SABRE Research UK
|Type||Registered UK Charity|
|Focus||Calling for systematic reviews of animal studies to determine the value of animal research to human health.|
|Slogan||Promoting systematic reviews for better healthcare|
|Website||SABRE Research UK|
SABRE Research UK is a British charity raising awareness of the need to remove bias from the conduct and scientific evaluation of animal research. It addresses this issue by calling for systematic reviews of existing animal studies (published results of laboratory animal experiments). The charity was constituted in 2005 in response to disquiet about uninformed opinions about the scientific value of animal studies and dissatisfaction with 'polarised positions in the debate about animal research'. The charity found that neither the proponents of animal research nor its opponents were able to produce sufficiently sound scientific evidence in support of their opposing cases.
The charity is independent from political parties, animal research advocacy groups, the pharmaceutical industry, animal rights groups or any other vested interests. It does not take a position on the moral, welfare or ethical use of animals in research. Its interests lie in the economic costs, the application and relevance of animal research to human health and how the results of animal experiments are analysed, evaluated and interpreted and the resulting data used to inform the design of clinical trials.
The formation of the charity followed the publication of an Education and Debate paper in the BMJ in 2004 which expressed concerns about the lack of scientific evidence to support the claims made by animal research advocates. The paper, itself a systematic review, was the first to call for systematic reviews of animal studies. It also called for the prospective registration of all animal research projects licensed by the Home Office. The authors were concerned that animal research is not conducted, analysed and reported (published) as rigorously as clinical research, which has reporting standards such as the CONSORT statement for randomised controlled clinical trials. These measures are considered important as they promote higher standards of research conduct through higher reporting standards.
In 2005 a report was published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics which called for systematic reviews and meta-analyses to be carried out in order to ‘evaluate more fully the predictability and transferability of animal models. The report concluded that 'At present, there is a relatively limited number of useful systematic reviews and meta-reviews that address the question of the scientific validity of animal experiments and tests.’ The report recommended that the programme be funded by the Home Office in collaboration with major funders of research such as the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), animal protection groups and industry associations such as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)’.
A larger study was published in the BMJ in 2007 which drew attention to a lack of communication between animal researchers and clinical researchers and 'identified a gap in knowledge about the usefulness of the volume of animal studies that look at biological mechanisms of disease' and that 'more systematic reviews are needed for a quantitative appraisal of the concordance between animal and clinical trials.' The review reiterated earlier calls for the Home Office to undertake prospective registration of animal studies. The authors had found that the Home Office showed a lack of interest in the quality of record-keeping needed for preparing systematic reviews.
In September 2007 SABRE Research UK designed a Powerpoint presentation for the annual Festival of Science held by the British Association of Science in the United Kingdom. The presentation was given by Professor Michael B Bracken from the American Council on Science and Health. In the lecture he urged scientists to recognize the need for systematic reviews of animal studies.
The charity states that it is generally believed by the public that animal research is only carried out providing:
- it leads to improvements in human health
- non-animal models and technologies are unavailable
- it is not duplicated unnecessarily
- it is not done for trivial and non-medical reasons
- it cannot be conducted ethically in humans
However, the charity cautions that because of biases in research, these conditions are not always met. Although some animal experiments have led to important advances in medicine, researchers have uncovered uncertainties and flaws in the way that much animal research is designed and how it is approved and evaluated. In addition to these questions serious doubts have been raised about the predictive value of animal studies for human health. Professor John Ioannidis says of pre-clinical research 'Evidence-based medicine does not seem to have penetrated basic and preclinical science, while basic and preclinical research is often performed in a clinical and methodological vacuum.’
SABRE's priorities for research involving animals
- Systematic reviews of existing animal studies before funding new animal research.
- Prospective registration of animal studies (to be maintained by the Home Office) with adequate details recorded to inform subsequent systematic reviews.
- Adoption and implementation of the new guidelines (The ARRIVE Guidelines) on reporting animal research, by authors, journal editors, peer reviewers, and funding bodies.
- A large-scale programme of systematic reviews of existing animal studies (the published results of laboratory animal experiments) to be conducted to assess and monitor the value of animal research to the promotion of human health.
It is now increasingly widely accepted that systematic reviews of existing research are needed to assess the value of most scientific research. The results of the reviews form a body of evidence that other researchers, health economists and policy makers can use to inform further research and financial and economic decision-making.
Systematic reviews provide transparency and accountability of research and help to advance medical research by building a more reliable evidence-base derived from the results of the reviews. It is important that sound and rigorous evidence is cumulated and made available through research synthesis.
SABRE Research UK believes that systematic reviews of the data from existing animal studies will help to ensure that only the highest quality pre-clinical research relevant to human health will be done and made available to clinical research and research programmes. Systematic reviews are essential in protecting the health and safety of patients and research volunteers.
The charity has a Methodology Advisory Board with members with expertise in both clinical and animal research. They include Professor Malcolm Macleod whose project CAMARADES is currently leading the way in advancing education about systematic reviews in animal research, Professor Ian Roberts (LSHTM) co-ordinating editor of the Cochrane Injuries Group and Sir Iain Chalmers, who has recently been a member of Research Strategy Committee of the The MS Society of Great Britain, a British medical charity which has recognised the need for systematic reviews of existing pre-clinical as well as clinical research.
For information about biases in medical research readers may visit the James Lind Library (JLL) online resource. For more on biases in animal research readers are referred to Professor Michael Bracken's article in the JLL: Why animal studies are often poor predictors of human exposure.
SABRE Research UK is affiliated to the James Lind Alliance.
- Pound P. et al. Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans? BMJ. 2004 Feb 28;328(7438):514-7.
- Nuffield Council on Bioethics. The ethics of research involving animals. 2005 http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/animal-research
- Perel P. et al, Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials: systematic review. BMJ 2007
- Drug trials put at risk from flawed animal testing. Telegraph Sept 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3307040/Drug-trials-put-at-risk-by-flawed-animal-testing.html
- Hackam DG, Redelmeier DA. Translation of research evidence from animals to humans. JAMA. 2006 Oct 11;296(14):1731-2. Review.
- Matthews R A., Medical progress depends on animal models - doesn't it? J R Soc Med. 2008 Feb;101(2):95-8. Review
- Ioannidis J P, Evolution and translation of research findings: from bench to where? PLoS Clin Trials. 2006 Nov 17;1(7):e36