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Letter from the editor | 144

Obvious choices

Let us speak clearly: there are no other real or efficient alternatives to using so-called guinea pigs in a great many experiments that are essential for research projects focusing on human health and lives. Therefore, even though the animal rights issue should include a debate on the related ethical aspect, which can sometimes be complex, this issue seems to include a dose of demagoguery, as exemplified by the vociferous attitude that is beginning to be seen in Brazil against the use of laboratory animals in scientific experiments. To illustrate, let us take the case in Rio de Janeiro: if a local law in effect since late December, which makes it illegal to use laboratory animals, were strictly complied with, we would witness the unprecedented obstruction of a significant part of the research conducted by renowned scientific institutions in Rio de Janeiro. However, city councilman and actor Claudio Cavalcanti, who proposed the bill, justified it as follows: “A person who tortures small beings unable to defend themselves, beings that scream and cry out in pain – whether he be a researcher or a psychopath – is the scum of the earth.”

Rio de Janeiro’s academic community, which has no reason to identify its professional practices as torture, nor any reason to accept being absurdly referred to as scum of the earth of any kind, reacted very strongly. As reported by special editor Fabrício Marques in the cover story of this issue, Rio’s academic community decided to take action. Prominent academics contacted the state’s congressional representatives to ask them to help pass a bill, submitted for congressional approval 12 years ago, that establishes rules for the discerning use of animals in experiments. In addition, the academic community decided to continue using laboratory animals under a protocol already approved by the ethics committees of their research institutes.

In a scene which was at great risk of leading to totally irrational discussions, the article written by Fabrício Marques serenely and competently reviews the facts linked to the use of animals in scientific experiments, the evolution and the consequences of such use, and the reasons why these animals nowadays are essential for the progress of knowledge. On the first page of the article, he states that: “Forbidding the use of animals would generate immediate harm on a nationwide level, such as the lack of vaccines, including the yellow fever vaccine. The quality control of the vaccines made in Rio by Fiocruz relies on laboratory animals. The inoculation in mice attests to the quality of the antigens before they are applied to people. If rodents are no longer to be used, then the distribution of vaccines for such diseases as hepatitis B, rabies, meningitis and BCG would have to be interrupted because of safety issues.” What should the choice be? Familiarity with the facts broadens the scope and the fairness of the debate, hence the Pesquisa FAPESP cover story.

Another article in the scientific and technology policies sector also deserves highlighting. The article focuses on the institutional changes under way at Embrapa, which are expected to strengthen the company’s work in Africa, Europe and even in Latin America. As reported on page 32 by political editor Claudia Izique, Embrapa, established in 1973 as a government company, has become a center of excellence in R&D, and has now reached a crucial point in its existence: the time has come to transform all the knowledge it has produced into more wealth. This will be achieved by new activities abroad and through partnerships with the private sector in Brazil.

Regarding scientific matters, I would like to highlight the article on a recent discovery related to an enzyme often found in more advanced stages of arthritis. This fact was already well known, but, as reported on page 50 by special editor Carlos Fioravanti, it has been proven that this protein may be one of the causes of this disease. This finding will broaden the understanding of arthritis – which affects approximately 2 million people in Brazil – 1.5 million of whom are women who experience the first signs of arthritis around the age of 35 – and will also help understand how and why current treatments used to stop the disease’s progress are sometimes successful and sometimes not.

In the pages on technology, the article by assistant editor Dinorah Ereno merits special attention. It focuses on a variety of cassava, containing a lot of sugar rather than starch in the root which seems to be particularly promising for the production of ethanol (page 68).

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