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European neuroscientists fear research restrictions

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

European brain researchers have warned that pressure to end animal research is putting at risk the development of new treatments for brain disorders.

In an article in the scientific journal Neuron, signed by 70 scientists from the Netherlands, together with colleagues from across the world and also EARA, said that without animal research effective treatments for diseases such as depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, brain tumours and ADHD would not be possible.

The neuroscientists said: “The development of new technologies in neuroscience that has just recently allowed us to have a streak of discoveries, could be stopped in its tracks if we compromise animal research now.”

The signatories argue that ‘there is currently no foreseeable end to the need for animal research in neuroscience’, but that research is currently ‘overburdened by bureaucracy’ with regulations making applications for research proposals using animals too inflexible. This means that studies have been delayed or even halted.

They have now called for monitoring of the long-term consequences of these increasing administrative restrictions on scientific research. The issues are also explored in an EARA article.

The neuroscientists said: “To keep neuroscience research viable and continue making progress, we think that policymakers need to listen more carefully to animal researchers”.

While brain research also uses non-animal research methods, such as organoids made from human cells, the researchers believe a mini-brain will never be able to respond to the environment and cannot exhibit behaviour and cognition.

And while computer systems can also support, but not replace, laboratory animal research, the scientists commented that little is yet known about the brain to build a computer system that can reliably mimic the brain, making neuroscience a field where animal-free research is far from always possible.

The scientists explained that the process of receiving the first ethical approval for research should on average take approximately six months. However, in reality, the total process often takes much longer, e.g. in Germany, 80 percent of applications are not processed in time, so that paperwork and approvals often take longer than the duration of the proposed experiment. Deviating from the research protocol also requires an amendment of the ethical permit, meaning that even making changes to use fewer animals or perform fewer measurements requires express permission.

The researchers also fear the risk that animal research will move to countries where animal welfare standards differ from the high standards set by the European Union.



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