The European Animal Research Association is deeply concerned by the ideologically based decision of the competent authority for the federal state of Bremen, that has halted significant neuroscience research using animals (see also in German).
The application for project authorisation by Prof Andreas Kreiter, head of the Laboratory for Cognitive Neurophysiology, at the University of Bremen, entitled Time- and space-dependent dynamics of cognitive processing in the mammalian brain, which uses monkeys for part of the research, was not approved by the Senator's Department for Health, Women and Consumer Protection, which also published a public statement on its decision.
The Department’s ruling, which appears to be dogmatically driven by some members of the authority, is that, ‘the clinical applicability of the intended gain in knowledge is uncertain’. Consequently, this research has been labelled ‘ethically unacceptable’ and stopped. The issue has now passed to the Bremen courts for a decision.
The statement is neither true in scientific terms, nor is there any justification for it in the existing regulations. Both EU Directive 2010/63 and the German Animal Welfare Act acknowledge basic research as a legitimate purpose for animal use. Freedom of science is also highly valued in the Charter of fundamental rights of the EU (Art. 13).
Although it is easier to see the benefits to human health that result from applied research, the need for basic scientific research using animals is paramount as it creates the building blocks for future studies. In order to understand how the brain functions, or how certain diseases affect the structure and function of our cells and organ systems, and to assess possible treatments, scientists must first understand how those areas function normally. When basic research is undertaken, it does not focus on a specific disease, but rather aims at increasing scientific understanding of how the human body works, and with Kreiter’s work, how the brain functions. Understanding can then lead to new and often totally unsuspected ways in which diseases can be tackled.
Such research may sometimes need to involve the use of monkeys, due to the similarity of their physiology to humans, to ensure that the results provide a valid basis for applied research. Monkeys are the only animals that can perform complex cognitive tasks in a way that mirrors human activity. Research involving monkeys gives scientists uniquely valuable information about our cognitive processes and the areas of the brain involved. Basic, curiosity-driven research has substantially improved our understanding of brain function and dysfunction. Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy for stroke research to Deep Brain Stimulation, used in the treatment of patients with Parkinson’s, are just two examples of where basic research influenced applied medical therapies.
Understanding gained from basic research can lead into applied research leading to new medicines. And although Kreiter’s work can guarantee no such awe-inspiring applied results, his efforts to better understand brain function should be supported as it will be essential for fundamental scientific understanding. We call on the competent authority in Bremen to not allow those driven by ideology to halt such important scientific research.