University Animal Research Day, 29.3.17

On 29th March, I attended a day at The University of Manchester’s school of biological sciences to learn about the use of animals in science and the role of veterinarians. Β 

Introductory lecture

After registration, I sat in a lecture theatre for an introductory talk about animals in biomedical research and how this is utilised. We did not sit down for long before being asked to stand up, and when an applicable personal statement was called out we had to sit down. ”Have you ever had general anaesthetic, have you ever used an inhaler, have you ever taken antibiotics, have you ever taken allergy tablets”. Unsurprisingly, everyone was sat back down again. This highlighted the significance that animal research has on our lives, because they have an integral role in drugs trialling.

But with the videos and photos (anti-testing propaganda?) repeatedly emerging on social media, why on earth would we choose to test on animals? The academics I met had grown up aspiring to have a role caring for animals, they are not emotionless beings who want to inflict pain on another creature. It is important to test drugs in the complexity of a living body, with multiple complicated systems. In vitro alternatives are overly simplified models and cannot show any adverse side effects to a whole organism. The law also states that before clinical trials, the drugs must be tested on at least 2 different species. This is a valid argument against the suggestion that animal testing may be ‘unnecessary’, because pharmaceutical companies need to know if there are any side effects, what dosages people should use and most importantly if they are safe. As our anatomy and physiology is similar to animals, animals are relatively accurate models. In addition to this, mice have a quick generation turnover and are small and easy to handle. At 6 weeks old they are sexually mature and gestation is only 3 weeks. I was pleasantly surprised to hear how controlled the testing is, with each project requiring 3 licenses from the Home Office with regular inspections under the Animal Scientific Procedures Act 1986. By law, if there is a realistic alternative than the animal research cannot commence. Researchers also have to follow the 3 Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement).

NC3R implement the 3Rs as framework to support science, innovation and animal welfare. It was established in 2004 by the government. I learned that guidelines depend on the neurophysiology development of the species so this is no ‘speciesism’ or favouritising certain animals. This is why fish are lower order than rodents which are lower order than primates, which have a higher level of protection.

The 3Rs are from a Russell and Butch book, and we were briefly taught about the meaning and purpose of each R.

Replacement: methods that avoid the use of animals should be explored, from established animal cell lines to mathematical and computer models. Immature vertebrate forms (embryonic/foetal) are not protected under ASPA regulations.

Reduction: this is to minimise the number of animals used in testing. If researchers share data and resources, smaller populations can be used to give reliable data. Imagining for longitudinal studies can be used to follow disease progression, so a test can have an earlier termination time. As a result of the reproducibility crisis with 85% of research being wasted, the ARRIVE guidelines were produced. This is a 20 item check list of what should be included when a research paper is published such as gender and weight of specimens. A lot of stakeholders endorse ARRIVE guidelines to report in researchera’ manuscripts in order to receive their funding. This reduces the animal research waste and promotes experimental design.

Refinement: this is to minimise the pain, suffering and/or distress of an animal. This includes the basic husbandry and environment to the scientific procedure itself. I later saw that the fish had artificial coral and the rodents had tubes, as enrichment. This keeps them mentally stimulated. EDA is one of NC3R’s projects to make the research process easier by producing flow diagrams of an experimental design. This helps scientists be more conscious of animal numbers, and the logistics of their plan.

In addition to promotion of the 3Rs, NC3R fund research projects. At Newcastle University, Grimace Scales were produced as a new way to assess pain in animals. These currently widely distributed posters are a series of photos of rats, mice and rabbits with indicators of facial expressions associated with pain. In order to alleviate pain, researchers need to asses pain. Therefore, this product benefits millions of laboratory animals worldwide.

We were then given an insight into the UK’s animal testing industry through a set of statistics. Rodents constituted 72% of the testing, in 2016 1.1 million mice were tested on. This sounds like a large statistic but it was put into perspective because 220 million animals are killed by domestic cats each year, 2.5 BILLION animals are killed for food each year. One opinion is that we would not restrict life saving drugs if a loved one was going to die, but we could choose not to consume animal products.

Before the open day, I thought animal testing was mainly invasive surgeries but I was informed that ‘mild’ procedures such as a change in diet and behaviour observation are the most common.

