More Veterans, Science Groups Tell Congress: Don’t End Funding for VA’s Research with Canines

More veterans organizations as well as medical and scientific groups have stated their opposition against proposals by Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA), Brian Mast (R-FL) and Dina Titus (D-NV) to cease funding for important medical research studies involving canines at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Association of the U.S. Navy (AUSN), National Defense Committee, Square Deal for VeteransAmerican Brain Coalition (ABC) and the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) have shared letters of opposition to H.R. 3197 (the PUPPERS Act) and a similar amendment to the House-passed homeland security minibus.

So far, those now against these proposals include:

American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS)
American Brain Coalition (ABC)
The American Legion
American Physiological Society (APS)
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
Association of the U.S. Navy (AUSN)
Friends of VA (FOVA)
Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
National Defense Committee
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
Square Deal for Veterans
VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)

Dogs are rarely used in research but sometimes they are the best model for specific studies because of factors like physiological similarities. All research, including research with dogs, is covered by strict oversight at institutions and by the federal government, and animal welfare is a top priority.

Research with dogs has been and continues to be influential in developing new drugs, therapies, and treatments for humans and animals. Of the top 25 most prescribed medications, 22 were developed with research involving dogs; and canines are on the front lines of everything from cardiology, cancer, diabetes, late-stage eye disease and spina bifida research.

To read the letters of oppositions from the organizations above, please click on the hyperlinks.

BREAKING: VA Secretary Pens Op-Ed in USA Today Supporting VA’s Dog Research Program

Today, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) David Shulkin joined the American Physiological Society (APS) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), along with Friends of VA (FOVA), the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the American Legion, in his defense of canine research at the VA.

In opposition to language added to the homeland security “minibus” by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) and passed by the House last month, which would target for elimination the VA's dog research program, Shulkin wrote a powerful column published this morning in USA Today. The amendment language is similar to H.R. 3197 which is awaiting consideration on Capitol Hill.

"Science and research are more critical than ever in providing breakthroughs for many unique conditions affecting our veterans. America needs VA’s innovative research programs, and veterans and their families have earned them. We owe it to these patriots to do all we can to develop medical advancements that could help restore some of what they have sacrificed in service to our nation," wrote Secretary Shulkin.

Shulkin detailed some of the lifesaving and life-improving discoveries made possible by the VA's canine research program, accomplishments that have included the recent FDA approval of an artificial pancreas and the implantable cardiac pacemaker. He also summarized a current study that could help paralyzed veterans and others with spinal cord injuries ward off potentially lethal lung infections.

To read the Shulkin’s letter in USA Today, please click here.

AVMA, APS, American Legion Support Animal Research, Oppose Ending VA Dog Studies

Three additional national organizations have written to Congress to express their concerns with efforts that would effectively eliminate important research with dogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Physiological Society (APS), and the American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans’ organization with 2.3 million members, now join the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Friends of VA (FOVA) in announcing their opposition.

The first of those efforts, H.R. 3197, introduced in July by Representatives Dave Brat (R-VA) and Dina Titus (D-NV), could have serious implications for veterans because research with dogs has led to life-saving and life-improving treatments for veterans suffering from spinal cord injuries, heart conditions, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and other diseases experienced through military service. Rep. Brat also introduced similar language in an amendment to the homeland security “minibus” which was passed by the full House last month.

“Dogs are used in vital research that will help improve the lives of our veterans by finding treatments for diseases and conditions affecting the veteran community, including studies on cardiology, diabetes and spinal cord injuries,” writes the AVMA. “The American Legion recognizes the irreplaceable value this research provides for our veterans and appreciate the sacrifice these animals make in the name of science that humans and service animals, as well as duty K-9s, benefit greatly from,” echos the American Legion.

The letter sent by AVMA can be seen by clicking here. APS' letter is available here. The American Legion’s letter is viewable here.

Friends of VA Publicly Opposes Defunding VA Dog Studies

On Friday, Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA) sent a letter to Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Appropriations, opposing an amendment passed in the homeland security minibus that would prohibit funding at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for certain studies involving dogs.

FOVA is a coalition of more than 80 national academic, medical, and scientific societies, voluntary health and patient advocacy groups, and veteran service organizations dedicated to providing veterans with high-quality care. FOVA believes “The policy included in the appropriations bill will impede scientific research and unnecessarily delay research advances for our nation’s veterans.”

