By Jim Schutze
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Barnard posits that human subjects could be used to study lung regeneration. For example, UT Southwestern is one of four institutions nationally using the Vitamin A compound of retinoic acid to further stimulate lung growth in dogs; Barnard says the substance could just as well be given to humans under experimental therapies.
"These people are trying to make a rationalization for these studies," says Barnard, who deems their funding better spent on preventive care. The real motive behind such studies, he charges, is attracting much-coveted research dollars to the university and getting articles published in scholarly journals.
This belief, strongly denied by researchers, has engendered its own slogan. "Doctors publish, dogs perish," as Susan Oakey puts it.
The treadmill exercises aren't the only canine experiments at UT Southwestern. Another team is examining how the brain processes information from receptors in skeletal muscles and major arteries, which activate during physical activity and send neural signals to the brain critical to controlling blood pressure. The experiments may help ease heart disease, Schoch says, and are conducted on dogs under full anesthesia.
Schoch says that goats, sheep, and worms are also part of other UT Southwestern experiments, but that rats and mice account for "99 percent" of experiments at the school, which counts more than 1,000 full-time faculty members.
While some groups have fought rodent experiments, arguing they are painful and difficult to extrapolate to human health matters, Animal Connection of Texas says it will focus on dogs first. In the meantime, the group, which successfully fought to end the practice of Dallas shelters selling strays to research labs, plans to continue its protests. Members once inundated Dr. Robert Johnson's neighborhood with fliers detailing the experiments, but some activists considered that tactic too militant, so they stopped it.
The group has also sought access to meetings of the hospital's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, a panel of faculty members that supervises experiments. Initially, hospital officials denied that state open-meetings laws applied to the panel, but they dropped that claim under threat of a lawsuit, according to Don Feare, an Arlington lawyer representing Animal Connection.
Controversy or not, Neal Barnard thinks animal testing is on the wane. He says his group has convinced many medical schools to cease animal lab experiments and succeeded in ending military "cat-shooting" studies, Drug Enforcement Agency narcotics experiments on animals, and monkey self-mutilation projects. Sophisticated analysis, in vitro research, and use of human cells are methods that are gradually replacing animal experiments, he says.
"We are getting better and better at using human patients," Barnard says. "We are seeing fewer and fewer of these crude animal experiments."