Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Georgia Regents University in Augusta has come under fire from the Humane Society of the United States for performing painful dental implant experiments on dogs obtained from a questionable dealer. GRU’s vice president of research says the humane society is presenting incomplete facts and inaccuracies in its video, made by an undercover lab worker; proper research protocols were followed; the research was necessary to improve human lives, and proper pain medication was used on the dogs.
Commenting is open.
By Wayne Pacelle
Picture a different life for the dog who loyally sits by your feet every night or who dances with excitement when she sees you — a dog like my beagle mix, Lily, who quickly became a member of my family when we adopted her some months ago.
Imagine, instead, that dog in a laboratory, confined to a cage and taken out of the cage primarily for invasive procedures that result in extended suffering and pain. The life of a dog in a laboratory is no life at all.
In recent years, we’ve seen the number of dogs used in medical research decline, and that’s a good thing. Two million were used annually in the 1960s. Today, it is about 65,000 — still too many, but we’re moving in the right direction. Recently, the Humane Society of the United States released the results of an undercover investigation at Georgia Regents University in Augusta that vividly makes the case that we need to accelerate the process of reducing the use of dogs in invasive experiments.
The investigation uncovered the case of dogs subjected to horrible and painful dental implant experiments, and then summarily killed and thrown in the trash. Our investigator developed a very special bond with one of the dogs who was malnourished and scared of men. The investigator named this little fellow Shy-Guy. Shy-Guy and five other dogs had their teeth pulled out and dental implants put in place — and weeks later, they were killed. The university has been conducting similar experiments on dogs for years.
Our investigator also documented problems with animal care and compliance with federal laws at the university. This encompassed the treatment of monkeys, mice and rats, in addition to dogs.
We found that the university bought these poor dogs from a random-source Class B dealer in Minnesota. These substandard dealers obtain dogs from auctions, flea markets and “free to good home” ads in newspapers. Then they sell them to laboratories. The worst-case scenario is when a stolen pet ends up in a research laboratory.
There’s a lot of history behind this suffering. The founders of the HSUS were at the forefront of exposing the animal dealer pipeline that rounded up dogs and sold them to laboratories. This very issue prompted passage of the first federal law in the United States to address the welfare of animals in laboratories, the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966.
Yet despite tighter restrictions on how animals are sourced by laboratories, random-source Class B dog dealers continue to operate as bottom feeders in the pipeline. The very dealer used by Georgia Regents University is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act. Specifically, the dealer is accused of obtaining multiple dogs from illegal sources. He reportedly sold more than 180 dogs to this one university during a seven-year period.
We are calling on the Department of Agriculture to crack down on Class B dealers and to finally make them a thing of the past. USDA has done a good job on the issue in recent years, and it’s now it’s time to finish the job.
Georgia Regents needs a new approach, too. This is the 21st century, and we should expect more from science-minded universities. There’s no genuine excuse for inflicting this kind of suffering on animals; modern methods are more reliable and cost-effective. As professional dental surgeons have told us, we can continually improve dental techniques by working with patients, at no risk to them.
The public entrusts institutions like Georgia Regents University with millions of dollars in taxpayer funding — $50 million to this one institution. In return, Americans deserve research and testing based on innovative technologies without harming animals.
What our investigator found at Georgia Regents University should not have happened. It should never happen again — not there, or anywhere else.
Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
By Mark W. Hamrick
Sometimes a dental implant isn’t just a dental implant.
At Georgia Regents University, researchers are studying ways to improve oral health, function and quality of life for millions of patients who depend on implants to replace lost or damaged natural teeth.
We recognize that scientific and medical knowledge developed through animal-based research has alleviated suffering, improved human health, and saved countless lives. It’s the reason GRU and universities like it are committed to the study of new medical devices and procedures. We’ve seen firsthand that research improves lives.
A recent video released by the Humane Society of the United States showed one of the few times dogs are used in research at GRU. In the study, researchers were testing a new coating for dental implants that could help prevent dangerous infections in the gums and bones of the mouth in humans.
It’s natural to ask why this research must be conducted. We as a university ask ourselves that same question. In fact, it’s one of the roles of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which is tasked with reviewing all animal research at GRU.
Faculty, administration and community members approved the research protocols for the study documented by the Humane Society. The protocols ensure that as few animals are used as possible in research, and that anesthetics and proper pain management are used whenever potentially uncomfortable procedures are involved. A veterinary staff member specializing in laboratory animal medicine ensures that humane use guidelines are followed, and that animals receive professional veterinary medical care.
At GRU, we believe we not only have a legal but an ethical responsibility toward the animals in our care.
Simply put, the Humane Society has alleged fault where there is none. The university’s facilities and animal research protocols are regularly reviewed by the USDA, which has found no incidents of non-compliance.
The Humane Society has presented an incomplete and inaccurate set of facts that misrepresent animal research. A significant portion of footage was filmed during an autopsy, in which portions of bone were removed for further study. It’s not possible to perform this sort of research on living patients, as the Humane Society suggests.
As a university, we place a high priority on the “Three Rs” – refinement, reduction and replacement. We’re committed to refining procedures to ensure care and comfort, and reducing the number of laboratory animals used.
The “Three Rs” have already led our researchers to develop fruit flies as a model to better understand cellular defects in cancer, to use state-of-the-art imaging to explore how cells repair damage from injury, and to employ computer science to screen genomic databases for predictive markers of diabetes in children.
Countless medical breakthroughs — from antibiotics to blood transfusions to vaccinations and chemotherapy — were developed with the help of lab animals. Our patients aren’t the only ones to benefit, however. Animal research has resulted in life-saving and life-extending treatments for cats, dogs and farm animals.
In this case, both the dogs and research were necessary. The FDA requires new and modified medical devices, including dental implants, to be tested for safety before being used in humans. Infections caused by failed implants have been the focus of research in recent years due to the ability of bacteria to get into the bloodstream and infect heart valves and other organs. This problem is not unique to dental implants; it also occurs with prostheses that are used to replace body parts lost to cancer and trauma.
Animal-based research is, for the foreseeable future, a crucial component of developing a safer dental implant and new cures. At GRU, we will continue to do everything possible to reduce the number of animals used in research and ensure the humane, ethical and responsible treatment of every animal in our care.
Dr. Mark W. Hamrick is senior vice president for research at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.