To whomever reading this first post of a shiny, brand new year, A Happy New Year To You. May the year ahead bring you joy, peace and accomplishments galore.
Bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoan parasites; we share our world with countless agents of infectious, disease-causing bugs. Globally, infectious (or ‘communicable’) diseases of various stripes – respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, and meningitis among them – together remain the fourth leading cause of death, with people from lower-income countries being disproportionately more affected. Children form an especially vulnerable group; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 6.6 million children under 5 years died worldwide in 2012, and over two-thirds of these deaths were attributable to infectious causes.
Last fall, I wrote with a great deal of concern about the deleterious effect of the sequestration on Federally-funded Biomedical Research in the United States, including real-life examples of scientists in jeopardy highlighted in the Huffington Post. In another post, I pointed out how sequestration-mandated cuts to funding from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), coupled with the ill-conceived government shutdown, were seriously imperiling invaluable and irreplaceable scientific research. Although the shutdown was rescinded by the third week of October 2013, it left behind grave concerns about long-term fallouts, especially in less visible areas associated with scientific research in this country.
My readers may remember a previous post detailing a crisis in animal-based research in Italy. Early this morning I received a note from the Basel Declaration Society alerting me to an urgent situation developing in Belgium. Scientific research with non-human primates appears to be in serious jeopardy in that nation, but it is hardly likely that the fallout from any anti-science policy prohibiting research will remain restricted to Belgium alone. Bioscientists from Belgium are asking for immediate help and support from the world science community; Prof Rufin Vogels, current President of the Belgian Society for Neuroscience, and his colleagues have formulated a petition to the Ministers of the EU and the members of the Belgian parliament. The Basel Declaration Society (to which I am a signatory) is supporting this petition; I am including the text of the petition. Please read it and consider signing.
US citizens amongst readers and well-wishers of this blog, here is an important legislative alert via the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), of which I am a member. I have shared previous legislative alerts with you – to inform you and enable your participation in this nation’s democratic processes, so that your voice reaches your elected representatives. This time is no different, and this is as crucial as before. I received it via email this morning (the emphasis on the links by bold-face is mine); please read and act.
I have written earlier about the peril that Italian Biomedical research finds itself in, due to extreme, immoderate and unreasonable restrictions on animal experimentation that the Italian Parliament approved recently. Via a missive from the Basel Declaration society (Disclaimer: I am an individual signatory to and supporter of the Basel Declaration), I learnt this morning about a PETITION (in Italian, and in English) that several prominent Italian Biomedical Scientists have launched, directed at European Commission officials and copied to several relevant ministers in Italy.
I am including here the text of the English version of the petition. Please read, support and share it. The place to put your name, email, and optionally, location and degree, is to the right side of the petition text (see the petition page link above). The field-names are unfortunately written in Italian even in the English page, but they are not difficult to understand. Upon signing the petition, you’d receive an email with a validation link which you must remember to click in order for your signature to be registered.
Please stand with these scientists for the sake of not only saving Italian scientific research, but also maintaining the integrity and continuity of biological research as a whole throughout the world.
Dr. Janez Potočnik
European Commissioner for the Environment
Directorate General for the Environment
Dr. Susanna Louhimies
Policy Officer- Use of animals for scientific purposes
Directorate General for the Environment
B- 1049 Bruxelles
Minister of Health of Italy
On. Beatrice Lorenzini
Minister of EU Affairs of Italy
On. Enzo Moavero Milanesi
Minister of the University and Scientific Research of Italy
On. Maria Chiara Carrozza
Subject: Implementation in Italy of EU Directive 63-2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific research in Italy. Art. 13, Law n. 96/2013.
Dear Dr. Potočnik:
We are writing to share our concerns on the criteria approved by the Italian Parliament concerning the implementation of the European Directive 2010/63 on the protection of laboratory animals in Italy.
As a scientific community we have approved and supported the decision to generate an harmonized approach shared by the whole Community. The European discussion has lasted almost a decade and has led to a well-balanced compromise between the demands of animal welfare and the interests of research.
This well balanced compromise has been challenged by the Italian Parliament with
severe risks for the future of biomedical research in the country.
We ask you to help re-balance the discussion by warning the Italian Government that the Parliament has approved decisions is in violation of art. 2 of Directive EU 63-2010. If transformed into a legislative decree by the Government, those decisions will make the Italian law much more severe and restrictive than the EU Directive.
Specifically we ask you to convince the Italian Government to implement in Italy the EU Directive 63-2010 as the UE Parliament and Commission have licensed it. This will require the rejection of the Art. 13 of the national law of implementation of the EU Directives for 2013 (Legge di delegazione europea 2013, n. 96, published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, Serie generale n. 194, 20/08/2013, into force since 04/09/2013).
The different paragraphs of art. 13 of the above mentioned law contains a severe limitation to the use of cats, dogs and non-human primates for basic research, limitations in the re-use of animals of any nature previously employed in procedures classified as of “moderate” severity, prohibition of research on non-anaesthetized animals, limitation in the use of genetically modified animals, a ban of animal experiments on xenotransplantation and drug addiction, a ban of animal breeding centers in the national territory.
We trust that the strict control and ethical review mechanisms proposed by the EU Directive are the most effective mechanisms to prevent unnecessary and unjustified pain and suffering for animals. The Italian scientific community is very supportive of this strict review process but opposes any total bans, as fully inappropriate to regulate the complexity of biomedical research, and liable to damage it severely without adding significant benefits to animal welfare.
In the interest of biomedical research in Italy, we ask you to follow our recommendations and help us obtain a new and well balanced Italian animal welfare legislation, in line with the European directive.
Fabio Benfenati, Professor of Physiology, University of Genova
Giovanni Berlucchi, Professor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Verona
Roberto Caminiti, Professor of Physiology, University of Rome SAPIENZA, Chair, Committee of Animals in Research (CARE), Federation of the European Neuroscience Societies (FENS)
Enrico Cherubini, Professor of Physiology, SISSA, Trieste, President of the Italian Society of Neuroscience (SINS)
Francesco Clementi, Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology, University of Milan, and National Council of Research, Milan
Gaetano Di Chiara, Professor of Pharmacology, University of Cagliari
Silvio Garattini, Director, Institute for Pharmacological Research Mario Negri, Milan
Jacopo Meldolesi, Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology, University Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan, past President of the Italian Federation of Life Sciences
Giacomo Rizzolatti, Professor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Parma
Carlo Reggiani, Professor of Physiology, University of Padua, President of the Italian Physiological Society
Piergiorgio Strata, Professor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Turin
A couple of weeks back, a New York Times piece prompted me to voice my concerns about the future of science funding in the US. Today I came across a news release made around the same time by the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), which reflected the same concern.
This, most certainly, is not the forum where I want to discuss politics. Yet, inevitably, politics spilleth over into the sphere of science and scientific research in the US. Last night, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, and increased their numbers in the Senate. Ever since Barack Obama became the President of the US eighteen months back, the only agendum of the extremely partisan Congressional Republicans has been to block every move that he and his office have made. Today, an alarming report in the New York Times states that money for scientific research may be scarce with a Republican-led House.