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Animals and SIDS Research

You bring up an important issue about so-called animal rights groups. They are becoming very powerful in some areas, and have succeeded in stopping some university research centers from using certain types of animals in their research. Children's Hospital Los Angeles, has, in fact, restricted research on certain types of animals because they fear the adverse publicity.

There are many SIDS-related studies on neurologic control of breathing, brainstem physiology, etc. which use animals as the research subjects. This research is important, and does provide the basis for important advances and human research studies.

You should also know that the Federal government has very strict regulations requiring the humane treatment of all animals used in research. These regulations cover every conceivable area from pain relief, not allowing suffering, to the feeding and housing of experimental animals. In order to obtain NIH funding, researchers and institutions must show that they abide by these regulations.

Thomas G. Keens, M.D.
Childrens Hospital Los Angeles

Reprinted with permission

As you mentioned, there are several categories of SIDS research. One category is research that studies SIDS infants, such as research on autopsy findings, brain stem anatomy, etc. A second category is epidemiological research, which again studies SIDS directly in large populations. A third category consists of studying the physiology of live infants who are considered to be at high risk of SIDS (e.g., premature infants). So far, these are all studies conducted with human subjects.

In the animal research area, there is a 4th category consisting of studies directly aimed at investigating a SIDS-related question such as you mentioned: the bedding materials studies that used rabbits. Similarly, investigators are now using rats to study the possible effects of smoke exposure or nicotine exposure on the development of cardio-respiratory function.

However, these studies are only a part of what's going on. There is a vast amount of research that is "SIDS-related". For example, a great deal of effort is devoted to the study of respiratory control maturation, cardiac control maturation, the maturation or development of defense mechanisms against low oxygen levels, and on and on. This research, while not directly studying SIDS, is aimed at providing information that may be critically important for understanding SIDS. If you include the category of "SIDS-related" or "potentially SIDS-related" research, then the list of research using animals is extensive.

In the United States and many other countries, the use of animals for research is very strictly regulated by law. Information concerning these regulations is available from the government, including NIH. Each institution using animals for research is required to have every study reviewed by an Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC), the composition of which is also regulated so that it consists of disinterested individuals (who have no stake in the research), veterinarians, etc.

The American Physiological Society has produced several brochures, books, and videotapes on the benefits of properly conducted animal research. Other organizations have as well.

John L. Carroll, MD
The Johns Hopkins Children's Center
Baltimore describes the very strict regulations required of animal researchers, as well as some of the terrorist measures taken by militant "animal rights" groups, including bombing of labs and releasing animals being studied.

Ellen Siska

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