The amendment to the minibus was introduced by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) and passed by the House of Representatives in July. It contains similar language as House standalone bill H.R. 3197, the PUPPERS Act, which would prevent Class D and E studies from being performed at the VA, a move that could set the precedent for a prohibition against the use of dogs in all biomedical research. The legislation is troubling, as it could represent the first time Congress has prohibited the use of an animal species in scientific/medical studies, and it could lead to future laws that target additional species of research animals. The studies performed by the VA involving dogs are critically important in the search for treatments for diseases that impact the veterans’ community and civilians, and are strictly regulated.

As mentioned above, there are two pieces of House legislation that, if signed into law, would limit the use of dogs at the VA. The first piece of legislation is Brat's amendment to the homeland security minibus, a spending bill that would need to be reauthorized each year. The second piece of legislation is a standalone bill that would serve as a more permanent prohibition of certain dog studies at the VA. Although the House amendment to the homeland security minibus was passed in July, the House standalone bill has not yet been considered by the Veterans' Affairs Committee. A Senate standalone companion bill has not been introduced either. Congress is currently in recess until after Labor Day.

Stars and Stripes, a publication widely read by the military community, published a story yesterday about FOVA’s letter. The publication touts a readership of more than one million per day, including “active-duty service members, DoD civilians, contractors, and their families.”

To read FOVA’s letter, please click here. We encourage you to share the letter as well as the Stars and Stripes’ article on your social media pages to help educate the public and policy makers about this harmful legislation.

Paralyzed Veterans of America Explains the Importance of Dog Studies at the VA

Sherman Gillums Jr., Executive Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) published an op-ed in The Hill yesterday in strong opposition to legislation that would hinder medical advancements for disabled veterans. “For a veteran facing a lifetime of paralysis after suffering a spinal cord injury, hope is often the last thing to die. Yet, the recently introduced House bill, H.R. 3197, threatens to crush what little hope to which I, and the approximately 60,000 veterans living with spinal cord injury, cling. The act proposes to reduce investment in medical research, and the reason is as simple as it is controversial: animal research.”

Introduced in July by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), H.R.3197 would effectively eliminate important research with dogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. An amendment to the homeland security minibus serving the same purpose was passed by the full House last month. This legislation has serious implications for veterans because research with dogs has led to life-saving and life-improving treatments for veterans suffering from spinal cord injuries, heart conditions, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and other diseases experienced through military service.

“The VA has a responsibility to consistently find new and better ways of treat America’s heroes. Animal research helps the department do that. The program has helped save and improve countless lives, and it will continue to do so—unless ideology, and in some cases extremism on the issue of animal rights, succeed in forcing the public's attention away from VA waiting rooms, inpatient wards, and rehabilitation gyms across the country. This is where the price of wars across several eras can be seen almost daily, as well as where medicine and science find their ripest opportunities.”

For more information about the importance of dogs in research, please click here.

To read the letter, click here.

Dogs Get Cancer, Too

Did you know that companion animals, like dogs and cats, naturally develop many of the same diseases as humans? Statistics show that over 4.2 million dogs naturally develop cancer each year, in comparison to 1.7 million humans. Dogs are actually a very important model for studying diseases, such as cancer, because not only do many dogs naturally develop cancer in their lifetimes, but cancer tumors in dogs are similar to those found in humans affected with the disease. A recent Forbes article discusses the importance of dogs in the biomedical research community’s mission to find a cure for cancer in both humans and animals.

Dogs are also excellent models for cancer studies because they live in the same types of environments as humans, meaning they are exposed to the same bacteria, household products, noises and other stimuli as we are. Dogs also age more quickly than humans. Have you ever heard the saying, “1 human year equals 7 dog years?” Well, for studying diseases like cancer, this popular belief becomes useful. Because the lifespan of a dog is shorter, it experiences the different stages of cancer much more rapidly than humans. This allows researchers to collect invaluable data in a speedier manner than when collecting data from human cancer patients.

Mice, which make up ~95% of all animals used in biomedical research, are excellent models for most areas of research, but dogs provide a unique model for finding cures and treatments for cancer in both humans and animals.

