Keep the DMD Golden Retriever research at Texas A&M - Cure Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

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Situation

Texas A&M Vet School Dean Green has asked Dr. Kornegay to remove the colony of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) golden retrievers from Texas A&M by January 2018, allegedly due to threats and false propaganda by PETA.

Background

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a fatal genetic disorder affecting mostly boys.  Boys with DMD typically lose the ability to walk between ages 10 and 12, and die by their early 20’s.  DMD affects approximately 1 in 3,500 live male births.  While DMD is genetic (“X-linked” meaning it is passed on the X chromosome – by the mother), about 1/3 of the cases are caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation.  There is currently no cure for DMD, and no boy has survived DMD.  It is 100% fatal.

Research and clinical trials have been challenging because DMD is such a rare disease, the affected boys grow weak and unable to walk so young, and there are so many variations in the genetic mutation that causes DMD.   The same genetic mutations have been found in some mice and golden retrievers, providing a means to conduct pre-clinical research on DMD.

Texas A&M, as well as other universities, has both mouse and golden retriever DMD colonies, and is a worldwide leader in medical research.  The research at Texas A&M and other universities has resulted in meaningful progress toward treatment and possibly curing this disease in both humans and animals.

PETA has produced false and misleading propaganda, which has influenced numerous hostile or threatening actions at Texas A&M, including:

  • Driving around campus in a truck with a  misleading picture of one of the research dogs;
  • Flying a banner behind an airplane during campus events, advocating to shut down the research project;
  • Creating videos that mislead the public about the activities and treatment of the dogs.  The main video opens with Dr. Kornegay’s name and Texas A&M, but contains footage from a different colony outside the US, misleading viewers to believe the images are from TAMU;
  • [CONTENT REMOVED]
  • Filing a FOIA request [CONTENT REMOVED] in an attempt to intimidate those affiliated with the research.

The Institute of Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) - similar to IRB for human research - is a federally mandated review board required for all animal research.  The IACUC has rigid standards to protect the welfare of animals used in research.  The IACUC must approve the research protocol before it is initiated, and monitors throughout the research.   The TAMU golden retriever research project has met all IACUC standards and has not received a single IACUC violation.

The USDA has strict requirements for the research environment, including the size of kennels, amount of recreation time, and much more.   The TAMU golden retriever research project meets and generally exceeds all requirements, and has not received a single USDA violation.

The TAMU golden retriever research project currently has 4 veterinarians on the team, and has had as many as 6 veterinarians involved.   Many animal research projects do not have veterinarians on the research team, only as consultants.   Including veterinarians as team participants ensures an additional level of care for the animals.  

Similar DMD golden retriever colonies exist at Missouri, University of Washington, U Penn, and Florida.  The colony at TAMU is the largest.  In addition to the DMD colony, TAMU also has a teaching dog colony (for veterinary students) and an x-linked hereditary nephropathy (human Alport syndrome) dog colony.   TAMU also has a MDX Mouse lab conducting similar DMD research on mice, as well as other mouse research labs.

PETA is active at all of the campuses where this research is taking place, as well as most every facility where ANY animal research is taking place, including the DoD.

Benefits of Research

The main benefit of this research is to cure human disease and improve function in humans and animals afflicted with neuromuscular disorders.

There is significant collaboration between the TAMU golden retriever research project and other projects at universities and research labs across the country and around the world.   TAMU often sends tissue samples and shares research data with other entities.   This research impacts numerous other research projects unrelated to DMD.

TAMU receives recognition and notoriety for this research.  The research team sent a handful of participants to the international DMD annual conference in Chicago last June.  Dr. Kornegay and his team were recognized and praised for their work.

This research is currently attracting several million dollars in grant funding, with the potential of much more.  This project is attracting highly sought best-in-class students who choose TAMU specifically for such research.

Risks

Dr. Kornegay was recruited to TAMU in 2012, specifically because of this research project.   He has built an outstanding team that has an excellent reputation world-wide.  Losing Dr. Kornegay, his team, and/or the project would be a loss to Texas A&M and to all who benefit from the research.

Texas A&M would lose millions of dollars in research funds, and the potential to find a cure for a disease that is 100% fatal.

Texas A&M would be in violation of numerous contracts and grants – including NIH grants – for research currently underway.  This could risk future grants.

If PETA is successful in driving off this project, its next targets would likely include other TAMU dog colonies.  How will the vet students learn and the TAMU vet school retain its excellent standing if the teaching colony is closed?  Book knowledge is not sufficient for vet students. 

Success with this project would make PETA feel emboldened in its efforts to shutdown other research projects across the country, having a devastating impact on critical research and finding cures for human disease.

Summary

In short, the animals in the TAMU golden retriever DMD research project are well cared for and humanely treated.  There is a strong, loving bond between the dogs and their caregivers.  The research is valuable and critical to treating and curing human and animal disease.

Because of the hostile actions, there has been virtually no PR or communication about the DMD golden retriever research, either within the Texas A&M administration or externally.  Sadly, this has resulted in PETA being the one to control the message, and the only one (mis)educating the public about what is taking place.

Numerous puppies are born in the research lab that do not have DMD and are not carriers.  Due to the secrecy of the project, these puppies are not adopted promptly.  The creation of a public puppy adoption program could be a mutually beneficial way for the project to have positive PR.

It would be a travesty if Texas A&M allowed the bully tactics of PETA or its supporters to shutdown humane, valuable research that could result in a cure for a disease that is 100% fatal and affects young children.   The ripple effects of a shutdown of the research could affect not only other valuable animal research at Texas A&M, but across the country.

It is critical that Texas A&M stand strong in the face of this attack and continue this research with the same level of professionalism and excellence for which our great university has been known.

 



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