The VA and the FDA come down on opposite sides of the animal testing divide
In the dog-eat-dog world of Washington politics, it sometimes seems as though the right paw doesn’t know what the left paw is doing.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last Friday that it’s launching a new study to help establish a non-animal-based model for scientific research—a model that could one day eliminate the use of live animals in potentially lethal research experiments.
The announcement follows a considerably more controversial announcement by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that it plans to continue its practice of using dogs in invasive and occasionally fatal research experiments aimed at helping veterans suffering spinal cord injuries.
Some of those experiments require researchers to remove sections of dogs’ brains in order to examine neurons that control breathing. The animals are then killed by lethal injection. Other experiments involve using electrodes on dogs’ spinal cords to measure cough reflexes before and after severing the cords.
Previous experiments conducted by the VA included putting pacemakers in dogs, then inducing irregular heart rhythms and running the animals on treadmills to test cardiac function. Afterward, the dogs were euthanized by either lethal injection or by draining their blood.
The VA testing is opposed by animal rights groups and some veterans’ groups on the one hand, while supported by other medical and veterans’ groups on the other.
Meanwhile, the FDA’s announcement stands in stark contrast to the what some perceive as the VA’s digging in its heels. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement: “The agency is optimistic that cultivating these types of new research approaches can help continue to reduce the need for animal testing.”
The agency’s goal is to do one single study involving a small number of dogs in which the dogs will be subject to minimally invasive blood sampling and then adopted out at the completion of the trial. By doing a single study, the FDA hopes to eliminate the need to use dogs in certain types of future studies, some of which might have involved euthenization.
The results of the FDA study could extend beyond internal FDA use and impact other major actors in the area of animal research. Gottlieb said, “If validated, this study could provide a new tool for animal drug developers to use in their support of applications submitted to the agency without the use of animals.”
Unlike the polarizing reaction to the announcement by the VA, response to the FDA’s has been positive, with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praising the initiative.
US Representative Ken Calvert (R-California) said, “The FDA has shown real commitment to reducing wasteful animal testing.” Meanwhile, Representative Dina Titus (D-North Virginia) said, “I applaud the FDA’s announcement today that it will be phasing out this shameful practice and instead pursuing adoption for its lab dogs and investments in more humane research technology.”
In a pointed swipe at the VA, Titus added “This progressive move stands in stark contrast to the VA’s insistence on continuing outdated dog testing.”
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