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(Last updated 5/9/07)

 

BACKGROUND ON BILLMAN'S HEART STUDIES INVOLVING THE USE OF DOGS

Recent accusations and allegations by animal rights activists about long-standing heart research studies involving dogs at Ohio State University have grossly misrepresented and severely discounted the scientific merit and potential public health benefit of this work. The following points should help clarify public understanding of this research:

  • Sudden cardiac attacks are the leading cause of death in industrialized countries and account for approximately 500,000 deaths annually in the United States alone;
  • While considerable successes in treatments have been made over the years, effective therapeutic interventions for all cardiac problems have remained elusive;
  • This work, by George Billman, a professor of anesthesiology and of physiology & cell biology at Ohio State , has been underway for several decades and focuses on events that occur at the cellular level in heart tissue during cardiac events;
  • Billman's work has led to the development of a non-invasive methods of identifying dogs that may be at risk of suffering sudden death because of a cardiac event. His methods use changes in the beat-to-beat variations in heart rate, as determined from the electrocardiogram, ECG or EKG;
  • These ECG/EKG changes, that were first discovered in dogs, have proven useful in human medicine as well, and have led to the widespread clinical use in identifying people who are at the greatest risk for sudden death from certain heart problems.  As a result, many patients who would have died without this identification continue to live full and productive lives;
  • Billman's work has shown that for people susceptible to a lethal change in the rhythmic beating of their hearts (ventricular fibrillation), exercise training can be an effective preventative therapy;
  • Current work is focused on understanding the exact biological mechanisms providing that protection in hopes that it might be harnessed and enhanced;
  • Billman also showed that injections of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) were able to prevent the onset of ventricular fibrillation in dogs and work by other researchers has shown that the same beneficial effect occurs in humans;
  • The exact biochemical mechanisms involved in that protection, however, have not been established and Billman's work is aimed at discovering those processes. He is also investigating whether ingestion (eating) omega-3 fatty acids will provide the same protection as that gained through injections, since dietary supplementation is an easier and safer therapeutic means of treating high-risk patients;
  • There are no computer models or simulations available today which can provide the kind of sophisticated data that is needed for applications to human or animal medicine;
  • This research has been repeatedly approved and sanctioned by the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the watchdog group on campus charged by federal law with overseeing all animal research;
  • Only about 30 dogs are used in this work annually, compared to the thousands which are euthanized by area pounds each year.

Ohio State University supports the work of George Billman and researchers like him whose efforts continue to provide new hope for seriously ill patients and the potential for an enhanced quality of life for all Ohioans.

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Contact: Earle Holland, (614) 292-8384; Holland.8@osu.edu