Why dogs are used in medical testing, research in Massachusetts


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Massachusetts is a hub for medicine and science, and dogs have been used in research here for decades. One group is trying to stop this practice, but another says it’s necessary to help humans.

Dogs have been used to help find treatments for many illnesses that humans face such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, allergies, and high cholesterol.

According to documents from the United States Department of Agriculture, 13 facilities in Massachusetts were using dogs in research, testing, or training as of 2019.

In western Massachusetts, UMass Amherst and Holyoke Community College are listed by the USDA as having dogs, but both schools told the 22News I-Team they do not use dogs in medical testing or research. HCC and UMass both use dogs in their Vet Tech programs, and UMass also has a few dogs that are part of the school’s police department.

The company with the most dogs used in research is Charles River Laboratories headquartered in Wilmington. Documents show that the company has 8,735 dogs used for research in their facilities throughout the country.

Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society of the United States told 22News what her organization has seen during investigations.

“They do live in barren cages and suffer from various procedures such as being force fed pesticides and chemicals with tubes down their throats, undergoing horrific surgeries, being implanted with devices, having their heart impacted by running on treadmills for hours at a time.”

The Humane Society did an undercover investigation at a Charles River facility in Michigan.

“They live their lives in stainless steel cages,” Conlee explained. “Their most exciting day was when they were walking down the hallway, but little did they know it was to ultimately be euthanized.”

James O’Reilly of the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research said he has not seen this, and the animals are treated well.

“You have to consider that most of the caregivers in this field who are vets or vet techs are animal lovers. So, their primary concern is the well-being of that animal,” he explained. “A socialized, de-stressed animal makes a better scientific model.”

In a statement to the 22News I-Team, Charles River Laboratories said the follwing:

“The survival rates for major diseases are at an all-time high due in part to the discovery of new medicines and therapies. The use of animal research models remains a vital component of these discoveries and is required by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Charles River Laboratories is deeply committed to animal welfare and exceeding international standards for the care of research models under our stewardship. We are committed to the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) and, when possible, our goal is to reduce the number of animals used. Additionally, we partner with customers to develop study designs that adopt the philosophy of the 3Rs, including the use of in vitro studies accepted by the FDA. As animal caregivers and scientific researchers, we are responsible to our clients and the public for the health and well-being of the animals in our care, and we strive to fulfill that responsibility on a daily basis.”

-Charles River Laboratories

There has also been a push by the federal government to reduce animal testing. The EPA still requires certain pesticides to be tested on dogs for 90 days before they can be approved for your lawn. They watch for any health impacts on the animals.

Some argue though, that new technologies have made dog testing almost unnecessary. There are organoids or organs on chips, which are microchips developed by Harvard that mimic living organs, including breathing motions in lung.

“We don’t need to choose between humans and dogs,” Conlee said. “We can spare the dogs and help humans with better technology.”

Still, O’Reilly said animal models give them the best science. “If there were alternatives to these animal models, they certainly would use them. They are nowhere near able to replace what we have right now in animal models.”

Through research and testing, O’Reilly told 22News that cures and treatments for kennel cough and cancer in dogs have been found.

“Research with dogs doesn’t just benefit humans,” he said. “It benefits dogs as well.”

A bill has been proposed in the Massachusetts State House that would force research facilities to get healthy and suitable dogs adopted, whether by an individual or a shelter. State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa supports the bill.

“It’s a small thing we can do to just add a little bit of humanity, and give these dogs who’ve done so much for people – they’ve been involved in research projects that help make our lives better. So it’s a way to make sure they are treated well afterward,” Sabadosa said.

Some federal agencies have put dog adoption policies in place. The EPA has committed to ending animal testing by 2035.

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