At an EARA free online event, this month, in association with KU Leuven, Belgium, more than 70 attendees heard from expert speakers about the need for improving openness and transparency surrounding animal research in the biomedical sector.
The event was moderated by Professor Peter Janssen, professor of neurophysiology at KU Leuven, who opened by sharing his experience at the university, and how cultures of transparency have changed in the years he has worked there.
EARA Executive Director Kirk Leech explained the need for greater transparency across Europe, using figures from the latest EARA Website Study of biomedical institutions to show that although progress in transparency is being made, “there is still a long way to go before we reach satisfactory levels of openness”.
He also shared the work of EARA across Europe, encouraging Belgian institutions to be more open about their animal research and highlighting more recent EARA initiatives, such as #TransparencyThursday on EARA’s Instagram account, where members of the public are invited to pose questions to scientists who use animals in their research.
Professor Jef Arnout, of KU Leuven, spoke about the measures that the university has taken to help increase transparency about the research that takes place. This has been particularly important in KU Leuven as the university if often subject to pressure from animal activists, particularly with the use of rhesus macaque monkeys in research.
“The answer for me, undoubtedly, is that we must be more transparent", said Prof. Arnout, while sharing the measures that KU Leuven has taken to redevelop its website to achieve this aim.
“We need a culture of reflection, and a culture of dialogue, to forward our transparency and research using animals", he said.
Finally, Dr Liesbeth Aerts of Infopunt Proefdieronderzoek (IPPO) and Twitter ambassador for EARA’s Belgium Twitter account (@eara_be) gave the perspectives of an early career researcher on the need for greater transparency.
Dr Aerts shared the history of IPPO, and how it had been formed by a group of young researchers who were dissatisfied with the narrative on animal research, following negative publicity at a Belgian institution, and in response had set up an online platform with the aim of sharing the benefits of animal research.
She stressed the benefits of both national and international collaboration to achieve greater openness, and said: "The sum of what we do is far greater than what we can achieve alone."
Dr Aerts also talked about the Belgian Transparency Agreement, set up with EARA’s support. The agreement now features 18 signatories, both public and private institutions, who are committed to working towards greater transparency about their animal research.
The event then moved to a panel discussion to answer the audience’s questions which were posted online throughout the talks. Questions included “When should we start talking about animal research – at what age?” To answer that, Dr Aerts gave examples of some of the engagement initiatives that IPPO have undertaken to speak about animal research at open days and with schoolchildren. In the UK, Understanding Animal Research runs school outreach visits for students aged between 14 and 18.
Attendees also shared some of their experiences of dealing with the media, with one attendee saying they would encourage others to do the same and “certainly didn't get any negative reactions” by speaking about their work.
Professor Janssen concluded the discussion by encouraging attendees to be more open about their research, ’we all have a responsibility to share our research, and not be afraid’, he added.