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Vivisection Shorts – January 2015.

 baby apesDaily Mail


Lab breaches causing cruel deaths

More than 1,000 laboratory animals at a secret scientific testing facility died in baking temperatures when the building’s ventilation system failed, a shocking Government report has revealed.

In total 1,132 mice and rats died because a fuse blew in the cooling system, which saw the building they were kept in warm to unbearable temperatures.  By the time technicians discovered the problem, 787 animals were already dead. Another 345 had to be killed because they were suffering so much.

In a separate incident at the lab, some genetically altered animals were found to be living in such poor conditions that 68 baby mice disappeared – presumed eaten by their own mothers. The incidents at the unnamed facility were detailed in a report by the Home Office, which conducts investigations when things go wrong at animals testing labs.

The name of the lab’s owner has not been released by the Government, for fears of reprisals from animal rights groups.  The owner is, however, understood to be a private company. The Government report said that there was a critical delay in contacting an engineer after high summer temperatures caused the cooling system to overload and cut out.

Officials said that failings at the lab included a lack of investment in suitable cooling equipment, no proper call-out procedures, shortcomings in training and resources as well as a lack of suitable contingency plans. The facility was issued with a written reprimand and a letter sent to the Chief Executive of the parent company of the lab from the Home Secretary about the incident.

Experts also said that the institution had been involved in 2 other incidents since 2010 when they were found to have breached rules. The report said: “All parties have been helpful and co-operative throughout the investigation and have expressed regret for what happened. “Once the relevant issues were identified the establishment responded very quickly to resolve the immediate situation.”   However, a spokesman for animal charity PETA claimed that the laboratory’s failings were “downright criminal”. He said: “This failure to meet even the bare minimum standards of animal care set forth in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 isn’t just irresponsible – it’s downright criminal, and for this anonymous institution to get away with its license intact and only a slap on the wrist just beggars belief.

New animal lab planned for Cambridge

Animal rights activists have raised objections to the planned construction of an animal testing laboratory in Cambridge by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

The company has applied to include an animal research lab in the expansion of the Biomedical Campus, but the proposal has proved unpopular with the newly formed group Cambridge Against AstraZeneca Planning (CAP), as well as other environmental and animal rights movements.

The site would become its headquarters and would be the site for a significant amount of animal testing.  The company claims to use non-animal methods wherever possible, but currently experiments on over a quarter of a million animals each year. The site would be the second animal testing lab in the county, with Huntingdon Life Sciences already established in Cambridgeshire.

AstraZeneca’s building is set to have a purpose-designed rodent facility, which would support the company’s early-stage cancer research. On their website the corporation describe animal studies as “a vital part of the research process, required by regulators before they approve a new medicine to be tested on humans during clinical trials”.  Rachel Mathai, spokeswoman for the CAP campaign, explained the group’s reasons for opposing the proposal, saying: “AstraZeneca’s cruel, unnecessary experiments should be a thing of the past. Cambridge doesn’t need yet another animal testing lab.

“We do understand that AstraZeneca is big but we hope people will see that they have the legal right to challenge injustice.”  Chloe Hutchings-Hay, a second- year Psychological and Behavioural Sciences student at Gonville and Caius, said of the proposed development: “AstraZeneca should continue looking into alternatives and, when it is absolutely necessary to test on animals, minimize the harm caused to them.

“Nonetheless it seems that rodent testing at present seems to be integral in the development of safe and effective medicines.”  Should the AstraZeneca development go ahead it would finish in 2016, and employ 2000 people. The company has moved around 400 staff to the Cambridge site, working in temporary laboratories until the completion of the new facility.


Failure of mouse models

An obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed in cancer research is that mouse models do not mimic human disease well and are essentially worthless for drug development.

We cured acute leukemia in mice in 1977 with drugs that we are still using in exactly the same dose and duration today in humans with dreadful results. Imagine the artificiality of taking human tumour cells, growing them in lab dishes, then transferring them to mice whose immune systems have been compromised so they cannot reject the implanted tumours and then exposing these “xenografts” to drugs whose killing efficiency and toxicity profiles will then be applied to treat human cancers.