Introductory lecture
After registration, I sat in a lecture theatre for an introductory talk about animals in biomedical research and how this is utilised. We did not sit down for long before being asked to stand up, and when an applicable personal statement was called out we had to sit down. ”Have you ever had general anaesthetic, have you ever used an inhaler, have you ever taken antibiotics, have you ever taken allergy tablets”. Unsurprisingly, everyone was sat back down again. This highlighted the significance that animal research has on our lives, because they have an integral role in drugs trialling.
But with the videos and photos (anti-testing propaganda?) repeatedly emerging on social media, why on earth would we choose to test on animals? The academics I met had grown up aspiring to have a role caring for animals, they are not emotionless beings who want to inflict pain on another creature. It is important to test drugs in the complexity of a living body, with multiple complicated systems. In vitro alternatives are overly simplified models and cannot show any adverse side effects to a whole organism. The law also states that before clinical trials, the drugs must be tested on at least 2 different species. This is a valid argument against the suggestion that animal testing may be ‘unnecessary’, because pharmaceutical companies need to know if there are any side effects, what dosages people should use and most importantly if they are safe. As our anatomy and physiology is similar to animals, animals are relatively accurate models. In addition to this, mice have a quick generation turnover and are small and easy to handle. At 6 weeks old they are sexually mature and gestation is only 3 weeks. I was pleasantly surprised to hear how controlled the testing is, with each project requiring 3 licenses from the Home Office with regular inspections under the Animal Scientific Procedures Act 1986. By law, if there is a realistic alternative than the animal research cannot commence. Researchers also have to follow the 3 Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement).
NC3R implement the 3Rs as framework to support science, innovation and animal welfare. It was established in 2004 by the government. I learned that guidelines depend on the neurophysiology development of the species so this is no ‘speciesism’ or favouritising certain animals. This is why fish are lower order than rodents which are lower order than primates, which have a higher level of protection.
The 3Rs are from a Russell and Butch book, and we were briefly taught about the meaning and purpose of each R.
Replacement: methods that avoid the use of animals should be explored, from established animal cell lines to mathematical and computer models. Immature vertebrate forms (embryonic/foetal) are not protected under ASPA regulations.
Reduction: this is to minimise the number of animals used in testing. If researchers share data and resources, smaller populations can be used to give reliable data. Imagining for longitudinal studies can be used to follow disease progression, so a test can have an earlier termination time. As a result of the reproducibility crisis with 85% of research being wasted, the ARRIVE guidelines were produced. This is a 20 item check list of what should be included when a research paper is published such as gender and weight of specimens. A lot of stakeholders endorse ARRIVE guidelines to report in researchera’ manuscripts in order to receive their funding. This reduces the animal research waste and promotes experimental design.

Egg Practical

The first practical was intriguing as I have already opened up the incubated eggs that were unsuccessful in hatching, to identify the stages of foetal development. I learned that in a laboratory environment, for experimental purposes such as the egg practical, that it should be younger than half of the gestation of the animal. Chicken eggs have a large role in learning about the development of humans in the womb. They are a developmental model; our genomes share homology, cellular developmental processes can be examined and it is easy to obtain the specimen.

In this specific practical, we were opening eggs and timing the heart beat of a chick embryo to investigate how temperature affects heart rate. After plotting all of the groups’ results, there was a directly proportional relationship with the x axis of temperature and y axis of heart rate. This is due to the increased metabolic activity. If we had conducted an experiment with a wider range, exceeding the highest temperature, then the enzymes would have been denatured.

Animal Lab

After changing into an all-in-one and placing shoe covers on, our group was given a tour of the animal laboratory facilities at the university. Although other students who are not accustomed to the smell of animals thought the rodent area had a stench, it was incredibly clean and smelt far less than anticipated due to the tight sanitation controls. I saw the rodents and zebra fish before going to the farm area where there were 5 sheep in a pen, with sufficient space. I asked lots of questions about controversial topics such as the euthanasia methods, hearing that it is all heavily controlled my regulations and qualifications.

Ethical Debate

After the tour, we sat back down in a lecture theatre to be briefly presented with the history of the animal testing ethical issues and how these have changed over time.

The emotional connection to an animal used to be the determining factor for animal testing. Before a review of the law, octopi were considered as an ideal animal to test on due to the ease of catching them on coasts. It wasn’t until their intelligence and mental ability was discovered that they became a protected animal.

Fly Practical
I was intrigued to hear that fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) had a key role in the development of human medical knowledge. They are inexpensive and low maintenance. There is a large fly facility in the university. In order to identify mutations, they have genetic markers. We had to look down a microscope and identify a series of genetic markers on fruit flies.

We then did an experiment to see which flies would walk up a test tube faster (the younger or the older flies). Another set were epileptic, so by shaking the test tube, these flies were knocked out. It amazes me that these tiny creatures have made such a huge impact in medicine and understanding diseases and development.

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