Saturday, May 12, 2007 3:28 AM
By Charlie Boss
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
The arguments haven't changed.
Scientists at Ohio State University say the use of animals in research saves lives. Critics argue that the research is inhumane and unnecessary. The number of animals used in research at Ohio State has more than tripled since 1989. Most are rats and mice. The number of cats and dogs has fluctuated since 2000, but the use of pigs reached a record high last year.
One recently approved study that would use dogs has spurred action from a local animal-rights group. Members of Protect Our Earth's Treasures, or POET, met on campus this week to protest the use of dogs in heart studies.
The group is targeting George Billman, a physiology researcher who was approved to use as many as 120 dogs in his future research. Billman did not respond to phone or e-mail requests for an interview, but OSU spokesman Earle Holland said the researcher wants to investigate whether ingested omega-3 fatty acids protect against heart attacks. To test the theory, Billman wants to surgically create blockages in dogs' arteries and have them exercise on treadmills. The dogs that live through the heart attacks would be euthanized and their heart tissue studied. Billman previously studied injected omega-3 fatty acids.
In a paper published last year in Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Billman wrote that he has used 768 dogs in 25 years of research.
"We're going to work to make sure he's not doing that for another 25 years," said POET Director Rob Russell, who was one of eight protesters who held signs and passed out fliers outside Hamilton Hall on Wednesday. The group has protested a number of projects in the past, most notably one that involved former OSU researcher Michael Podell four years ago.
Podell led a project in which cats were infected with feline HIV and then given methamphetamines to see how the drugs affect the progression of the disease in the brain. Podell left the project and the university amid protests.
Like Protect Our Earth's Treasures, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has raised concerns over Billman's work as well as other projects at OSU, said PETA senior researcher Alka Chandna.
"It's really devastating," she said. "A lot of federal money is going to pointless devastation." She said PETA has sent protest letters to the university.
Russell said he is planning as many as four protests before the end of the school year against Billman's work. Cats and dogs make up less than 1 percent of the research animals used at Ohio State. And the numbers have dropped since 2001. Still, the total number of lab animals has increased annually. In fiscal year 2006, about 128,000 animals -- 84 percent were mice and rats -- were used in research. That's more than double the number in 2000.
Experts say researchers are veering from higher-order animals to rodents, especially transgenic mice whose genes have been manipulated to reflect specific diseases.
"Yes, there are more animals being used, but they are used in a different capacity and to study different problems," said Bruce Kennedy, president of the American Association for Animal Laboratory Science in Memphis, Tenn. Kennedy, who monitors human and animal studies at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, said the current movement is to shift to tissue culture, worms, invertebrates and computer models.
But that isn't always the case. "We will always need animals," said James King, interim chairperson and professor of neuroscience at Ohio State. King said he mostly has used rats in his 35 years of research on how the human brain works.
"The computer can simulate the biology processes, but not to the degree with the questions we try to answer," he said.