animals but whose education has not included a comprehensive view of the social problems around human-animal relations, such as biologists and veterinarians.

Find out more by following Verónica Policarpo @VMPolicarpo and Human-Animal Studies Hub @humananimalics on Twitter.

Of hens, mites and teabags: Interview with Francesca Nunn

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Congratulations Francesca Nunn to the NC3Rs Prize! You were awarded this prize for your work on a new approach to testing treatments against red poultry mites. Tell us more about the project!

Poultry red mites are parasites that live in hen houses and emerge at night to bite hens and consume blood. There are a number of studies ongoing worldwide to develop new ways of controlling the mites but this is a really tricky host:parasite model to work with because the mites spend most of their time off of the host. To help with this, we needed a technology which kept small numbers of mites on the host and allowed feeding and recovery of the parasites. The NC3Rs funded project was to optimise and further develop a prototype “on-hen feeding device” that had achieved ~50% mite feeding in a pilot study. This device allows accurate assessment of mite control methods on small numbers of hens before conducting field studies, for example. This addresses “Reduction” by greatly reducing the number of hens used, as it would accurately identify poorly performing mite control methods before they were progressed to field trials. This system can also be used to test the effectiveness of mite control methods across prolonged periods on small numbers of hens (4 per treatment group, as opposed to 400 per treatment group in field trials) without continually exposing birds to the parasites. This therefore addresses “Refinement” as it allows the birds to remain free from the parasites, with parasites only accessing the birds for short (3 hour) periods every 3 weeks instead of the continual exposure encountered in field trials. The project involved developing the device for all the blood feeding mite stages as well as studies to optimising feeding rates, minimising background mite mortality and using the device in trials to test its performance.

Your approach allows a huge reduction in animal numbers. What about animal welfare? What would a traditional test approach be like for a hen, and what will she experience with your refined method?

Novel systemic acarines or vaccines are tested on hens using an experimental infestation model. This involves releasing a set number of mites into a cage of hens, and then monitoring the mite population growth over time. And of course, you’d compare the treatment group to a control group. This means that the experimental hens are exposed to thousands (often tens of thousands) of mites over a number of weeks. As we know, mites cause discomfort and stress to the hens which is why we need the treatment in the first place! Using our feeding device, the hens are only exposed to 50-100 mites per time point – the rest of the time they are free to just be hens in enriched floor pens and parasite free.

Can you tell us something about where the idea came from and how you went from idea to device?

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Similar rigid devices, which were glued onto the hen had been used previously but weren’t widely adopted. This is probably due to the mites not being able to attach to the hen when the hen’s movement caused the device to move. The team at Moredun, led by Dr. Kath Bartley and Dr. Al Nisbet, came up with a tea bag type prototype which solved this problem while also managing to contain the mites. The next issue was to find a material that the mites could feed through-originally we used phytoplankton mesh but had to find an alternative that allowed the much smaller nymph stages to feed also without escaping.

 

Veterinarians’ and physicians’ attitude to euthanasia

The most recent contribution from the Ordem dos Médicos, the Portuguese professional organization for physicians, to the ongoing political discussion of legalizing euthanasia was to state that they would in no way engage with the process. Of course, the discussion of euthanasia in human medicine is beyond the scope of this blog, and Animalogues is not the right place to share my personal thoughts about something that is not part of my professional consideration.

But I will take the opportunity to share a paper that I find highly relevant in the context.

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This paper, published in Journal of Medical Ethics in 2010, reports the results of a questionnaire to Swedish veterinary surgeons in 2008. It’s part of a larger body of work on attitudes to physician-assisted suicide by two of the co-authors, Lindblad and Lynöe, which also includes surveys to physicians and to the general public in Sweden.

Why would medical ethicists be interested in what veterinarians think about physician-assisted suicide in human medicine? This interest has to do with the argument sometimes presented by physicians that “less experienced physicians and the general public do not know what they are actually reasoning about when dealing with end of life issues”. But unlike medical doctors in Sweden, where euthanasia is illegal, vets regularly perform active euthanasia as part of their professional practice. Hence it can be argued that a veterinarian, at least to some extent, knows more about euthanasia than a physician.

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Perhaps unexpectedly, it turned out that veterinarians’ attitude to physician-assisted suicide is comparable to that of the general public rather than that of physicians.

