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.

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.

The academic carbon footprint

The Katowice Climate Change Conference just ended and I’m taking this as an opportunity to reflect on academic carbon footprints. Given how much more carbon-heavy air travel is than any other means of transport, and how limited train connections are where I’m based, my academic carbon footprint is huge, even though I do my best to minimize my personal,  I will write a couple of posts on this topic, starting with a retrospective review of my year in travelling and travel decisions.

This is rather a typical year for me since I took on two board positions in other European countries (UFAW/HSA and Swiss 3R Competence Centre). It is way more air travel than I would like. But based as I am in one corner of Europe, the only realistic alternative is not to participate. Given that I’m one of the very few animal welfare researchers in the country, this is an alternative that would impact my work negatively. I need to meet others, see their work and discuss with them. What I can do is to make the most of my flights, by combining several commitments in one. I think I’ve managed to do that reasonably well in 2018.

In January I flew to England to participate in the meeting of the Board of Trustees of UFAW and HSA in Wheathampshire. I continued to Edinburgh for a meeting about future research collaboration. I combined two trips in one, but I really could have taken the train to Edinburgh. Flying was not more expensive and theoretically faster, but I could just as well have spent the time I worked in the airport café working in the train. Direct flights Porto-London and London-Edinburgh, stopover in Brussels on the way from Edinburgh to Porto. All flights were fully occupied or almost.

In March I flew to Brussels for a week of panel meetings. Direct flight there, full. Return flight always require a stopover, the first leg from Brussels is always full, the second not necessarily so. I don’t remember if this was via Frankfurt or via Lisbon. At the panel meeting I learned about an important meeting in Paris 10 days later, to which I had direct flights, both full. In March I also decided not to travel to Utrecht for a board meeting. Instead I wrote a missive together with a colleague about how the association needs to prepare for board members participating remotely. Indeed, even though all the technology we could have was another board member’s laptop with Skype, remote participation worked well. The only real mishap was the frustration that the coffee was served right in front of the camera, whereas for me to get a coffee to my office means I had to leave the meeting for 10 minutes 😉

In April, a new PhD student started in a Marie Curie network project. He was based in Denmark before joining my group, and the kick-off meeting was going to be in Denmark mid-April, so we agreed that he would spend the first 10 days working with my collaborator in Copenhagen and then relocate after the meeting. That wasn’t my flight but it was my decision and saved one return flight Porto-Copenhagen. I flew direct Porto-Copenhagen for the meeting but arrived early and were able to fit in another meeting and spending the weekend with family. Direct flights, fully occupied.

In May I didn’t travel. I also decided not to attend the EurSAFE conference in Vienna in June which would have required a return flight with stopovers in both direction. This was a decision largely motivated by wishing to avoid travelling when I could; a colleague agreed to take over the workshop I had hoped to coordinate and for the rest, I was only going to be a spectator, so unlike all the previous trips I could really skip it without consequences for anyone else than for myself. However, an unexpected and interesting meeting in Amsterdam came up instead – but at least the flight there is direct and was fully occupied.

In July I travelled to a workshop in Lisbon by car together with a colleague, and returned by train. I did not attend the UFAW and HSA board of trustees meeting in the UK.

In the end of July I travelled to Prince Edward Island in Canada for the ISAE conference. This was a 3-legged journey and an intercontinental flight. I thought long and hard about this, but ISAE is my main learned society and the one closest to my heart and it was my last meeting as a council member. The decisive factor was the possibility to meet with a postdoc about work she is finishing for a project with me in which she was hired before she returned to Canada. Making the most out of flights doesn’t reduce the carbon footprint but it makes the harm-benefit balance more favourable.

In the end of August I had a project meeting in Berlin (direct flight, fully occupied). I continued to Sweden, again on a direct and fully occupied flight, to spend time with family. I had hoped to take the direct night train from Berlin to Malmö, which existed when I last went to Berlin in 2005, but alas, now a train connection requires several changes and costs way more than a flight. I added a meeting with collaborators in Copenhagen (train from Sweden) and then continued to Edinburgh for the AWRN thermography workshop before I returned to Porto (direct flight there, stopover in Brussels on the way back, all flights fully occupied).

In the end of September I attended the first meeting of the scientific advisory board of the newly formed Swiss 3Rs Competence Centre in Bern. Direct flights, fully occupied, train connections within Switzerland.

