I recently read an article in the Translational Genomics Research Institute’s (TGen) newsletter that surprised and even shocked me. TGen is a non-profit organization dedicated to medical research. You would think that they use vivisection in their studies so I have been keeping my eyes open to their projects, their studies, and the results they release: one, because I’m interested in medicine in general and two, because TONS of our taxpayer money goes to TGen. I like to know how my hard earned money is being spent. I was actually quite surprised when the Summer 2010 newsletter showed up in my mail box. It has a picture of a beautiful dog on the front with the title “The latest ally in the fight against disease.” I was immediately mad thinking that this article would be all about using dogs for research with a marketing package that makes it look like the dogs live in fabulous conditions.
As I began to read the article, I was really surprised. TGen is beginning a study using dogs that are owned by people like you and me. These dogs have been diagnosed with different types of cancer including melanoma, hemangiosarcoma, malignant histiocytic sarcoma, osteosarcoma, and lymphoma. TGen wants to study their saliva, blood, and/or tissue samples to discover genetic information about cancers that are common in certain breeds of dogs and eventually create treatments for similar cancers that tend to be rare in humans. Research results and treatments may extend to dogs as well but that is not the primary goal of the study. The dog never enters a research laboratory. They remain with their family as they normally would. TGen sends some paperwork that you can take to your vet if the animal is having blood work done or a biopsy. Your vet can take some blood in addition to their normal amount or a some extra cells from the biopsy and send it to TGen for further analysis.
To me, this sounded like animal research that is too good to be true. So despite the lengthy article that I read and the information on their Web site, www.tgen.org/sample, I contacted the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium which is the group conducting the research through a partnership with TGen and Van Andel Research Institute to ask more specific questions. Roe Froman, DVM, from Van Andel Research Institute, seemed willing enough to answer all my questions (surprise to me again!)
What exactly are the samples used to determine?
“The samples are used to investigate the fundamental differences in the DNA of dogs who develop cancer compared to dogs of the same breed who do not. If significant differences are found, this information will then be compared to genes in humans.”
For this research project, has TGen, Van Andel or the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium (CHCC) every bred dogs (or plan to breed dogs)? Has TGen, Van Andel, or the CHCC ever (or plan to) housed dogs in a research lab for this study?
“We do not keep ANY dogs for research, either at TGen or the Van Andel Research Institute. All of our samples come from owned and loved dogs, with naturally occurring disease.”
Dr. Froman sent me all the paperwork and I felt as thought I could continue to contact her if needed with further questions. I did of course ask if there is vivisection performed on any other animal at any of these three organizations. Dr. Froman told me that mice are used in cancer research at Van Andel.
It may seem strange to you that I have decided to participate in this animal research project. The reason this story hits to close to home for me is that our 10-year-old Labroador has a osteochondrosarcoma in her jaw. Basically it’s a big bone tumor. We met with several vets, our beloved Dr. Stephanie Nobrega at Horizon Animal Hospital, the amazing vets Dr. Ale Aguirre and Dr. Stephanie Foote at VETMED and an oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Arthur, at Arizona Veterinary Specialists. After all those consults we made the difficult decision not to treat the tumor. The location, size, and type of tumor would require radical surgery and radiation with extremely negative side effects. Furthermore, it is an incurable form of cancer. Being that Zoie is not a young pup, we felt the best decision for us was to make her really happy and comfortable until the cancer gets the best of her. To our surprise she has been acting very normally for over two months since the diagnosis! We are so grateful for every day. Zoie loves the extra special attention she’s getting with home made vegan dog food and frequent trips to the doggie lake for swimming.
As I analyzed this animal research study, I felt skeptical at first. Once I understood the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium’s intentions, their innovative approach to collecting information about dogs that already have these types of cancer, and their ability to use it in a way that will help humans, I decided that we will participate. I feel the need to support this type of research so that other harmful, torturous means of vivisection can be replaced with something that allows us to learn from animals without hurting them. Now I’m sure many vegans would argue that supporting Van Andel is wrong since they still do vivisection on mice. I can understand this perspective but I am not an all or nothing kind of person. Life is gray. It is never black and white. We all have to make the decisions we feel best about. Assisting in research that may lead to cures for these difficult types of cancer while my dog lives in the comfort of her own home is OK with me.
Not that this has anything to do with being vegan but I mentioned earlier that tons of tax payer money goes to support these types of research projects. Taxpayers will contribute $4,300,000 in federal stimulus funds over the next two years. PetSmart and Hill’s Pet Nutrition are also supporting the study with a $500,000 contribution.
If you would like to learn more about this research study, please see the links below. If you have further information about these organizations and their animal testing policies, I would really love your comments.