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N obody wants to do this research, let me be very clear,” insists Roger Lemon, a leading British neuroscientist1 who studies hand and finger control in humans and non-human primate models. “Like most people, I would like to see the day when animal research is no longer necessary. But for anybody who understands the complexity of the killer diseases in our society, including cancer, neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as global threats like Ebola, it’s very difficult to replicate the biology in silico or in vitro.” Lemon is not new to the debate setting animal rights groups against the scientific community. Ten years ago, the UK was the hotbed of violent protests and intimidation tactics targeting all those involved in animal research, from the construction workers that built the facilities to the lab technicians that operated them. Today, these headline-grabbing actions have spread to other European countries. In Italy in 2013, activists broke into the animal facility of the University of Milan, mixing up cage labels and freeing some 1600 animals used for studying autism and schizophrenia, rendering years of research obsolete. In Germany last September, staff at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen were threatened following the television broadcast of a video showing monkeys undergoing experiments, and politicians were asked to shut down the research program. In France, insults and attacks on social networks have targeted researchers from the neuroscience institute at la Timone (INT)2 in Marseille, which houses mice and non-human primates (NHPs) used in neurological and psychiatric research. In addition to all this, the research community is very concerned about the intense lobbying by animal rights groups to reform current EU legislation regulating biomedical research involving animals. On March 4, Stop- Vivisection,3 a European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI)4 which attracted more than 1.2 million votes in 26 of the EU’s 28 member states, was submitted to the European Commission. The supporters of this ECI, whose objective is to prohibit all animal research in Europe, will now make their case in a public hearing held by the European Parliament, giving the Commission three months to respond. A history of debate “And yet there is not a single medical advance that has not required the use of animals in some way,” exclaims François Lachapelle, who heads the national animal welfare office of INSERM.5 And examples abound. In 1881, Louis Pasteur proved germ theory by inducing anthrax in sheep. Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and John Macleod first isolated insulin from dogs in 1922, paving the way for today’s diabetes treatments. Jonas Salk used rhesus monkeys to isolate the polio virus, leading to a vaccine by 1955. In fact, “of the 105 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, 91 were dependent on animal research,” adds Lachapelle. Yet with increased understanding of animal biology came the realization that these sentient beings experience pain and distress, raising ethical questions as to whether the benefits to humans justified the harm done to animals (see box p. 21). Mass appeal Numbers are compelling. In 2011 alone—the most recent data available—nearly 12 million vertebrates were used for experimental and other scientific purposes across the EU.6 Worldwide estimates range from 75 to 100 million specimens a year, with China accounting for 35 million, but there are no official statistics. The US, for example, reported 1. Institute of Neurology, University College London (UK). 2. Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone (CNRS / Aix-Marseille Université). 3. www.stopvivisection.eu 4. To be accepted, an ECI must obtain more than one million signatures in more than seven member states within three months. This is the fourth ECI to be approved since the Treaty of Lisbon (ratified in 2007). 5. Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale. 6. Source: Seventh Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the Statistics on the number of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes in the member states of the European Union. In Paris on April 26, 2014, a demonstration was held, calling for the ban of scientific research on animals. © H. RAGUET/CNRS PHOTOTHÈQUE … © CITIZENSIDE/B. MÉNIGAULT/AFP FEATURE 19 SPRING 2015 N° 37


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