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In association with the University of Tübingen, the CIN organized a panel discussion in the lecture hall of the CRONA clinic on Monday June 24, 2013, with the theme of the need for animal experimentation in biomedical research (‘Tiernutzung in der biomedizinishen Forschung: eine verdrängte Notwendigkeit?’) The purpose of the event was to explore various aspects of animal experimentation in neuroscientific and biomedical research. The initiative was part of the CIN’s efforts to engage with the public and generate an informed debate in which the widest possible range of views is represented. A particular focus of this event was to give voice to two particular groups – scientists and patients – whose perspectives on the difficult issues involved are often overlooked or misrepresented.
The panel of ten members represented a very wide spectrum of parties with an interest in and experience of animal experimentation and associated issues. Each panelist, introduced by moderator Hans-Dieter Assmann of the University of Tübingen, was given a few minutes to make opening remarks stating their views. Stefan Treue, Director of the German Primate Centre in Göttingen, set the scientific context by describing why there is a need to use non-human primates in scientific research. The legal situation was set out by Wolfgang Löwer of the University of Bonn, in particular the constitutional guarantee for freedom of scientific research. He explained how thresholds for the acceptable burden on experimental animals are defined, an issue raised by the State Commissioner for Animal Protection Cornelie Jäger, who criticized the law as it currently stands. She also argued for greater transparency and the need for public input.
Jörg Luft of Convance Laboratories, giving the perspective of the biomedical industry, offered some precise figures on how many animals were used in pharmaceutical trials and explained how important it was to guarantee the safety of medicines and other products tested on animals. Andreas Nieder represented the view of those using animals in their teaching at the university. Apart from representing the benefits from a teaching perspective, he stressed the inadequacy of substitutes such as computer models in their current state of development. Karin Blumer of Novartis explored the ethical dimensions from the perspective of a scientist and a philosopher. She put across the importance of treating each case on its merits and made the point that having no animal experimentation could have adverse consequences, not only for clinical trials for medicines but also for basic research.
One of the main goals of the event was to bring the views of patients to the fore. Treatments for conditions such as blindness and degenerative brain disorders have only been possible thanks to scientific research in which animals were used. Two CIN scientists made this point, and introduced patients they had treated by way of specific examples. Eberhart Zrenner, whose prosthetic helps to restore vision to sufferers of retinal degeneration, spoke of how the safety and durability of the implant he developed could only be demonstrated once it had been tried in animal models. Giving his perspective too was Sharam Bagheri, a participant in human trials of the implant, who described how he has benefitted from the device. Marina Stüber, a sufferer of the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich’s Ataxia and board member of the German Ataxia society, a patient’s advocacy group for sufferers and their families, spoke of her condition, its progress and the professional help she has received, which has improved her quality of life. Peter Thier, as a neurologist very familiar with the disease, was able to give some context. He explained how the patient was one of many in Germany who suffer from rare diseases, and that in her case it was only possible to hope for treatment as a result of research carried out on a mouse model.
Following a brief exchange among panelists, the moderator opened up discussion to members of the audience. Many opponents of animal experimentation were present in the lecture hall and were given ample opportunity to speak, although some complained that the panel was biased in favour of those supporting the use of animals in research. Several animal rights activists talked at length, and there were encouraging signs that some of those actively involved in animal welfare issues are informed and willing to adopt a moderate stance that acknowledges responsible animal experimentation, while still working to protect animals.
As a whole the event was encouraging. CIN Spokesman Peter Thier was pleased that scientists and patients have at last begun to state their case to the public on the use of animal experimentation in treatment, research and industry. “It’s a small step forward,” he said. “The panel discussion showed how difficult it can be to get our points across, but we are more determined than ever to make our case.”