Researchers in the UK should report more details than they currently do about how much their lab animals are suffering, according to recent recommendations by a UK working group. But one prominent pain researcher thinks such requirements are useless. Last week, a working group made up of research scientists, veterinary surgeons, and animal care technicians, representing the Animal Procedures Committee and Lab Animals Science Association, released a report calling for more stringent reporting o
Oct 7, 2008
Researchers in the UK should report more details than they currently do about how much their lab animals are suffering, according to recent recommendations by a UK working group. But one prominent pain researcher thinks such requirements are useless. Last week, a working group made up of research scientists, veterinary surgeons, and animal care technicians, representing the Animal Procedures Committee and Lab Animals Science Association, released a report calling for more stringent reporting of animal suffering in research. Currently, the UK researchers must apply to the government for licenses to conduct procedures on animals, and in the licensing process must declare whether animals will experience mild, moderate, or severe suffering during the experimental procedures. The working group submitted a preliminary version of their recommendations in 2006, in response to a 2001 House of Lords committee request for the issue of animals in research to be examined. This is the final version of their report. The working group attempted to devise a new "two grid" reporting system to report the duration and pain level of each procedure in a given project. However, they found that even within their small group, pain and suffering were given different values by different members of the committee. "We felt that it introduced a significant risk of leading to differences in interpretation" by various researchers, linkurl:Dominic Wells,;http://www1.imperial.ac.uk/medicine/people/d.wells/ professor at Imperial College London, and member of the working group, told The Scientist. In the end, the group decided to keep the mild, moderate, and severe reporting classes but recommend that researchers report the number of animals that began and finished studies -- current regulations don't require researchers to report the number of animals that finish a study. In addition, the report recommends that at the conclusion of studies researchers disclose what happened to all the animals during the study. "By recording this information in the form we're suggesting, we believe it will have a number of benefits," Wells added. "It will make people think harder about what they're doing; it will make institutions think harder about what they're doing, and move to them to refine procedures." That's all fine and good, linkurl:Jeff Mogil,;http://paingeneticslab.ca/4105/02_01_jeffrey_mogil.asp pain researcher at McGill University in Montreal, told The Scientist, but "we don't know to what degree animals perceive pain and to what degree they suffer from it." In particular, rats and mice, which are prey animals, may well avoid showing they're in pain so as not to seem weak to predators. Asking researchers to rate the level of pain their animals are experiencing -- part of current requirements -- is virtually impossible, he added. On top of that, our methods for detecting pain in animals are flawed, Mogil added. For example, one common measure of suffering is sensitivity after inducing an injury: researchers conclude that if an animal is hypersensitive on an injured hind paw, it is in pain. But are we measuring what we think we're measuring? "Whether they're in pain or not no one has any idea because no one has proposed a series of measures that any one agrees actually does reflect pain," Mogil said. Such judgments have to be made to regulate the use of animals in research, Simon Festing, executive director of the Research Defense Society, a UK organization supporting sensible use of animals in biomedical research, told The Scientist. "We're never 100 percent sure what an animal is experiencing." The recommendations could get adopted into law anywhere from three to 24 months, said Wells, depending on whether they are considered by the Home Office or the European Parliament. The larger problem, Festing noted, is the bureaucratic headache the new recommendations, if accepted by the British Home Office, will cause for researchers. Although the report suggests some current document requirements be replaced with the extra animal suffering reports, the working group hasn't "given a clear equation of the net effect of all these requirements," Festing said. Stringent and burdensome regulations such as those proposed by the report, he added, threaten the global competitiveness of European scientific researchers. "I have no objection to the concept that we should be better identifying what happens to each animal," linkurl:David Wynick,;http://www.bristol.ac.uk/neuroscience/research/groups/pidetails/37 neuroscientist at the University of Bristol, UK, told The Scientist. Wynick breeds some 2000 to 3000 mice a year for molecular studies. "The real questions are who will be doing the identification, the individual investigator or some kind of external assessment. If an external [person] I'm completely against that; they'd be breathing down my neck every day of the week." Wynick added that filling out one extra column on the licensing form would be manageable, but if he had to give the level of suffering for every mouse in his lab, the amount of paper work would be unimaginable. "I've nothing against the [report] in theory, but as always, the devil will be in the details."