The inherent pitfalls of such an entirely synthesized non-natural model system have also plagued other disciplines. A recent scientific paper showed that all 150 drugs tested at the cost of billions of dollars in human trials of sepsis failed because the drugs had been developed using mice. Unfortunately, what looks like sepsis in mice turned out to be very different than what sepsis is in humans. Coverage of this study by Gina Kolata in the New York Times incited a heated response from within the biomedical research community, “There is no basis for leveraging a niche piece of research to imply that mice are useless models for all human diseases.”

They concluded by saying that, “The key is to construct the appropriate mouse models and design the experimental conditions that mirror the human situation.”  The problem is there are no appropriate mouse models which can mimic the human situation.

So why is the cancer research community continuing to be dominated by the dysfunctional tradition of employing mouse models to test hypotheses for development of new drugs?

Robert Weinberg of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, has provided the best answer.  He was quoted in the press, noting:  “Two reasons. First, there’s no other model with which to replace that poor mouse. Second, the FDA has created inertia because it continues to recognize these models as the gold standard for predicting the utility of drugs.”  There is a third reason related more to the frailties of human nature.

Too many eminent laboratories and illustrious researchers have devoted entire lives to studying malignant diseases in mouse models and they are the ones reviewing each other’s grants and deciding where the NIH money gets spent. They are not prepared to accept that mouse models are basically valueless for most of cancer therapeutics. 

In the final analysis then, one of the main reasons we continue to stick to this archaic ethos is to obtain funding.

Here is one example.  I decided to study a bone marrow malignant disease called myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) which frequently evolves to acute leukemia, back in the early 1980s. One decision I made very early on was to concentrate my research on freshly obtained human cells and not to rely on mice or petri dishes alone. In the last 3 decades, I have collected over 50,000 bone marrow biopsies, blood, normal control buccal smear cells, serum and plasma samples in a well annotated Tissue Repository backed by a computerized bank of clinical, pathologic and morphologic data.

By using these samples, we have identified novel genes involved in causing certain types of MDS, as well as sets of genes related to survival, natural history of the disease and response to therapy. But when I used bone marrow cells from treated MDS patients to develop a genomic expression profile which was startlingly predictive of response and applied for an NIH grant to validate the signature, the main criticism was that before confirming it through a prospective trial in humans, I should first reproduce it in mice! 

The time is here to let go of the mouse models at least as surrogates for bringing drugs to the bedside. Azra Raza, MD Professor of Medicine, Director of the MDS Centre, Columbia University

More drug failures

Roche Holdings’ 2 drugs recently failed late stage clinical trials for certain conditions, which resulted in more than 5% decline in its shares. These drugs include an experimental Alzheimer’s disease drug, gantenerumab, and an already marketed cancer drug, Kadcyla.

Mice injected with human brain cells grow to have ‘half human brains’ that make them smarter than other rodents, scientists have found.  Researchers claim that giving mouse pups a type of immature human brain cell, known as glial cells, caused their brains to grow differently so they became more human-like.

The results have raised the prospect that it may be possible to make animals smarter by injecting them with human brain cells but have also raised serious ethical issues about what this ‘hybrid brain’ research should be used for.  Dr Steven Goldman, who led the research at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, said they had decided not to put human cells into monkeys.

Dr Goldman, whose work is published in the Journal of Neuroscience, instead believes mice with these hybrid brains could prove valuable in studying neurological conditions like schizophrenia and testing new treatments for diseases like multiple sclerosis.  The mice were also tested for memory and cognition and those with the human cells were found to be much smarter than their peers.  One test examined their ability to remember a sound associated with a mild electric shock saw the humanised mice freeze for 4 times as long as other mice when they heard the sound.


Mazor monkey farm closes

After a bitter struggle, that lasted more than 20 years, to close down Mazor Farm (Israel), which breeds and exports monkeys for medical experiments, the fight has ended and the activists have won.

The farm is set to be shut down completely and its 1,300 monkeys will be sent to a sanctuary.  The surprising conclusion came thanks to Ady Gil, a multimillionaire Israeli living in the US, who laid out $2m to spare the monkeys a life of suffering.  The festive signing ceremony included a lot of hugs and champagne.

