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Currently Approved VA Protocols for Research with Canines, Felines, and NHPs

VA is committed to supporting the research that is needed to improve medical care for Veterans. There is far more research that needs to be done than VA can support, so VA selects the work that is most likely to be valuable. Of all the research that is proposed, typically about 20% gets selected by scientific subject matter experts as scientifically valid and of highest priority for funding. Of that, more than half is research that is best done with human subjects, computer models, analysis of existing data, or collection of data from biological systems other than vertebrate animals. Of the remaining less than half that depends on work with living non-human vertebrate animals, over 99% is done with rats and mice. Less than 5% of that last 1% of the research that depends on living vertebrate animals involves dogs, cats, or nonhuman primates, as shown in the figure below:

VA research with animals

All VA research with animals is subject to careful review and oversight, but research with these three species is scrutinized especially closely, according to procedures that were formally described in Guidance Document AR 2017-001, which was most recently updated July 16, 2020. 

Only the protocols for VA research with these species that are shown here are currently approved for work to proceed.  For each protocol, there is a link to the following supporting documents:

  • The animal protocol form reviewed and approved by the local IACUC
  • The feedback document provided by the CVMO’s office to the station for each protocol that underwent secondary review.  The feedback was provided by at least one boarded laboratory animal veterinarian and reviewed by the CVMO, also a boarded laboratory animal veterinarian, andguided the local IACUC and the investigator to revise earlier versions of the animal protocol form, to ensure that the final version met the standards required for CVMO approval.

VA Research with Current Approval for Work with Canines

Protocol

Funding Source

VA Location

1. Mechanistic Insight of Premature Ventricular Contractions- induced Cardiomyopathy

Protocol Form, Feedback Document, and Summary of the Literature

NIH

Richmond, VA

Purpose of Research:  Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs) interfere with proper beating of the heart. This is research into the cellular mechanisms involved, which we need to understand in order to develop better ways to manage PVCs.

Reason for Working with Canines: The size of the heart, the rate at which it beats, and the electrical system that coordinates it, are all crucial to making it beat properly. The canine model is used because the canine heart is more similar to those of humans in all of these ways than the hearts of rodents, rabbits, pigs, or sheep are.

2. Autonomic Nerve Activity and Cardiac Arrhythmias

Protocol Form, Feedback Document, and Summary of the Literature

American Heart Association

Richmond, VA

Purpose of Research: Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) interfere with nerve signals to the heart and can damage heart muscle. This is research into how the loss of nerve signals might be responsible for the damage. Understanding this better is critical to developing better ways to protect the heart.

Reasons for Working with Canines: The size of the heart, the rate at which it beats, and the electrical system that coordinates it, are all crucial to making it beat properly. The canine model is used because the canine heart is more similar to those of humans in all of these ways than the hearts of rodents, rabbits, pigs, or sheep are.

3. Nanoparticle Injection into Ganglionated Neural Plexi to Prevent Atrial Fibrillation

Protocol Form, Feedback Document, and Summary of the Literature

Other

 --

Virginia Commonwealth

Richmond, VA

Purpose of Research:  Atrial fibrillation (AF) increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, hospitalization, and death, but current treatments for AF are risky. This is research into new ways to treat AF with less risk than is currently possible.

Reasons for Working with Canines: The size of the heart, the rate at which it beats, and the electrical system that coordinates it, are all crucial to making it beat properly. The canine model is used because the canine heart is more similar to those of humans in all of these ways than the hearts of rodents, rabbits, pigs, or sheep are.

4. Administration of Intratumoral Immunocytokine to Activate Immune Rejection of Spontaneous Canine Melanoma

Protocol Form, Feedback Document, and Summary of the Literature

VA funds UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine cancer study in dogs (nbc15.com)

VA

Madison, WI

Purpose of Research: Service-related to exposure to sun places Veterans at increased risk of melanoma, compared to the general US population. This aggressive skin cancer frequently spreads to other parts of the body, after which it is usually fatal. In dogs, melanoma is a common oral cancer. This research is to evaluate the safety and effects of some new ways of treating melanoma in privately owned pet dogs that have developed the disease spontaneously, and have been brought to a university school of veterinary medicine for care, where the owners choose to have their dogs participate.

Reasons for Working with Canines: Because of the similarity of the oral melanoma that develops spontaneously in dogs to the melanoma that humans get, this is an important step in the process of preparing the new treatments for human clinical trials. Both pets and humans benefit from this research.

5. Contribution of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Pericardial Fluid to Postoperative Atrial Fibrillation after Cardiac Surgery

Protocol Form, Feedback Document, and Summary of the Literature

VA

St. Louis, MO

Purpose of Research: Postoperative atrial fibrillation (POAF) is associated with longer hospital stays after cardiac surgery, and increased risks of stroke and death in Veterans and others. This researcher has newly identified factors in the blood and in the pericardial fluid that bathes the heart that seem to be related to POAF in human patients who have undergone cardiac surgery . This research is the next step, to evaluate in a dog model the mechanisms by which those factors may contribute to POAF. This knowledge is needed as a basis for developing effective ways to prevent and treat POAF.

