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(Last updated 6/24/09)

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FEDERAL AGENCY REPORTS DISPUTE PETA’S CLAIMS OF ABUSE

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Two federal agencies have given an Ohio State University researcher a green light to continue his controversial heart research, effectively negating claims by animal rights groups that the studies were flawed.

The federal Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), a part of the National Institutes of Health, and the US Department of Agriculture both investigated the long-running studies by researcher George Billman after complaints were filed against him by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

OLAW is the national agency charged with insuring that research using animals is performed in strict adherence to federal regulations designed to protect the animals.  USDA is the primary enforcer of the federal Animal Welfare Act overseeing animal research.

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“PETA and other groups continue to target studies like these which harass researchers and students.  Ultimately, it slows the progress of biomedical research and impedes our ability to improve the health of Americans.”


PETA waged a grassroots campaign, beginning last spring, which claimed that several animals in Billman’s study were ill-treated and poorly cared for during the research.  Its accusations were sent to OLAW and to USDA, initiating their inquiry.  Ohio State officials responded, forwarding substantial information to both agencies that addressed the accusations.

Based on that information, Axel Wolff, director of the Division of Compliance Oversight within OLAW, informed Ohio State that, “OLAW understands that either the allegations [by PETA] were not substantiated or [that] a valid explanation was provided which was confirmed by a review of clinical and protocol records.”

Wolff added that the inquiry showed no instance where the university had not complied with animal policies mandated by the US Public Health Service.

“OLAW hereby closes this inquiry,” Wolff wrote.

Similarly, an inspection by USDA officials into the same complaints by PETA yielded similar results.  Their report read:  “No non-compliant items [were] identified [during] this inspection.”

Caroline Whitacre, Ohio State’s vice president for research, said the OLAW and USDA reports were most welcome but not unexpected.

“Protesters have targeted this work for years, likely stemming from a lack of understanding of the research” she said.  “These rulings by OLAW and the USDA support the important work of Dr. Billman and his team.

“PETA and other groups continue to target studies like these which harass researchers and students.  Ultimately, it slows the progress of biomedical research and impedes our ability to improve the health of Americans.”

Billman’s work focuses on events that occur at the cellular level in heart tissue during cardiac events and it has led to the development of a non-invasive method of identifying dogs that may be at risk of suffering sudden death.

Those same noninvasive markers discovered in dogs have proven useful in human medicine as well, and have led to the identification of people who are at the greatest risk for sudden death from certain heart problems.

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.

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