During the summer an Italian court ordered the temporary closure of one of Europe’s biggest dog breeding companies.
After an intense campaign by policymakers and animal rights groups, the Green Hill animal breeding firm closed its doors, having handed more than 2,500 dogs over to animal rights campaigners in line with the court ruling.
Activists – and plenty of ordinary tweeters who just love dogs – celebrated. If you almost never give much thought to animal research, a headline about dogs in Italy being saved rather than sacrificed looks like good news.
But could the Green Hill story prove to be a pyrrhic victory for animal rights campaigners?
Read the Europe 2020 strategy and the Innovation Union policy and the message from EU policymakers is clear. Europe says it needs to be in the Premier League of scientific R&D, not just because research delivers solutions that help improve our lives, but because we want to develop and produce things that have value; things people in the US, Japan, China and elsewhere will buy from us.
Rhetoric vs reality
But what is the reality behind the rhetoric? And is Europe sending mixed signals about its support for research?
In our research labs we use genetically altered animals, usually mice, to test scientific theories which we hope will one day lead to new medicines and treatments. In terms of my own work, we create mice with trisomy, which means they have an extra copy of a certain chromosome. In humans, trisomy 21, otherwise known as Down syndrome, is probably the most well-known of these conditions.
The goal is to find ways of alleviating the symptoms of these conditions. We look at how trisomy changes neurological mechanisms and how it influences embryonic development, stem cells, and the programming and function of cells. We identify and target these mechanisms and hope to treat them through therapeutic drugs. These mechanisms are often similar to those affecting humans with comparable conditions.