— Conservative watchdog group unleashes outrage over Beagle studies
Critics of Anthony Fauci, MD, have added yet more fuel to their fire this week — this time, in the form of a report from a conservative-led animal-rights group alleging that he oversaw the use of NIH funding for research that subjected beagle puppies to cruel treatment.
A bipartisan group of House members led by Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) sent a letter on Sunday to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and its director, Fauci, asking for more information about the research. It addressed what representatives called “grave concerns about reports of costly, cruel, and unnecessary taxpayer-funded experiments on dogs.”
The letter was a response to a report from White Coat Waste, a nonprofit watchdog organization led by conservative strategist Anthony Bellotti, who has has campaigned in the past to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, defund Planned Parenthood, and overturn legalized same-sex marriage, according to Undark.
The organization also claims it was the first to point out that U.S. taxpayer money was funding work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In a blog post, White Coat Waste said it obtained documents about the latest research project via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It posted screenshots of documents showing a toxicity study involving 46 beagle puppies ages 6 to 8 months old conducted by NIAID contractor SRI Biosciences.
The screenshot shows that all puppies had cordectomies to remove their vocal cords, ostensibly to reduce barking.
White Coat Waste initially did not make full copies of the documents available on its blog post, but later added links to the full documents.
In an emailed statement to MedPage Today, NIAID said the contract for “preclinical pharmacology and toxicology services” was conducted “as required in animal models by the FDA, in compliance with Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) guidelines and in a facility accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) or its equivalent.”
“Vocal cordectomies, conducted humanely under anesthesia, may be used in research facilities where numerous dogs are present,” the statement said. “This is to reduce noise, which is not only stressful to the animals but can also reach decibel levels that exceed OSHA allowable limits for people and can lead to hearing loss.”
Though Fauci himself did not sign off on the research contract, the uproar highlights the question of pharmaceutical testing in animals more broadly, particularly the practice of surgically “de-barking” dogs in research — a practice that both the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association oppose unless medically necessary.
The bipartisan letter mentions this, and a bill was introduced in Congress in March that asks the FDA to consider alternatives for safety evaluation other than animal testing. That bill notes the FDA “often requires” such testing from phamaceutical companies to prove their drug is safe before being studied in humans.
White Coat Waste, which uses inflammatory tactics similar to PETA to garner opposition to the taxpayer funding of animal research, also laid out three other instances of NIAID funding experiments on dogs: one at NIAID itself, one at the University of Georgia, and another in Tunisia.
The organization’s post from August on the Tunisia study shocks with an image of two beagles, likely under sedation, with their heads inside a mesh net, allowing for sand flies to bite them. Sand flies’ bites draw blood, and can transfer the parasites responsible for leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease.
Domestic dogs are the main reservoir host in Tunisia for visceral leishmaniasis, which infects an estimated 50,000 to 90,000 people a year and is fatal if left untreated, according to the World Health Organization.
NIAID’s statement to MedPage Today said the images were taken from a study published in July 2021 in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, which had “mistakenly cited support from NIAID, when in fact NIAID did not support this specific research shown in the images of the beagles being circulated.”
The agency’s statement said it funded a different beagle study to evaluate a vaccine for visceral leishmaniasis that involved 12 dogs that were “let out in an enclosed open space during the day, during high sand fly season.”
The paper still states that two authors received NIH funding, as well as funding from the Wellcome Trust.
In a statement to MedPage Today, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases said the “funding source for this study was erroneously attributed to the U.S. National Institutes of Health and we are publishing a correction; the NIAID was never specified as a funder of this study.”
Indeed, the paper notes in its methods section that it used “6 Beagle dogs that had been naturally infected with L. infantum as part of a different study to investigate the efficacy of a vaccine against canine [zoonotic visceral leishmaniasis].” The animals had served as the unvaccinated control group in the 12-dog study.
In the House members’ letter to Fauci and NIAID, the 14 Republicans and nine Democrats requested a figure in terms of how much money NIAID has spent on “drug tests involving dogs” since 2018, and for information on initiatives to explore “non-canine and non-animal alternatives” in pharmaceutical testing — among several other questions.
Fauci has also caught criticism last week as an NIH letter to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce revealed new complications in the COVID-19 origin debate. The NIH acknowledged that their grantee, EcoHealth Alliance, subcontracted to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and had altered bat coronaviruses to make them potentially more infectious to humans. However, those viruses could not have become SARS-CoV-2, the letter states.
The NIH letter also said that EcoHealth Alliance did not submit a required progress report on that research on time, and that the report was finally submitted in August 2021. In a statement to Vanity Fair, however, EcoHealth Alliance said it had indeed submitted that information in April 2018.