Openness Awards and Paget Lecture 2023
On Monday, 4 December 2023, UAR hosted the tenth annual Openness Awards and 86th Stephen Paget Memorial Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians in London.
Concordat on Openness Annual Report
Next May we will celebrate ten years since the launch of the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK. The journey began in 2012, when opinion polling showed that the public wanted to know more about animal research and in October of the same year, a Declaration on Openness on Animal Research was signed by over 40 organisations involved with bioscience in the UK. These organisations committed to developing a Concordat setting out how they would be more open about the ways in which animals are used in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK. In 2013, UAR conducted two pieces of public research to reflect and incorporate the views of the public and the wider research community. A public dialogue with Ipsos MORI to understand what people in the UK think constitutes openness and transparency about animal research and an Openness Consultation that would guide the final drafting of the Concordat. In May 2014 the Concordat on Openness was finally launched with 72 signatories, as a publicly accountable pledge to be more open about research involving animals. Nearly 10 years later, 125 organisations have committed to enhancing their animal research communications in the UK and the Concordat has given rise to a further nine transparency agreements across the world. With an eleventh agreement coming soon in the US.
Chris Petkov, Chair of UAR Council, welcomed the publication of the ninth annual Concordat report.
The reporting period for the 2023 annual survey (May 2022 – May 2023) was the first since the 2019 annual survey not to include any national Covid-19 lockdowns. This is reflected in an increase in face-to-face engagement, although many activities still haven’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Online engagement remains at an all-time high even while face-to-face engagement increases with many Concordat signatories continuing to develop their animal research webpages and adding information, images, and videos that explain their research more clearly.
Professor Sir Colin Blakemore Memorial Award
The inaugural Professor Sir Colin Blakemore Memorial Award was presented by Professor Amrita Ahluwalia, Dean for Research in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the Barts and London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and the event’s Paget Lecturer to Aimee Paterson, Small Animal Facility Supervisor at the Babraham Institute.
Professor Sir Colin Blakemore was a staunch supporter of openness and didn’t shy away from talking about his work to anyone who would listen. Colin was the recipient of UAR’s very first Openness Award in 2014, and his bravery in continuing to talk about the importance of research using animals in the face of animal rights extremism was an inspiration to many.
In memory of Colin, with the blessing of his family and with funding from the Biomedical Research Education Trust, the Professor Sir Colin Blakemore Memorial Award recognises an individual from a signatory organisation who has worked to improve public understanding of how and why animals are used in the UK.
Talking about animal research is not an easy thing to do, it requires bravery, especially when speaking about this subject is not part of your job description. This award is about recognising individuals who are supporting openness by sticking their heads above the parapet, being brave, and doing something in their own name. There are hundreds of individuals doing lots of small things to push openness forwards, who aren’t being recognised for their hard work, and this award is about them.
UAR is absolutely delighted to award the inaugural Professor Sir Colin Blakemore Memorial Award to Aimee Paterson. Aimee is the Small Animal Facility Supervisor at the Babraham Institute. She was nominated by her colleague Louisa Wood for her leadership in coordinating the facility’s participation in an Instagram takeover for UAR. Aimee enthusiastically embraced the opportunity and brought colleagues together to share the work of the institute.
The UAR team was impressed by how Aimee opened the doors to the institute’s lab, and herself, to a very public and uncontrolled audience. Aimee put her name and face on social media in a way that many people are not comfortable doing. We are so thrilled to see more technicians taking courageous steps to engage with the public, and enthusiastic and passionate people like Aimee exemplify the courage and dedication that are the spirit of this award.
The Openness Awards
The first Openness Award was presented by James Bussell, Director of Biomedical and Veterinary Services at the University of Oxford to Imperial College London for its technician-led ‘Mice in Research’ Instagram takeover.
Imperial College London has used social media to raise awareness of laboratory animal welfare and to amplify the voices of the technologists responsible for it. As part of IAT’s Tech Month, Imperial developed a series of content for Twitter, giving voice to animal technologists through quotes describing their experiences and feelings about working in animal research, and their pride in working within the industry. The success of this campaign was followed by a takeover of the UAR Instagram account for ‘Mice in Research Week’. A team that combined animal unit staff, a PhD student and a senior researcher opened the door to the university’s breeding unit, explaining how mice are cared for, how they are used in research at the university, and how the research is regulated.
While the Openness Award judges have previously recognised an Instagram takeover, what made this takeover stand out was that it was technician-led and brought in people from different roles. The takeover showed a variety of content and clearly required a lot of effort to put together.
The second Openness Award was presented by Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Biology to the University of Hertfordshire for a survey done with students to better understand openness.
The University of Hertfordshire recognised the need for internal engagement through a variety of approaches, particularly through efforts made to survey students to understand their perspective on openness and what the university can do better to support this.
The university ran a survey of its student population to discover where its openness programme was in need of improvement and how that could be achieved. The survey delivered clear recommendations on how to enhance openness in webpages, tutorials and practicals in the biosciences. The survey responses were highlighted in a poster presentation at a dedicated 3Rs openness event held at the university’s annual research conference.
The judges felt that this was not only a learning opportunity for how the university can improve, but also an opportunity that other signatories can learn from.
The Stephen Paget Memorial Lecture
The Stephen Paget Memorial Lecture celebrates the life of Stephen Paget who passionately believed that a greater understanding of physiology would lead to better medical advances. He was the founder of the Research Defence Society which later became Understanding Animal Research. This year Professor Amrita Ahluwalia presented the 86th Paget Lecture, ‘Sex and Drugs: My Rock and Roll’.
Amrita is Dean for Research in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the Barts and London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Director of the UKCRC-accredited Barts Cardiovascular Clinical Trials Unit, and Professor of Vascular Pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London where she is a Principal Investigator leading the Vascular Pharmacology Group.
Her research focuses on understanding the role of inflammation in cardiac and vascular disease with a focus on the non-canonical pathway for NO generation and delineating the mechanisms that underlie sex differences in cardiovascular physiology and disease.
Throughout her career, Amrita has persistently raised awareness of the sex bias in experimental work, increased diverse representation in biomedical science, promoted responsible animal research, and nurtured the next generation of researchers. She was a Project licence holder for over 15 years and in her seven years as Editor in Chief of the British Journal of Pharmacology, she helped generate an incredible amount of practical and internationally relevant guidance on animal experimentation.
Starting her lectures with what she has in common with Stephen Paget, Amrita went on to talk about how differences in sex impact cardiovascular disease and the importance of robust experimental studies involving both male and female animals.