COLUMBIA — A non-lethal pilot study conducted by four MU faculty in the College of Veterinary Medicine resulted in seven beagles being euthanized, MU confirmed this week.
The study, published earlier this year by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, details how the beagles’ left eyes were purposely injured and then treated with different chemical solutions to understand the effectiveness of hyaluronic acid, commonly found in topical skin treatments, in healing corneal injuries.
But the 0.2 percent hyaluronic acid solution did not make the healing process any faster in the three dogs in group A, the experimental group, than the three dogs in group B, the control group. The seventh dog was given the standard treatment for corneal wounds, which includes an antibiotic, along with drugs that paralyze and dilate the eyes.
According to the study, the beagles, all females between nine and 12 months, were given socialization time and other care normal to a dog's daily schedule. They were all placed under anesthesia prior to the corneal-wounding procedure and wore Elizabethan collars throughout the study to prevent the dogs from hurting their eyes any further. They underwent examinations after the first six hours and then every 12 hours. The study lasted 96 hours. After the wounds healed, the dogs were euthanized.
The authors of the study acknowledged that their sample size was a “potential limitation.” Twelve animals in each group would have made the experiment stronger, but giving a pilot study such a large sample was "impractical," according to the study.
Despite the failure in the study, MU spokesman Christian Basi said in an emailed statement that the study was still beneficial in treating eye injuries in dogs and other animals.
“Without animal research, we would not be able to answer some of the most important medical questions,” the statement read. “Animal research is only done when scientists believe there is no other way to study the problem, and our researchers respect their research animals greatly and provide the utmost care.”
At the conclusion of most studies, the animals are euthanized and their tissue is kept for future research, according to the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. In this study, all of the beagles’ corneas were removed and stored for possible further scientific uses.
The authors of the study did not respond to requests for comment, and Basi would not say why the university decided to euthanize the beagles.
The study was approved by the MU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and met guidelines outlined in the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s Statement for the Use of Animals in Ophthalmic and Vision Research, according to the News Bureau’s statement.
A pending lawsuit
In May, the Beagle Freedom Project sued the university for violating the Missouri Sunshine Law after members of the group submitted at least 27 requests for public records. Under the law, the public governmental body can decide to waive or reduce the fee to produce requested documents if they've determined the information was being requested in the interest of the public.
MU allegedly denied the fee waivers and demanded more than $82,000 to hand over records on animals used by the School of Medicine, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Not long after, the Los Angeles-based animal rights group, which specializes in rescuing and rehoming animals from laboratories and testing facilities, learned of the study.
Beagle Freedom Project Vice President Kevin Chase, a 15-year veteran in animal activism, said his initial reaction to the study was that it was “absurd and overly gruesome.”
“If the University of Missouri would have more transparency to the taxpaying public, then maybe projects like this wouldn’t get a rubber stamp (of approval),” he said.
He said that most of the time, lab animals are euthanized since the laboratories do not have the space, resources or time for them following research. Additionally, Chase said, labs don't want to draw public attention to the fact that they are engaging in animal research, which is controversial.
Chase said he and others at the Beagle Freedom Project stumbled upon the study when they were looking at MU’s published research. They were trying to get a sense of the type of research the university performs and how many of its laboratory animals are rescuable. It's part of the organization's initiative, called the Identity Campaign, which allows people to virtually adopt an animal living in a laboratory.
Dan Kolde, a private attorney retained by the Beagle Freedom Project, said the lawsuit is in the early information-gathering phase.
Chase said the organization still hadn’t received any documents from the university about any animal.
Some states — California, Minnesota, Connecticut, Nevada and New York — have laws mandating the adoption of lab animals after completing research. Bills are pending in Illinois and Maryland. The other 43 states, Missouri included, don’t have any sort of requirement by law.
Beagles make up 96 percent of the dogs used by 383 different laboratories in the U.S. The breed makes up such a large portion because they are naturally very trusting of humans. Six of the beagles used in the MU study were purchased by the university from Covance Laboratory in Cumberland, Virginia.
Basi would not disclose how much the university paid for the beagles. He said in a separate email that the statement was all the information he had.
Both Chase and Kolde said had the Beagle Freedom Project known about the beagles, they could’ve found them new homes easily.
“All they had to do was not kill them,” Chase said.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.