Please follow this link to read the full Forbes story about the importance of dogs in finding a cure for cancer in humans and animals.

The “Magic” that Saved Jimmy Kimmel’s Son Made Possible by Animal Research

This blog post was originally published by the Foundation for Biomedical Research on May 4, 2017:

Addressing his television audience on Monday night, Jimmy Kimmel tearfully thanked the doctors and nurses who saved the life of his son, born last week with a congenital heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) with Pulmonary Atresia (PA). The rare disease is characterized by four main heart defects that can be corrected by a series of operations over several years—all made possible by decades of research with laboratory animals.

At Cedars-Sinai, where Kimmel’s wife Molly McNearney delivered the baby, the couple’s doctor performed an echocardiogram on the newborn to confirm that his bluish complexion was the result of a cardiovascular defect. The device, which Kimmel accurately likens to a sonogram of the heart, was developed with experimental research using animals. In the 1950s, researchers credited with pioneering the echocardiogram made medically significant discoveries about the origin of echo signals within the organ by using models procured from calves. Today, scientists rely on animals, from rodents and rabbits to dogs and pigs, to perform experimental research that result in technological improvements to the equipment—potentially raising its efficacy in detecting heart problems in human patients like Kimmel’s baby.

Tetralogy of Fallot must be treated surgically. The infant was taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where Doctor Vaughn A. Starnes “went in there with a scalpel and did some kind of magic that I couldn’t even begin to explain,” Kimmel said. “He opened the valve, and the operation was a success.”

It certainly does look like magic.

The procedure, a Blalock–Taussig shunt, increases blood flow to the lungs thereby alleviating the patient’s cyanosis, or the blue coloring that often presents as a symptom (most commonly of skin on the face and extremities). It involves joining the subclavian artery to the pulmonary artery, which the surgical research team first performed successfully with dogs before adapting the instruments for use on humans. This revolutionary development in medical science is lifesaving for infant patients, and it’s also used in the treatment of dogs themselves that are born with congenital heart conditions.

Each year, four of every 10,000 babies are diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. With corrective surgery, most will thrive, just like Kimmel’s baby: “Six days after open heart surgery we got to bring him home, which was amazing,” the comedian said. “He’s doing great; he’s eating; he’s sleeping; he peed on his mother today when she was changing his diaper; he’s doing all the things he’s supposed to do.”

Kimmel’s son will have a second open-heart surgery in three to six months, and when he reaches adolescence, will undergo a third and final procedure that doctors expect will be minimally invasive. Each will likely require a cardiopulmonary bypass—which mimics heart and lung function for the duration of surgery, keeping the patient alive. The device is an adaptation of early “heart-lung machines;” among the first iterations was a model created in the 1920s by research with canines. The cardiopulmonary bypass enabled the first human heart transplant in 1967—a medical milestone made possible, again, by research with dogs.

Thanks to the skill and expertise of pediatric cardiologists, working with cutting edge science and medicine developed through animal research, more than 63,000 children have been given a new chance at life with successful heart transplants. Many thousands more, including Kimmel’s son, have been successfully diagnosed and treated thanks to research performed with animal models.

Last year we shared the emotional story of Lincoln Seay, an infant who survived open-heart surgery and a heart transplant after he was diagnosed with a rare congenital disorder called heterotaxy syndrome. Manifestations of the condition vary, but, as in the case with Tetralogy of Fallot, it is often associated with cyanosis. Lincoln’s inspirational story serves as another testament to the lifesaving power of modern medicine developed with animal subjects. It also hints at the potential medical breakthroughs on the horizon thanks to promising new research (with zebrafish)!

Like many pediatric cardiologists, Lincoln’s surgeons faced challenges that make their success all the more remarkable: the seven-month-old went into cardiac arrest as they waited for the donor organ needed for his transplant—which necessitated an emergency surgery to compress his heart. This, followed by the transplantation, is especially tough on the tiny body of an infant patient.

It’s not easy for family members in the waiting room, either.

All over the world, scientists and researchers rely on animal models to discover more about how to detect and treat congenital heart defects—offering infants like Lincoln, and Kimmel’s son, a second chance at life. The innovations in medical devices and surgical techniques that result from this work have enabled healthcare providers to perform magic, one baby’s beating heart at a time.

