8News looks deeper into animal research at McGuire Medical Center

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News was first to expose the taxpayer-funded research at the veterans hospital.

We uncovered botched surgeries resulting in dog deaths, but now we’re learning it’s not just a few fatal mistakes. Through a Freedom of Information Act request obtained by the animal rights group White Coat Waste Project, 8News has learned that mostly all of the canines involved in the project are set to die.

We found four projects, using 118 dogs, some as young as six months old. Most of the dogs are euthanized, and in some cases, their hearts were harvested.

8News shared the documents with Dr. Christopher Patterson, a local veterinarian who was disturbed by the findings.

“Our tax dollars are being spent on studies that are potentially inhumane and not necessary,” Dr. Patterson said after he read from the Animal Component Research Protocol.

Patterson, speaking on his own behalf, and not necessarily on behalf of his practice, said that he finds the experiments painful and cruel.

“Unfortunately, the nature of the experiments is that they are designed to lead to suffering for these dogs,” Patterson said. “Absolutely there is suffering involved.”

Reviewing the documents, Patterson explained the researchers use surgeries and techniques to simulate heart problems in otherwise healthy animals. Some dogs are forced to perform stress tests and run a treadmill.


“These dogs already, just by what they have done, are already going to have discomfort from shortness of breath to coughing to fainting episodes,” Patterson said.

Others are cut open to have pacemakers implanted.

“Anytime you are doing a surgery into the chest, it is a very painful process,” Patterson said, while questioning if the results of the painful experiments can even be applied to people.

McGuire said the following in response:

“The anatomy and physiology of canines are similar to human anatomy and physiology and play a crucial role in understanding and treating many human diseases. To put this in perspective, the Nobel-prize winning discovery of insulin and its role in treating diabetes was almost entirely due to studies of canine subjects. Historically, canine research was also critical in the development of the cardiac pacemaker and the cardiac defibrillator [both pioneered by VA]”

McGuire also notes thousands of other studies where canine subjects have been important in developing new treatments for heart patients and states:

“Regarding the study of canines, specifically in heart studies, we encourage a search of PubMed.gov, a website managed by the US National Library of Medicine and the NIH, which demonstrates that studies of canine subjects have been and will continue to be important in developing new treatments for human heart patients.  We might suggest the search terms “dog cardiac research,” which results in over 20,000 publications in scientific journals, many published already in 2017,  demonstrating that canine models are extremely valuable in current cardiac research.  The work described in these ACORPs has been evaluated for scientific validity by independent scientific reviewers including those at the American Heart Association and NIH.”

But for Dr. Patterson, who tries to alleviate animal suffering on a daily basis,  it’s tough to see the experiments happening in his community.

“If we are going to do this type of research, it really has to be incredibly justified,” Patterson said.

The VA’s Office of VA Research Oversight periodically reviews all research projects.

The office denied our request to see those reports because those records are now part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

8News has confirmed that the Office of Government Accountability is reviewing the animal experiments.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

Never miss another Facebook post from 8News.

Find 8News on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.