House Appropriations Subcommittee Hears NIH Director Testimony

On Tuesday, March 3, NIH Director Francis Collins appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies to discuss details of the agency’s FY 2016 funding request. He was accompanied by National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci and other institute directors.

A webcast of the hearing may be found at the subcommittee’s website and Dr. Collins’ written testimony is available here.

Harold Varmus to Step Down as Head of NIH’s National Cancer Institute

Dr. Harold Varmus announced today that he will be stepping down as the Director of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute (NCI) after nearly 5 years at the post.  He will leave NCI at the end of March.  Douglas Lowy, NIH’s Deputy Director and long-time NCI intramural researcher, will become acting director.

Varmus, who won the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, served as NIH’s director from 1993-1999 and returned in 2010 to oversee NCI’s work.  He plans to return to New York City to continue research into cancer care.

To read more news about Dr. Varmus and his resignation, please click here.  You can also find Varmus’ letter to NCI staff here.  NIH’s press release can be read here.

PETA Report of U.S. Research Animal Statistics Attracts Media Attention

Three staff members from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) authored a “Brief Report” titled “Trends in Animal Use at US Research Facilities” in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics (subscription only), which has attracted attention from some scientific and other media. In short, a PETA “study” has found the use of vertebrate research animals by 21 of the top 25 institutions funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has increased approximately 73% over a 15-year period (1997-2012), driven primarily by increases in the use of mice.

While a significant increase in research mice would not be surprising during this timeframe as genetically-modified rodent models were developed and research opportunities proliferated, PETA’s method for gauging the increase is questionable. Using assurance documents filed by NIH grantees every 4 to 5 years, obtained by PETA under FOIA, the authors constructed an animal use “average” and “total” by species based on average daily inventory estimates provided during three time periods (1997-2003, 2000-2008 and 2008-2012). In a written response to the study provided to Science (subscription required), NIH’s Office of Extramural Research cautioned that using the inventory data to track animal numbers is “inappropriate” because the data don’t show usage, but are only a “snapshot” that NIH uses to make sure institutions have adequate veterinary care. Moreover, more than 1000 institutions have assurances to use animals and including only the 25 largest could be misleading, especially because some provide mice to other institutions.

In any event, it’s not possible to evaluate PETA’s averages without raw data and knowing whether they made accurate assumptions and categorizations. Also, there are obvious errors in the paper, such as citing an inflated number of USDA-covered species used for 2010 (later corrected by USDA). Some assertions are made without evidence and in other cases references listed do not support the statements made by authors. PETA calls the increase “staggering,” despite noting in their journal paper that the “sizeable growth” in animal use due to genetically modified (GM) mice has previously been reported.

Speaking of Research posted an excellent response on the subject, Animal Research Successes Spur Growth in Science…but PeTA Can only Complain. Some of the media outlets that have covered this story include CBS News, NBC News, the Chronicle for Higher Education, BuzzFeed and Yahoo Health.

Editorial: Increase in Animal Research Leads to New Treatments, Cures, and Better Lives

Yesterday, February 25, Speaking of Research published a piece entitled, “Animal research successes spur growth in science…but PeTA can only complain.”

In his piece, David Jentsch answers a report by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which notes that the number of animals involved in research has grown by over 70% during the past 15 years.  Jentsch discusses how this increase is due to an acceleration of innovation and discovery in unlocking many of the world’s health questions.  He writes, “Thanks to the researchers that occupy laboratories around the world, scientific discoveries are coming faster than ever, and all of us benefit. It’s not just that there is more research being done – it’s that the impact of the science is better than ever thanks to more advanced technologies, accumulating knowledge of how the body works and more advanced animals models, including ones that mimic human disease processes in increasingly sophisticated ways that promote new discoveries and new opportunities to develop novel drugs.”

“What is the consequence of the growth in animal research? The answer is: new treatments, new cures, less sickness and longer, healthier lives,” says Jentsch.

To read Jentsch’s submission to Speaking of Research, please click here.

In Case You Missed It: Chimpanzee Retirement: Facts, Myths, and Motivation

A few weeks ago, Allyson J. Bennett posted an excellent piece at Speaking of Research, titled Chimpanzee Retirement: Facts, Myths and Motivation.

It contains factual information about chimpanzees living at National Primate Research Centers and is accompanied by some terrific photos. Dr. Bennett points out very well the problem with misrepresentations seen recently in the media, such as this piece, and elsewhere about chimpanzees’ current housing and care at research facilities.

Please click here to take a look.

Research Responds to Critics in Today’s “Congress Blog”

Today, February 23, the Congressional news website, The Hill, featured an insightful and interesting pro-research piece in its “Congress Blog” entitled, “Childhood adversity needs more research, not less.”

In the op-ed, Paul McKellips, the Executive Vice President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, defends the humane use of animal models, like primates and rodents, in studying childhood stress to help determine and treat behavioral and emotional problems in adulthood from critics. Animal rights groups like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have targeted this important effort with advertisements, letter writing campaigns, and Congressional staff briefings.

McKellips writes, “Unfortunately, that research is under attack. Some activists claim that it's needlessly cruel. It's not. What is cruel, however, is shutting down a line of scientific inquiry that may help scientists mitigate -- or even reverse -- the effects of childhood psychological adversity.”

To read McKellips’ piece, please click here.

British Heart Foundation Responds to Opponents of Animal Research

Last weekend in the United Kingdom, the Waltham Forest Animal Protection group mounted a demonstration against the British Heart Foundation (BHF) over funding cardiac research with animal models and the BHF responded.

Simon Gillespie, the chief executive of BHF, responded to protesters saying, “The majority of lifesaving medical advances that today benefit millions of heart patients involved research involving animals,” adding, “At the BHF, we’re dedicated to saving lives by developing better treatments and cures for heart and circulatory conditions that affect the lives of more than seven million people across the UK.”

To read the February 18 news report, please click  here.

Scientists Disappointed by Science’s Coverage of PETA Operative

NABR President Frankie Trull registered disappointment with Science for its decision to publish “The Insurgent,” a feature-length profile of Justin Goodman, the director of laboratory investigations at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The January 23 piece was later referenced online by Science Careers. For an “historical perspective,” the Science online daily news site as well as the careers section, ran a slideshow depicting some of PETA’s campaigns.

NABR’s January 27 letter to AAAS CEO Alan Leshner and Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt said in conclusion, “The Insurgent” is tantamount to an advertisement for both Goodman and PETA, serving only to boost exposure and give credibility for their long history of anti-science rhetoric and direct action against researchers. For years, many biomedical researchers, their staff, and their families, have been egregiously targeted by PETA and understandably are demoralized by the direction Science has taken. We are disappointed that Science chose to glamorize the actions of Goodman and PETA, and it is our sincerest hope that AAAS and Science will cease the promotion of those wishing us and our work harm.” NABR encourages others to express your opinion to Science about this article.

Please note that AAALAC Executive Director Christian Newcomer’s letter to the editor of Science, "A Defense of Animal Welfare Accreditation,” appeared in the January 16 issue. His letter responds to another controversial Science news article by the same author, David Grimm, which related Goodman and PETA’s criticism of the effectiveness of animal welfare accreditation. Among other excellent examples of the flaws in Goodman’s “study” of the AAALAC program, Newcomer points out that Goodman refused to share with Grimm and Science readers the actual data on which reported criticisms are based.

Poll: American Public Support for Animal Research on the Rise

According to a new poll conducted by Zogby Analytics released this week, almost 58% of adults surveyed support the ethical and humane use of animals in biomedical research.  Public support has jumped 12 points in the past five months.

"The rise in public opinion support seems to coincide with the arrival of Ebola to American shores and the emergence of a measles outbreak," says Paul McKellips, executive vice president at the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington. "When infectious diseases or other incurable conditions reach our doorstep, we're reminded that scientists and researchers need to use animal models to develop vaccines, antibiotics, therapies and cures that are safe and effective."

To read more about the poll, please click here.

Scientific Societies Support NIH Nonhuman Primate Research

The nation’s largest primatological scientific society, the American Society of Primalogists (ASP), has made a strong statement in support of the scientist and research under attack by PETA.  The January 21 letter from the ASP Board of Directors to Rep. Lucille Roybal Allard (D-CA) and the NIH Director can be found at ASP’s website.  The American Psychological Association (APA), the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the U. S., also expressed their strong support for the targeted psychology researcher and his work to interested members of Congress and the NIH.  The APA Science Directorate statement is available online along with their January 21 letter. Speaking of Research subsequently posted NIH’s defense, the scientific society letters of support and their own comments about the necessity of responsible nonhuman primate research.

Regrettably, PETA is not listening.  Despite NIH’s transparent review of the subject research with clear explanation of its purpose and benefits, and respected scientists’ support for it, PETA went ahead with its January 27 “briefing” and vegan lunch on Capitol Hill to which congressional staff were invited.  Approximately 40 people attended, including PETA and other animal rights organization members; staff from the offices of December 22 letter writers; and other congressional staff, some of whom were curious to see how PETA would conduct itself.  The event was sponsored by Rep. Roybal-Allard, who made a statement (written copy unavailable).  The only other speakers were PETA representatives:  actor James Cromwell, University of New Mexico professor emeritus John Gluck, College of William and Mary anthropology professor Barbara King and neuroscientist Kathleen Roe from PETA’s laboratory investigation division.   No mention was made by speakers of NIH’s review of the work and official response.  According to Nature’s complete report of the event, despite NIH and scientific community support for the research involved, neither Rep. Roybal-Allard nor PETA are satisfied and intend to continue pursuing the issue.  The only other media coverage of PETA’s briefing to be found was a National Public Radio (NPR) blog posting by speaker Barbara King, who seemed to confuse this staff lunch briefing with a congressional hearing on the record.

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