The authors conclude that “Similar to the general public, most Swedish veterinary surgeons are in favour of PAS. Since veterinary surgeons have long experience of performing euthanasia in animals it seems difficult to assert that they do not understand what it means to provide PAS at the request of a terminally ill and competent patient. Accordingly, it is difficult to maintain that knowledge about PAS and euthanasia is unambiguously associated with a restrictive attitude towards these measures”.

Is a positive attitude to animal research desirable?

The question is motivated by a recently published research paper in JALAAS: Attitudes Toward Animal Research Among Medical Students in the United States by David Q Beversdorf and Nellie R Adams.

The authors recruited student members of the American Academy of Neurology to fill in a questionnaire. 168 students completed the questionnaire, expressing their agreement or disagreement with a set of 14 positively- or negatively-biased statements regarding animal research. After that, they were given the opportunity to watch a video about animal research, and asked to fill in the same questionnaire again, which 108 students did. In the text box to the right, you can see examples of the statements the students were presented with.

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After having watched the video, the students were slightly more positive towards research with animals: the score went from an average of 4.0 to an average of 4.1. (A score near 5 shows a positive attitude to animal research, a score near 1 a negative attitude).

The authors do not make much out of that change (not surprisingly, it’s so small that it doesn’t really matter) but instead discuss the observation that “a substantial number of
medical students express disagreement with statements that
describe essential components of the drug and procedure
development pipeline. As described above, 13.2% disagreed
with the statement ‘New surgical procedures should be tested
on animals before they are used on people,’ and 7.2% disagreed
with ‘New drugs should be tested on animals before
they are used on people.’” They continue to conclude that “The changes in attitudes after observing the video suggests that negative attitudes can be changed, and that medical education may have a role in this setting.” If you want to read the full paper, you can request a copy from the authors at ResearchGate.

Numerous studies with bigger samples and more comprehensive approaches have measured the attitude of different publics to animal research, but the present study is novel in the choice of a very specific public: medical students. My main issue with how the study was conducted is the quite one-sided study design. The video in question is produced by Americans for Medical Progress, an advocacy organisation for biomedical research and in particular the use of animals in such research. While I think the video is quite reasonable, it definitely represents a selective use of information. That’s not surprising, as the organisation behind it is working in favour of public support for biomedical researh with animals.

Should a goal for medical education be to make students more positive to the use of animals in research? I’m really not convinced that this should be a priority. I think it’s crucial that medical students get a reasonable understanding of the role of animals in biomedical research and drug development. But that also includes an understanding of critical challenges to how useful such research is. And an understanding of why the issue is contentious.

There is no equivalent video advocating in a comparable way for the replacement of animals in biomedical research. People such as the authors behind the book Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change would probably be able to produce one, and it would be as credible (reasonably so) and balanced (not very) as the AMP video.

And sadly, both of them would miss out on the most critical issue in animal-based biomedical research today: how to design studies so that the results are reliable and translate to humans.

The irony of quickly changing times

It took two months for the previous blog post – about upcoming conferences and the possibility to meet at these conferences! – to become completely obsolete. I was sent home from work on March 13, when we had a major plumbing issue and had to close the institute for cleaning and sanitization. That was a Friday, and on my way back from work in the early afternoon I noticed the gradual spread of – well, panic is too strong a word but at least precautionary measures I had never seen in my life and never expected to see in my own neighbourhood. Face masks, gloves, signs explaining why the shop counter would be desinfected between each client.

I haven’t been back in my normal workplace since then. That was two months ago. My colleagues who need to do lab work are only now starting to get back to speed. We still only allow one person per office or one person per bench in the lab, and each lab has a separate team for morning/afternoon or separate weekday shifts.

It also took two months for me to reach a point where I was able to do more than think I should try to take up blogging again. That doesn’t have so much to do with Covid-19 induced constraints (they don’t affect me much negatively, or at least that is what I like to belive!) as with the fact that we had a major grant deadline on April 30, which had me coordinating one application, being co-PI on two and involved in a third. Grant application periods are always challenging, they leave no time to think about other things, and they require a week or more to recover from the intense work and pressure as well as catching up on all that had to be left until after the deadline.

That is where we are now. Let’s see where that will take Animalogues. I really should have the time to write now, and many reasons to do so. I’m enjoying the renewed digital contact with the animal welfare and applied ethology research community through a Slack space, and hope that I can capitalize on that inspiration.