Everything we do at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research we do in the firm belief that it will – either today or in the future – help the patients we serve.
We want the research we support to be of the best quality and have the greatest impact for patients. Some of this research involves animals, mainly mice, to help us understand the biology of blood cancers and to develop new treatments. Ensuring this is done to high standards is not only the responsible and ethical thing to do, but the best way to ensure high quality scientific results. We know this has led to effective treatments in the past and we’re confident it will in the future – that is why we made our position clear on our website.
Along with other leading medical research charities, research institutions and learned societies, we also signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. We support the principle of greater dialogue and transparency across the life sciences sector, and are happy to play our part. We have already started mentioning when animals were used when we talk about our research in blog posts and new releases, and included a FAQ section on our animal research policy page. We also contributed to the development of AMRC’s Talking to the Public Animal Research.
Last summer, the research, media and policy teams at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research ran a workshop for all staff. The key aims were to make sure everyone working for the charity understood the research we did and knew how to handle questions from the public. The policy team introduced the external drivers, such as changing public attitudes, government commitments, the sector’s desire for a more transparency and accountability. They explained our position statement in detail and the importance of our language as a compassionate, patient-centered organisation.
The research team focused on why and how animals are used in medical research, and in particular how they are used by our researchers. We also touched on how, at every level, high standards of animal welfare are ensured and what the sector is doing to better this. I explained that around a quarter of our current grants in some way use animals, mainly mice and zebrafish, which include genetically engineered animals and xenografts. The main techniques used are breeding, blood and tissue sampling, imaging and drug testing.
All our research is carried out in the UK’s leading universities, hospitals and institutes, with highly trained staff and vets. I outlined the strict regulatory mechanisms in place in this country, such as research ethics committees, people, place and project licences, and regular home office inspections of animal houses. I also presented the work we were planning to do to embed the principles of the 3Rs – to reduce, replace and refine wherever possible– and to adapt relevant sections of the ARRIVE guidelines for the grant proposals we assess.
As the majority of the staff were not from a science background, I showed a couple of videos from Understanding Animal Research that showed the inside of an animal house and how technicians care of the animals, as well as reactions of patients who visited the facilities. When patients see the high standards of care and hear exactly how the work being done will help people in the future, it really brings the importance of the work to bear.
The media team ran through some of the many commonly asked questions and the information a member of staff might need to answer them. Importantly, they made staff aware of a couple of key contacts within the charity who were happy to receive any queries – another commitment in the Concordat.
The staff who attended the workshop gave some really positive feedback, especially those who felt better equipped to deal with external queries. We’re planning another one this year and to make it a permanent fixture, so new starters get this important information too.
It’s great to see the sector working together on this important issue, and we’re grateful to the AMRC for the support it gives to medical research charities.