Research into heart disease was dealt a blow when Maastricht University decided to suspend a scientific study involving dogs in August after growing pressure by animal rights groups in the Netherlands.
The University gave a statement saying that their Animal Experiment Committee had approved the cardiological study involving Labradors, but that “societal concerns with respect to the use of laboratory animals” had forced them to suspend the study “to take additional time to consider the case further”. The University then went on to assure readers of their commitments to the 3Rs, and say that “in some cases the use of laboratory animals remains necessary to achieve medical breakthroughs that will benefit both people and animals”.
The decision was questionable at best. On 28th August a statement by the University announced they were “stick[ing] by [their] researchers” and not “shap[ing] [their] course solely based on demands of activists with a pronounced view on the matter”. Four days later they announced that the “experiment has been suspended, and is unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future” and that they had given the eight dogs at the facility up for adoption.
So why had they given in? The animal rights group Anti Dierproeven Coalitie (ADC), the Dutch sister organisation to the UK’s Anti Vivisection Coalition (AVC), collected 120,000 signatures (online) and carried out a series of demonstrations outside Maastricht University.
ADC and AVC have been growing in the UK, Netherlands and Belgium (as CAV). They are one of the few animal rights groups in those countries still drawing a crowd for semi-regular rallies and are increasingly making their presence known in the media (mainly local newspapers). Nonetheless, they have a chequered background. Five ADC activists (including co-founder Robert Molenaar) are currently on trial for breaking into a beagle breeding facility and stealing six dogs. In the UK, AVC has similar characters. Its former head was twice-convicted extremist, Luke Steele, and many of its current members have come in from the leftovers of the recently ended (and historically very violent) SHAC campaign.
The research in question had received funded from the medical research charity, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), who have been ahead of the curve in explaining the animal research they fund. The BHF put up a fantastic statement of support for the research, saying:
Recently, a BHF-funded study at Maastricht University involving dogs was suspended after a campaign by an animal rights group. This has been reported in the UK by a national newspaper.
Explaining why the BHF funded this project, our Medical Director Professor Peter Weissberg said: “This study could help to improve a pacemaker treatment for people suffering from severe heart failure – a debilitating condition that ruins the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.
“The treatment, known as cardiac resynchronisation therapy, can help control the symptoms of heart failure which commonly include overwhelming breathlessness and chronic fatigue. But this treatment does not entirely relieve the symptoms, the risk of death remains high and in some patients it does not work at all.
“If this treatment were to be made more effective, it could dramatically improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people living with heart failure.
“The researchers are working to improve this pacemaker treatment but these studies must be carried out in animals before they can be assessed in clinical trials in heart failure patients. The electrical wiring and size of a dog’s heart is very similar to a human heart, allowing the researchers to see how pacemakers might behave in patients. There is currently no alternative that could be used to carry out this potentially life-changing research.
“Our research has led to life-saving medical advances for heart patients over the past half century. But there’s so much work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, that will involve using animals in research.”
To anyone who doubts the importance of heart research, I recommend they watch the following video produced by the BHF and a heart disease victim
In the last decade there has been a large, and long overdue, crackdown on animal rights extremism. This is positive, but is not enough. Unless scientists take advantage of this new found safety by speaking up in support of their research, it will still be at risk in the fight for public opinion.
The Maastricht University dog study provides a worrying case study for anyone not willing to put up a fight to defend their research, because in the end, we all lose out.
Speaking of Research
Show that you care about the future of research that is crucial to medical progress by signing this petition to urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research, and then making a donation to the British Heart Foundation.