Professor Condemns Mizzou Study That Left Six Beagles Dead


Beagles are frequently used in research because of their relatively small size and docile personalities. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/CLAY LARSEN
  • Photo courtesy of Flickr/Clay Larsen
  • Beagles are frequently used in research because of their relatively small size and docile personalities.
A University of Missouri study that blinded six beagles and then ordered their killing was "an egregious waste of life with no redeeming aspects."

That's according to Nedim C. Buyukmihci, an emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California-Davis who took a close look at the controversial study, which was first reported on by the Riverfront Times on August 29 and is now generating headlines across the nation. In a pointed September 1 memo, Buyukmihci argues that the Mizzou professors inflicted pain on the pups — and then had them killed — as part of a seriously flawed research project.

As the RFT previously reported, the researchers blinded the young dogs in order to study a possible treatment for corneal ulcers. But as they themselves admitted in the study, which was published in the Journal of Veterinary Ophthalmology, the sample size was too small to result in useful information statistically.

Buyukmihci echoed that criticism in his memo — but also raised three additional issues. 

First, at just one year old, the dogs in the study were much younger than the typical dog suffering from corneal ulcers, "rendering the data not necessarily applicable" to other dogs.

Second, the compound they were testing on the dogs' ulcers is already in clinical use. 

And that leads to the third, and perhaps most important point. Buyukmihci notes that the researchers could have found test subjects that already suffer from corneal ulcerations to test the product on — no need to maim healthy dogs.

He writes,
There is an ample patient population to effectively — and ethically — study various treatment regimens. We know that most corneal ulcerations in the dog will heal spontaneously with no human intervention and without complications. In those situations, where the time to healing is likely to be extended, attempting to shorten the healing interval with various mediations would be advantageous.

There is no justification, however, to subject healthy dogs to ocular mutilation, suffering and death to achieve this end.

Concludes Buyukmihci, "The moral issues of using, causing to make suffer and killing of non-consenting beings aside, this particular experiment was an egregious waste of life with no redeeming aspects. The authors not only knew the substantive information prior to the work, they could have made a real contribution by using a population of patients who would benefit from the treatment rather than healthy individuals who would only suffer and then have their lives taken from them gratuitously."

Mizzou has defended the study, telling the RFT in a written statement that the studies were performed in accordance with the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and approved by the MU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. "The animals," they said, "were treated humanely and every effort was made to ensure dogs were as comfortable as possible during the tests to study the effectiveness of the new drug treatment."

The study was uncovered by the Beagle Freedom Project, a California-based non-profit that is suing Mizzou over public records related to its care of beagles. The university has sought to charge the non-profit more than $82,222 for records it is required by law to maintain — a cost of as much as $7 per page.

Dan Kolde, a St. Louis-based attorney representing the group, says the outrage over the beagles' deaths explains why Mizzou has fought so hard to keep his clients from the records.

"If these researchers — and they are ultimately public employees —  are going to do this sorts of things using taxpayer money and don't have any problems with their actions, then why not just let the public see the documents and the animals?" he asks. "But, as we've seen in the last couple of days, bad optics leads to public scrutiny and questions for them."

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