Guest author: Chris Kane is a writer with a background in non-profit communications.

Researchers Using Dog Cancer Drug Against Kids’ Brain Cancer

Could the antidote for glioblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer, in children be a current treatment for dogs?  That’s what researchers at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City are trying to figure out. According to an article in The Kansas City Star, it could be.

Researchers for human or animal health have often worked separately.  However, a collaboration between the two could lead to remarkable results. The Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute brought together over 300 scientists and student-researchers to coordinate efforts on immunotherapy for cancer treatments. That matchmaking birthed a relationship between Children’s Mercy and Elias Animal Health, a Missouri company testing immunotherapy treatments for osteosarcoma in dogs at the veterinary health centers at Kansas State University and the University of Missouri. According to the article, protocols for glioblastoma are in development. Children’s Mercy and Elias Animal Health are planning to apply for a Phase 2 trial with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Glioblastoma kills about 60%-70% of kids within two years, even when treated with standard care like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. The hope for the success of this partnership is immense; both the human and veterinary angles have something to offer.  Pre-clinical human studies are often conducted with mice are cost-effective but those with higher order species like dogs offer more predictable results. Animal health studies cost less and move more quickly than government-regulated human trials.

Please click here to read more about this possible groundbreaking partnership and please share it with your friends, family, and colleagues on social media.

Live Vaccines Could Mean Fewer Veterinary Visits

Did you know that our pets can contract the influenza virus?  We may someday be able to thank biomedical research for helping us avoid another trip to the veterinary office. A team of researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry has developed two live vaccines that may help prevent the highly contagious canine influenza, as well as improve human health.

Led by Luis Martinez-Sobrido, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the team developed a live vaccine that replicates in the main point of entry for the virus—a dog’s nose—which could prevent the virus from spreading to the rest of the body. The results of the study showed that the vaccine is not only safe, but also more effective in protecting dogs against the H3N8 canine influenza virus than currently available inactivated vaccines.

Martinez-Sobrido’s team also used a new technique to remove the NS1 protein from the H3N8 canine influenza virus, successfully weakening the flu virus so an immune response is created without the unpleasant accompanying illness. This approach has been shown to potentially be more safe and effective than the traditional inactivated H3N8 vaccine.

Next, the team will test the two live vaccine approaches in clinical trials with dogs. They ultimately hope to address the spread of influenza in shelters and kennels, as well as from dogs to humans. This research is further being used to address other dog flu viruses, including the H3N2 canine influenza. Early studies indicate that the H3N2 live-attenuated vaccine outperforms the only currently available inactivated vaccine in protecting against the H3N2 virus.

To stay up to date on new studies in the animal research community, make sure to follow NABR on Twitter.

Are Mice the Key to Unlocking a Vaccine Against Breast Cancer?

Scientists may have found a new way to protect high-risk individuals from developing breast cancer, a disease that will impact about 1 in 8 women in her lifetime.  According to recent news coverage, researchers from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and from the Medical University of Vienna have successfully tested a vaccine with artificial HER2 antigens.  HER2 proteins cause breast cancer tumors to grow and it is present at above normal levels in about 30% of breast tumors. Thanks to research with mice this new vaccine could be on its way to patients to prevent breast cancer.

The immune system does not attack mutated cancer cells.  However, artificial tumor antigens, otherwise known as mimotopes, can stimulate an immune response. Unfortunately, these mimotopes need to have a carrier to be effective and with past carriers the mimotopes have changed their structure, decreasing their effectiveness in the body.

Researchers have found the vaccine is much more effective if the HER2 mimotopes are paired with particles of a virus.  The viral particles are too small to cause disease but are enough to cause an aggressive immune response.  This immune response is associated with the mimotopes and the body then begins to attack breast cancer cells.  In mouse models, those vaccinated with the antigen were shielded at significant levels from growing tumors; while the control group developed the cancer.

This potential vaccine could protect people and those who have had breast cancer in the past.  And, in a surprising twist, it can also be used in man’s best friend.  The HER2 protein performs similar functions in human and canine breast cancer.  The research team found that the protein corresponds about 90% between dogs and people.

To read more about this new discovery, please click here.

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