COLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX)- Following years of protests, pressure, and lawsuits by animal rights advocates, Texas A&M is scaling back its practice of breeding sick dogs for medical research, but its efforts to find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy will continue.
Texas A&M says the decision to stop onsite breeding of canines has nothing to do with outside pressure by PETA or anyone else, instead, they say it's a combination of the lead researcher's retirement and the expiration of grants tied to the work.
The research has been widely criticized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who applauded the news, but made clear its work will not end until the entire lab is shut down.
"After Dr. Joseph Kornegay let folks know earlier this year that he would be retiring, it was decided that Texas A&M would have the dogs bred by another research facility, so the last litter of puppies was born in March," said Texas A&M spokesperson Kelly Brown.
"The school has not yet picked a facility that will continue that process, and Kornegay's protégé has grant funding through the next two or three years, and can always apply for more," said Brown. "Important to note that he always is looking for alternative methods to animal research"
Research at Texas A&M has given families whose children have the disease renewed hope. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved the school's research for human clinical trials.
PETA launched an aggressive campaign against Texas A&M's research in 2016 after obtaining hidden camera video taken inside A&M's research lab where the dogs are housed. The organization also accuses the school of lying about the breeding of the canines.
In December 2016, Texas A&M said in a statement online that the dogs used in the research were already affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but clarified on Thursday that it worked to correct that statement. The incorrect statement remained on at least one of the university's websites until recently, said Brown.
KBTX repeatedly ran the incorrect statement from A&M in multiple stories, but school officials never once reached out to correct our reporting.
"There was no intention of misleading anyone. Just as news and other sites make mistakes, that one misinformed sentence has come back to haunt Texas A&M. It’s unfortunate because again, the researchers were forthcoming with their work. Even if you couldn’t interview them, the data was public information online and also through open record requests," said Brown.
KBTX has repeatedly asked Texas A&M for access into the lab to help provide context with our reporting on this matter, but each request has been denied. Recently a newspaper reporter from Dallas was allowed to tour the facility but without any audio or video recording devices.
"A&M declined in-depth interviews because officials believed it would have added unnecessary fuel to the fire and legitimized an inaccurate depiction of the research going on here," said Brown.
PETA disputes the University's assertions. The organization has spent the last three years attempting to persuade school leaders to end the practice of using dogs in medical research. They've also recruited a number of celebrities and medical experts along the way and encouraged volunteers and staff to disrupt school events with protests.
"Even as university officials were stating that the school wasn't breeding dogs to suffer from the devastating muscle disease, as many as 100 puppies were born in the campus laboratory," said PETA Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Alka Chandna, Ph.D.
"To know that misery at Texas A&M is being turned off is hugely exciting, but we will not rest until the school takes the next step which is to adopt the remaining 30-or-so dogs from the lab and into decent homes," said Chandna.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is caused by a genetic disorder characterized by muscle degeneration and weakness.
In humans, the disease primarily affects boys ages 4 to 17. To date, there has been no cure for the disease which usually claims the lives of those affected by their early 20’s.
"Texas A&M looks forward to the day when animals aren’t necessary for research in which they’re trying to find cures and therapies for people, but right now it’s critical when researching some diseases," said Brown.