Information about Duchenne muscular dystrophy research at Texas A&M
Texas A&M University appreciates this opportunity to correct and clarify misleading information regarding our Duchenne muscular dystrophy research, which has been distributed repeatedly by the animal rights group PETA for more than two years. We would like readers to have all of the facts involving this important inquiry because the research benefits both humans and animals.
Human clinical trials, based in part on studies in dogs that are currently are underway:
- Data from the Duchenne muscular dystrophy research conducted at Texas A&M University’s Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences led to permission being given by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for companies to conduct human clinical trials for young people suffering from the disease.
- (2021 update) A second clinical trial recently approved by the FDA aims to modify the disease and lessen its severity on young males.
- The gene therapy aims to deliver a healthy and synthetic version of the dystrophin gene—which is a protein that DMD patients lack that’s responsible for muscle movement—to cells to overcome the protein deficiency.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a serious disease that cuts young lives short:
- DMD is a terminal disease that leads to wheelchair dependency in affected boys before their teen years even begin.
- While many treatments have been evaluated in the past few decades–all with the help of animal studies–only recently have scientists and physicians been able to develop treatments that target the actual disease cause. Most scientists and physicians believe that treatments will ultimately entail a combination of approaches, including gene therapy and drugs.
Following the law:
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires therapies be proven to be safe in animals before they can be tested in humans. This is especially true of treatments that carry high risk, such as gene and stem-cell therapies.
- Unfortunately, no complete alternatives to animal research exist at this time, though Texas A&M currently uses computer models, epidemiological studies, cell cultures, and other alternative methods when possible, but none of those can give researchers the vital and comprehensive information that’s required.
- To test a drug’s effectiveness and whether it will be safe in a human, the impact of a new medication must be assessed in a living organism. Such testing is typically done in more than one species, including a rodent (usually mice) and a larger animal (such as dogs).
- Research has proven that the version of DMD in dogs—more than any other animal—closely mimics the human version of the disease.
- The gene abnormality that causes the disease is very similar in both humans and dogs. We have similar physiology and immune response systems. Therefore, studies in dogs help predict what will happen in humans. This is also true of other diseases and treatments that have been tested, including hemophilia, genetic blindness, joint replacement surgery, and bone marrow transplantation.
- Whatever helps humans with the disease also helps dogs with the disease. Remember, DMD also impacts dogs, and a number of other breeds have been naturally born with the disease.
‘A moment in time’ exploited in video:
- Animal activists have repeatedly used a video of a Golden Retriever cross named Jelly, shown with food on her face. The activists suggest the dog was being fed “gruel.” A Texas A&M veterinarian who helped care for her explained these moments captured on film: “Jelly had a reputation as a messy eater—it was just her eating style. She had an enlarged tongue so she had her own special method of eating. Their food is of the highest nutritional value and once she’d finish, caregivers always cleaned her up. We all were so sad to see her exploited in the video because that wasn’t her life—it was a moment in time. Jelly easily was one of the happiest dogs here.”
- Another dog, Poeney, is shown drooling (and wagging its tail) in slow-motion footage distributed by animal activists. However, they never explain that the dog is shown coming out of anesthesia after awaking from a cardiac MRI. Her drowsy, uncharacteristic behavior is common for an animal—or human—in recovery after a procedure.
- The video was secretly shot by a worker at the center in 2013 and released in 2016 by PETA.
- Never tortured: A medical instrument is used to measure the strength of the dogs’ muscles. These results are very useful in predicting whether a treatment will be effective. Strength also is a major indicator of treatment efficacy in people. The procedure on dogs is done while the dog is under anesthesia and lasts less than 20 minutes. The test is done two or three times in the dogs’ life, has no after-effects, e.g., dogs are not in pain and have no lameness.
Care of the dogs:
- As one of the veterinarian caregivers explains: “These dogs are loved from the moment they are born until they leave this Earth.” They receive around-the-clock veterinary care at a world-class facility that opened in 2016. They play outside and have toys and friends to play with.
- Most of the dogs have a roommate in their “dog condo;” those who do not have a buddy only do so because they have shown that they prefer their own space. As is the case with pets, some dogs are more social than others. All have daily interaction with people.
- The DMD research at Texas A&M started in 2012. It has never been issued a citation or violation with regard to the care of these dogs. The work performed at Texas A&M’s world-class center is highly regulated and there is rigorous oversight by multiple organizations, including:
- USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)
- NIH (National Institutes of Health)
- AAALAC (International nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs)
- Texas A&M University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
For additional information regarding animal research, please take a moment to go online and learn more:
- Texas A&M University: research.tamu.edu/medical-research-and-education-using-animal-models/
- Americans for Medical Progress: amprogress.org
- Speaking of Research: speakingofresearch.com
- Foundation for Biomedical Research: fbresearch.org
- Animal Research Information: animalresearch.info