In October I flew to England to participate in the meeting of the Board of Trustees of UFAW and HSA in Wheathampshire. I then took the train to Cambridge for a meeting with collaborators at Babraham Institute before flying back to Porto. Direct flights both ways, fully occupied.

In the end of November I flew to Brussels to participate in a week of panel meetings. This could have been avoided; I try to only do a panel meeting a year but frankly, I had forgotten that I had already done one in March. Direct flight there, return flight with stopover in Lisbon. Flights fully occupied except the last leg, Lisbon-Porto.

In December I travelled to a meeting in the north of Spain, together with four colleagues. We convened by public transport and then continued in one car. Interestingly, during that journey I found out that one of the others always car pool to work, whereas another take his bike. (I walk, or occasionally take the metro). I’m not seeing family in Sweden for Christmas, because I will be going in the end of January for work.

 

What does IKEA have to do with animal welfare? Interview with Priya Motupalli

Priya Motupalli, Global Sustainable Sourcing Specialist sure is a cool title for an animal welfare scientist. Tell us what you do at IKEA Food Services AB!

Thanks!  It’s a mouthful, but it’s an incredible position where I get to place animal welfare at the heart of our vision for more sustainable agriculture.  My role is to develop and support the implementation of our sustainable sourcing strategy for the animal products in our range across all of the 52 markets we operate in.

This strategy consists of a set of programmes which covers animal welfare, environmental impact, and public health issues at the farm level.  The first of these species-specific programmes, the better chicken programme, was launched publicly in the beginning of this year.

Priya with chicken

What are the principles you apply to your work?

The mission of IKEA is to create a better everyday life for the many people.  I take this to heart in my own work—I’m not interested in good animal welfare or sustainable food production getting stuck in a niche market where only a small segment of the population benefits or has access to it.  My goal is to consistently find a place for animal welfare as a core tenant of more sustainable food systems.  This isn’t simple, as there are documented trade-offs—so I try and focus how animal welfare can connect to environmental or social issues to move the conversation forward, rather than not moving at all.

We also have something called the 7 Food Principles which set the general business direction at IKEA Food—although there is a principle around animal welfare, my favourite one is actually “food is pleasure.”  Consumers are so overloaded now with information on the dos/don’ts of sustainable consumption!  I think part of our job is to ensure that they can pick up something in the Swedish food market, or dine in the Restaurant, or grab something in the bistro and simply feel good about it, without having to panic about where it was sourced, or what the working conditions were like, or how the animals were raised, etc.  Food is such an intimate, enjoyable part of our lives—and making more sustainable or healthier choices shouldn’t be a barrier to this enjoyment!

Of course, providing this experience for our customers is a journey and there is a great saying by our founder, Ingvar Kamprad that “most things remain to be done.”

In which way does animal welfare science get into your job? Do you use actual research data or methods?

Animal welfare science is a critical part of the job—and one of the main reasons I was hired!  Current research forms the backbone of any animal welfare sourcing criteria we create.  However, as the science only tells you what you can do, not necessarily what you should do, our sourcing criteria is also a product of country specific legislation, feedback from NGOs and suppliers, and customer desires.

In addition, data collection and the use of this data to improve animal welfare over time is an integral part of our better chicken programme, and will form an integral part of our other species-specific programmes as well.  Alongside any input criteria we set, we have also identified key welfare outcomes that we will measure with the help of our suppliers and retail partners.  These welfare outcome measures will provide objective information on the quality of life for animals’ specific to our supply chain. In time, we can use this information to establish key areas of improvement and apply targeted interventions.

Our first data-set related to the better chicken programme came in recently and I’m keen to get it to start working for us!

If you are interested in how IKEA works with sustainability in general: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/this-is-ikea/people-planet/

If you want to learn more about IKEA’s view on animal welfare: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/doc/general-document/ikea-read-more-about-ikeas-view-on-animal-welfare__1364641255476.pdf

Follow Priya on twitter:@drpriyamots

Coverage of Better Chicken: http://5mpoultry.uberflip.com/i/976632-poultry-digital-may-2018/15?m4=

Bioengineering the animal or the organ?

This week, researchers in at University of Texas Medical Branch were able to show that they could produce an artificially grown lung and successfully transplant it into a mammal. Lungs were grown in the laboratory from cells from the very same pig into which the organ would later be transplanted. The procedure was tested in 4 pigs, of which one lived for 2 months with a functioning transplanted lung.

