The first thing that Alison Richards, Ingham Institute’s Research Support Officer, noticed when she drove into the city of Denver in Colorado, USA, were the flags adorning each street pole. What made these flags so interesting to Alison was they were promoting the animal research conference that she was there to attend.
Alison explains that this open celebration of animal research is in stark contrast to similar conferences in Australia where attendees are given plain lanyards and plain conference bags no with no clear identification or reference to animal research.
“In the U.S, they’re much more open about animal research. They’ve worked hard to break the stigma around it,” she explains.
One of the ways the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) does this is by incorporating an Animal Research Education and Awareness Program (AREA) for school children into the conference. 150 students aged 15/16 took part in this year’s program in which Alison was a volunteer.
“Initially, many of the children weren’t comfortable with the idea of animal research,” Alison explains.
“We helped them to clarify what issues they were concerned about and addressed the myths around animal research.”
“The students were led through typical research processes including research concepts, setbacks, sponsorship, funding and the successful development of a drug to benefit both humans and animals,” she explains.
Alison believes that programs such as this one, not only help to break down the stigma attached to animal research, but also educates the students about possible careers in biomedical research.
Coming back to her role as Research Support Officer at Ingham Institute, Alison plans to examine options for including an animal research component into the current schools’ program curriculum. She is also keen to implement a similar schools’ program at the next Australian conference.
“We need to be more open about animal research in Australia. That involves teaching people about how much care goes on behind the scenes and, how both human and animal lives, can potentially be saved as a result of research.”