Worry and Hope: A Reflection on Public Perception of Animal Research

During the 2019 IACUC Conference (IACUC19), I attended a discussion on engaging the public in conversations about the use of animals in research. As I listened to the speakers, a mental movie fast-forwarded through my mind: news clips, articles, and media posts about research programs being discontinued, about legislation being introduced to either stop or further limit the use of animals in research. The images played in my head in full color and with the deafening sound of something scary.    

Why scary, you might ask? Scary because a few groups with enough resources to launch misleading media campaigns are influencing policy-makers to introduce legislation that will hurt our future and the future of science and medical progress. Scary because these groups are influencing the general public’s opinion by using charged language and images taken out of context to elicit support based on emotions and not on facts. Scary because the work upon which scientific and medical progress depends is being threatened like never before.

From airlines refusing to transport research animals due to fear of being targeted, to the KITTEN and PUPPERS Acts, all these developments will hurt us, if not now, in the near future. 

And my gut tells me that when regulatory agencies ask for input on items of importance to research, an overwhelming number of responses are from detractors of animal research in support of their personal agenda, while those of us in the research world remain silent, maybe finding comfort in the thought that “someone else will reply”.

I recently became a grandad and my daughter and granddaughter are in good health thanks to medical interventions and care developed with the use of research animals. But I wonder how many other mothers and babies will be that lucky if medical progress is paralyzed? How many others who suffered a car accident or were wounded while serving in the military; or those who suffer from epilepsy, or diabetes will be condemned to a life of pain and suffering with no hope that someday a cure or better treatments might be found.

But despite all these fears, at the end of that day at IACUC19, I left with a smile.

I smiled thinking of the many young scientists and research supporters I saw and met during the conference. We have to be strong advocates today and build  bridges for communicating with the public so that a new generation continues to carry the torch in support of responsible animal research into the future.

Speak openly and honestly with family members and neighbors about what you do. Go to your kids’ school and share your knowledge. Volunteer at the local shelter and educate those who are adopting pets about the vaccines, heartworm medication, and other treatments (all developed thanks to animal research) their future pet will benefit from. We can make a difference one conversation at a time.          

Noé Tirado-Muñiz DMV, DVM, MS, CPIA, joined the University of Kentucky Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in 2011 and is currently the Associate Attending Veterinarian and Associate Director for the Office of the Attending Veterinarian (OAV). He serves as Executive Secretary to the IACUC and his functions include IACUC administration, policy development, completion of federally mandated reports, IACUC education and Principal Investigator orientation among others.

Dr. Tirado-Muñiz obtained his DMV from The Superior Institute of Agricultural Sciences of Havana, Cuba (now The Agrarian University of Havana) in 1984 and his second veterinary degree (DVM) in 1994 from The Ohio State University. After being in private practice he was accepted into the Laboratory Animal Residency Program at OSU where he obtained his MS in 1999. He obtained his credential as Certified Professional IACUC Administration in 2014.

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PRIM&R’s next IACUC Conference takes place April 5-7, 2020 in Orlando, FL. Save the date, and consider submitting a session proposal or a poster abstract for a chance to have your work and/or expertise featured on-site!