Posted by Dr Katy Taylor on 24th December 2015
US taxes spent on testing obese mini pigs for sleep research
More cruel, unreliable and pointless animal experiments
The US National Institute of Health (NIH) is spending over $200,000 of US taxpayer’s money on a project to develop the use of obese mini pigs for sleep apnoea research.1
Sleep apnoea is a disorder that stops you from breathing properly in your sleep as a result of the airway becoming blocked. Obesity is the most common cause of sleep apnoea because too much fat in the neck can put a strain on the throat muscles, causing them to collapse.
The two-year project, which started this month, is being carried out by scientists at the University of Washington who received a $231,750 grant from the NIH.
The aim of the project is to first prove that obese mini pigs actually develop sleep apnoea in the same way that obese humans do. The pigs will then be used in experiments to test ‘controversial’ treatments including drug therapy and neuromuscular stimulation, which involves applying a low-level electric shock to the muscles to make them contract.
The basis of the idea to use mini pigs to mimic human sleep apnoea came from a single observation that three extremely obese mini pigs had difficulty breathing when they were asleep. However researchers admit they don’t know whether it was for the same reasons as human sleep apnoea!2
We are not confident that these mini pigs will accurately mimic the anatomy and physiology of the human head such that they will accurately predict the effects of potential treatments.
Developing new ‘models’ of human disease like this flies in the face of efforts to reduce the number of animals used in experiments.
And there are already several options available for patients with sleep apnoea.
The condition can be prevented by making lifestyle changes such as losing weight and cutting back on smoking and alcohol consumption. Patients can also use special machines (e.g. ‘CPAP machine’) that gently pump air into the nose and throat through a mask while they are sleeping to prevent the airway from collapsing. These devices are widely used and have proven to be highly effective.
Researchers should be moving away from cruel, unreliable and pointless animal experiments.
- Obstructive sleep apnea – an obese minipig model, NIH: https://projectreporter.nih.gov/project_info_description.cfm?aid=9032978&icde=27363601&ddparam=&ddvalue=&ddsub=&cr=21&csb=FY&cs=DESC
- Sleep apnea in obese miniature pigs. (1998). Journal of Applied Physiology, 84(2): 531-536. Original article can be found here: http://jap.physiology.org/content/84/2/531