Transplantation medicine is not something I know very much about, but from being involved in the ethical discussion of both animal research and gene editing, I come across the question every now and then. To me, there seems to be two routes that are being researched at the moment: engineering animals to make xenotransplantation safer and developing the techniques to grow organs in the laboratory from cells originating in the individual who needs a new organ. The Texas team used the second approach. In the discussion of how to put the genome editing tool CRISPR to best use, xenotransplantation is often mentioned as a worthwhile objective to pursue.

It’s in the nature of research that people work on different applications for a similar purpose – in this case a way to produce organs for transplantation which will relieve transplantation medicine from the reliance on human organ donors. At this point nobody is able to tell which route will take us to the goal first. But from the perspective of the 3Rs and especially Replacement, the artificially-grown-organ approach is much more appealing. Even though animal experiments will be used in the development of the method, once it’s considered safe there will be no more need to use animals. Xenotransplantation on the other hand will mean a continued use of animals, which will be bred and kept for the purpose of providing organs for human transplantation.

Congress blogging Day 1AM: ISAE, PEI, Canada

(This blog post brought to you courtesy of the 4 h time-difference-travelling-west-kind-of-jet-lag that wakes you iup at five in the morning eager to start to DO things!)

The International Society for Applied Ethology is holding its 52nd conference in Prince Edward Island, Canada July 30-August 2 this year. For me personally as a scientist, this is the most important conference and the one I enjoy most – the latter partly thanks to my long and strong engagement with ISAE (attended my first congress in 1994, am finishing my 2nd round of being on its council this year) which means that I know so many people here, but undoubtedly also much because this is such a tremendously good humored congress.

This was evident already in the opening ceremony.  President Bas Rodenburg is clearly not intimidated by how high previous president set the bar for making people crack up laughing during presidential talks. I hope some of the first-time conference attenders really takes up his advice on how to deal with PFAQ – People Frequently Asking Questions!*

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The Wood-Gush Memorial Lecture (the invited lecture of the event, to be given by a prominent contributor to knowledge in applied ethology without actually being an applied ethnologist) this year was given by Stevan Harnad, Professor of cognitive science at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He addressed “the other mind problem”, the challenge of how we understand what other beings experience. Much of the talk recapitulate what Harnad wrote in his inaugural editorial of the journal Animal Sentience, He also reminded us of Marian Stamp Dawkins very influential paper in another journal edited by Harnad, Behavioral and Brain Science. And, well, if you want the best critical analysis of how to deal with the welfare of other minds, Marian Dawkins is still the author to turn to.

The Wood-Gush lecture was followed by parallel sessions and I chose to stay for the session on Cognition and Emotions. Caroline Lee started with a longer talk On Cognitive evaluation of predictability and controllability and implications for animal welfare. She introduced a framework for welfare assessment based on the concept of predictability/controllability as stress modulators and of positive and negative affect.

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Proposing  to use this framework to evaluate the possible welfare impact of new technologies, in her talk she applied it on the case study of virtual fences for cattle  bringing in actual data from studies of how cattle react to the fence. This work is forthcoming in Frontiers in Veterinary Sciences.

This longer talk was followed by three shorter.  Under the title Understanding the bidirectional relationship of emotional and cognitive systems to measure affective state in the animal, Sebastian McBride discussed the cognitive bias test and possible complementing approaches. His underlying argument is that there is a potential bias in how chronically stressed animals perform in the test, since long term stress exposure can change both action and attention, both crucial factors for test performance. Two talks reporting experimental studies using behaviour and attention in sheep followed, by Matteo Chincarini and Camille Raoult.

* I do remember how these people confused and fascinated me when I was a first time conference participant. And yes, PFAQ seems to be a trait; to the extent that the same people participate they continuou to Frequently Ask Questions. Myself included.

Working on the visuals

António Sá is one of the most talented photographers of animals and people in Portugal. He is also a lovely person and a great teacher whom I have had the privilege to learn from in one of his inspiring workshops. So I didn’t think twice about where the visuals of Animalogues would come from. Right as I type, I’m experimenting with different layouts and different photos. I think I’ve settled for the layout Twenty Seventeen as it makes the photo really stand out while at the same time presenting the text well. Now to select from the dozen splendid photographs suggested to me!

Coming soon

Animalogues is a science communication blog about the behaviour and welfare of domestic animals. It is managed by Anna Olsson, senior researcher in the field at the University of Porto. The blog will be launched in the end of June 2018.

Animalogues is a word play alluding to the ambition of the site – a place for scientifically informed dialogues about animal issues. It is the international cousin of Animalogos, a Portuguese-language blog on the same topic.