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‘We need to ensure the public hear the good stories as well’, Dutch audience hears at EARA event

EARA’s latest event at Maastricht University, has highlighted the importance of open, proactive, and accurate communication with the Netherlands public on the use of animals in research.

Around 70 people, from the life sciences community heard speakers from the new EARA member Maastricht University, which hosted the event, EARA, the Max Planck Society, and the news site ScienceGuide discuss the topic, Improving Openness in Animal Research in the Netherlands.

The event was supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).

EARA executive director, Kirk Leech, outlined the past, present, and potential future shift in attitudes and actions towards animal research in the Netherlands and more broadly.

He concluded that the science community’s approach must change to be more proactive and capitalise on opportunities such as the release of animal use statistics, non-technical project summaries, and through establishing national transparency agreements.

“Always mention the animal in the study, this begins to normalise why we use animals in research,” Kirk said.

Leon de Windt, who is professor of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology at Maastricht University and Principal Investigator at CARIM School for Cardiovascular Diseases, discussed animal research in his field of heart failure. This included his experience in engaging with the public and the increasing importance of outreach for publicly funded scientists.

He described how animal models were an essential and, at the moment, irreplaceable part of his ‘tool-box’ in researching treatments for heart failure.

Highlighting the importance of animal research, and the need to be transparent about it at Maastricht University, he said: “Without biomedical research, this university would not exist.”

Science journalist and editor in Chief of the news site ScienceGuide, Sicco de Knecht, gave a specialist view of the public, and political attitude towards animal research in the Netherlands. He also presented a journalist’s perspective of how and why researchers should be more open about their animal studies, in light of how it is often represented in the Dutch media.

“There are two ways in which animal research makes the news: (1) the yearly statistics, (2) outrage.” he said.

“If something is worth doing, it is worth talking about.”

Dr Andreas Lengeling, animal research and welfare officer at the Max-Planck-Society, provided a case example of the proactive action taken at his institution towards better communication and transparency in animal research, including a step-by-step approach to forming an open institution.

This included web-portals for information on animal research, hosting special events where the public directly engage with researchers, opening laboratories for visits, and providing short video clips of the actual research.

“In animal research there are many good stories to tell, and the scientific community needs to ensure that the public gets to hear them as well” said Andreas.

The event ended with a panel discussion where Frits Prinzen, Professor of physiology at Maastricht University, joined the panel. The audience’s questions which spanned broad topics from communicating basic research to whether communication guidance can be drawn from human experiments.

One of the questions asked was “How can you prepare to discuss animal research spontaneously, i.e. outside of an organised interaction?” Where Kirk Leech suggested that they should just “talk about what you know”.

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