Reasons for Working with Canines: Research of this nature is best done in canines because the size and geometry of the rodent heart does not support development of atrial fibrillation, which can be readily induced in the canine heart. The size of the canine atrium is also important to modeling human clinical conditions, and the electrical properties of the canine heart are more similar to those of humans than those of other large species are.

Approved VA Research with Sensitive Species that has been Completed

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VA Research with Current Approval for Work with Felines

Protocol

Funding Source

VA Location

1. Conscious Ambulatory Bladder Monitoring to Understand Neural Control of Lower Urinary Tract Function (fully approved before the policy of expanded secondary review of protocols for work with felines was established May 3, 2018)

Protocol Form

NIH

Cleveland

Purpose of Research: More than 15 million Americans face the challenges of incontinence, frequent urination, or dysfunctional voiding, often related to spinal cord injury, diabetes, or aging, which are common in the veteran population. Finding better ways to diagnose and treat the causes of these problems with bladder function requires devices that can monitor bladder volume and pressure under everyday conditions and in people without sensation. This research is to develop and validate such a device.

Reasons for Working with Felines: Cats are the smallest species that controls the bladder in ways similar to how people do, and have bladders large enough for the devices developed with them to be scalable for human use.

2. Force Feedback Redistribution & Eccentric-Focused Rehab post-SCI (fully approved before the policy of expanded secondary review of protocols for work with felines was established May 3, 2018)

Protocol Form and Feedback Document

 VA

Louisville

Purpose of Research:  Veterans with incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) may have sensation and be able to use muscles below the level of the injury to walk, but there is evidence that mechanisms for coordinating the muscles and adjusting limb stiffness may still be dysfunctional, interfering with normal gait and weight support. This research examines the mechanisms that are impaired and the effects of a training strategy specifically designed to reverse the impairment and thereby improve weight support and gait after SCI.

Reasons for Working with Felines: The feline is an important translational model for issues involving SCI in humans, due to its spinal size with respect to growth requirements for re-connectivity, its uniquely elegant motor control compared to what other species show, and the specificity of well-established motor tests in felines that do not exist in rodents.

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Approved VA Research with Sensitive Species that has been Completed



VA Research with Current Approval for Work with Non-Human Primates

Protocol

Funding Source(s)

Station

1. Stem Cell Therapy for Treatment of Spinal Cord Injury (fully approved before the policy of expanded secondary review of protocols for work with non-human primates was established May 3, 2018)

Protocol Form and Feedback Document

VA

San Diego

Purpose of Research: Over 40,000 US veterans are living with spinal cord injuries (SCI), and there are still no therapies to repair the spinal cord.  This research is to explore the possibility that neural stem cells can be used to help bridge the damaged tissue and restore communication across the site of the injury. This is an effort to go beyond helping those with SCI to live with them, the goal is to actually cure the problem.

Reasons for Working with Non-Human Primates: It is essential to work with non-human primates because previous work with stem cell transplantation revealed key differences in how the stem cells behaved in non-human primates compared to in rodents; furthermore, the fine motor control of the hand, which is of particular interest in this research, is unique to primate species.

2. Contusion Injury as a Model for Spinal Cord Injury (fully approved before the policy of expanded secondary review of protocols for work with non-human primates was established May 3, 2018)

Protocol Form and Feedback Document

VA

San Diego

Purpose of Research:  Over 40,000 US veterans are living with spinal cord injuries (SCI), the most common of which are contusion (bruising) injuries, which have important anatomical and functional differences from injuries in which the spinal cord is cut.  This research is to gain greater understanding of contusion SCI, and its time course and functional effects, to improve prediction of the outcomes of injuries that people experience, and then be better able to detect the effects of therapies that are applied.  

Reasons for Working with Non-Human Primates: The anatomical organization and functional roles of the neural pathways from the brain and brainstem to the muscles they control are likely to be important to the time course and pattern of recovery, and non-human primates are much more similar to humans in these ways than rats are, so the outcomes of these studies in non-human primates are much more likely to be meaningful for humans than studies with rats would be.

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Approved VA Research with Sensitive Species that has been Completed



VA Plan to Reduce Research with Sensitive Species of Animals

VA continues to be committed to supporting the research that is needed to improve medical care for Veterans, and recognizes that a very small portion of that research currently still depends on work with sensitive species of animals. VA is also committed to continuing to reduce the need for sensitive species of animals to be involved in VA research. There are various strategies for doing this, and VA is investing in a multipronged approach, as described in VA's Five-Year Plan for Reducing Research with Sensitive Species, submitted to Congress in December, 2020, as required by PL 116-94, § 249(e).



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