Under a gentlemen’s agreement, it was deemed best for Dr. Moshe Bushmitz, the farm’s manager who took endless flak from the activists for almost 20 years, to add his signature to the purchase agreement elsewhere to avoid any unpleasantness for both sides. Far away, in California, Gil opened a bottle of champagne to mark the auspicious triumph.  “To be honest, I wasn’t planning on spending $2m right now,” Gil admitted from his home in Hollywood, where he celebrated the occasion with his rescue dog, Kayla, a Rhodesian Ridgeback-Pit Bull mix. “I said to myself that I don’t want to end up knowing that I had a chance to save 1,300 monkeys and didn’t do so – not that I’m entirely sure that it’s the best way to spend the money.”  “With $2m, I could save a lot more monkeys – if I manage to amend the laws that permit experiments on them by going to war with the US Food and Drug Administration.

The question is whether I can do both and I think I can. So I decided to take on the financial responsibility and act.”   Animal rights activists began their widely publicized struggle against the farm the moment it opened; and some 20 years later, an apparent solution appeared: Israel barred the export of wild animals from the country.  The decision effectively meant the closure of the farm, but the question of what would become of the monkeys remained unanswered. Last Wed, just before the farm was shut down, the attorney general approved the export of 560 monkeys to the United States – dooming them to life in a laboratory. 

“After (former) environmental protection minister Gilad Erdan decided to shut down the farm, the monkeys were clearly going to be sold,” says Anat Refuah of the Israeli Society for the Abolition of Vivisection who has led the fight against the Mazor Farm for many years.  “There were 2 options: Either they’d be sold for experiments and a fate worse than death, or they’d be sold into good hands that would save them.  Ady Gil was in Israel 2 years ago and he joined one of our rallies and when the idea to purchase the monkeys came up, I asked him if he’d be willing to save them and he agreed immediately.”  Ynet News 23rd Dec

End monkey research

Activists calling for an end to research using non-human primates have stepped up activities in Germany and Italy.

An estimated 800 animal-rights activists demonstrated in front of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, on 20 Dec, calling for an end to the research with monkeys that takes place there.


Investigate psychology experiments on monkeys

4 members of Congress have asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate psychological experiments on monkeys being carried out at an NIH lab in Poolesville, Maryland.

The letter, which comes in response to an aggressive campaign by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), claims that for more than 30 years researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) have been “removing [macaques] from their mothers at birth and subjecting them to distressful and sometimes painful procedures that measure their anxiety and depression.”

From late Sept to late Oct, PETA ran more than 250 ads in Washington, D.C., Metro trains and stations, including the NIH station. It also ran ads in major newspapers. The ads claim that NIH is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to traumatize “baby monkeys by tearing them away from their mothers at birth, scaring them with loud noises and fake snakes, and addicting them to alcohol.”

The group claims that the campaign resulted in more than 150,000 phone calls and e-mails from the public to NIH and Congress.  In their letter to NIH Director Francis Collins, U.S. representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D–CA), Dina Titus (D–NV), Sam Farr (D–CA), and Eliot Engel (D–NY) reference the PETA claims and public outcry. “Prominent experts … have raised questions about the scientific and ethical justification of these particular experiments,” the letter states.

The group requests a bioethical review of the work by Feb 2015.  In response to questions about the experiments, NIH referred Science to the web page for the NICHD lab of Stephen Suomi. The page states that the lab investigates various aspects of monkey behaviour, including how this behaviour changes when the animals are raised in different environments.

This includes separating young monkeys from their mothers, measuring their addiction to alcohol, and monitoring their long-term stress levels.   In an e-mail to Science, Justin Goodman, PETA’s director of laboratory investigations, says his group is “delighted” by Congress’s response to its campaign.

The monkey experiments, he says, “have never improved human health and are superseded by modern non-animal research methods that can actually identify the causes of mental illness in people and how to treat it.”  NIH says its policy is to respond directly to Congress and that Collins will be addressing the letter in detail.

Main Sites – UK Organisation General Links:

UK – British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV)

UK – National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS)


Three Petitions to support: