Breaking with a history of reticence, nearly 600 scientists, students, and lab animal workers published a letter in USA Today this morning that calls on U.S. research institutions to “embrace openness” about their animal research.
“We should proudly explain how animals are used for the advancement of science and medicine, in the interest of the well-being of humans and animals,” the 592 signatories write in the letter. “From the development of insulin and transplant surgery to modern day advances, including gene therapies and cancer treatments; animals … continue to play a crucial role in both basic and applied research.”
The letter was organized by the pro–animal research advocacy group Speaking of Research, which has offices in the both the United States and the United Kingdom. The group notes that four Nobel Prize–winning biologists are among the signatories: William Campbell, Mario Capecchi, Carol Greider, and Torsten Wiesel. It was also signed by students, lab technicians, veterinarians, physicians, and a few public policy experts.
“I read the letter and decided within minutes that I would sign it,” says Greider, a biologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her discovery of the enzyme telomerase. “Animal research is very important to understanding fundamental biological mechanisms.”
She points as an example to her work with colleagues on a 1998 Nature paper that used mice to discover the role of telomerase in allowing organs with lots of cell turnover to function and stay healthy—and how those findings led to others that illuminated what goes wrong in people with a condition called short telomere syndrome.
Speaking of Research was clear, in this press release, about its aims in launching the letter: “We hope this action will put pressure on institutions across the US to develop new and innovative ways to communicate their vital research with the American public.”
The Washington, D.C.–based advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which opposes animal research, said it welcomed the call for transparency. “We urge animal experimenters to video everything they do, from inducing heart attacks in dogs to shocking the feet of mice to cutting open the skulls of monkeys, and release it to the public that funds most of it,” said PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo. “We ask them to be open about the fact that 90% of animal studies fail to lead to treatment for humans and to explain why they still use animals in drug research when 95% of new drugs that test safe and effective in animals fail in human trials.”