Campaign aims to end decades-long 'painful experiments' on dogs at Detroit's Wayne State University

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One of four billboards displayed in Detroit as part of a campaign calling on Wayne State University to end experiments on dogs. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • One of four billboards displayed in Detroit as part of a campaign calling on Wayne State University to end experiments on dogs.

A group of physicians and state lawmakers are calling on Wayne State University to stop what they say are inhumane experiments in which dogs are forced to undergo painful and invasive surgeries intended to cause heart failure.

As part of the campaign, which coincides with National Dog Day on Thursday, a national nonprofit called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine installed four billboards in Detroit, three of which are within blocks of Wayne State, that feature dogs who recently died as a result of the experiments.



One of the dogs is known only as “Dog #2002.” She died in August 2019 after undergoing her second surgery. The white-and-tan dog was struggling to breathe due to the buildup of blood around her lungs after her chest was cut open and devices were implanted in her heart and near major blood vessels. Seven days after the surgery, she was euthanized.

“Killed in a Detroit lab when her chest cavity filled with blood,” the billboard on Woodward near Burroughs states.



Disturbing details of the animals’ conditions were revealed in veterinary records obtained by the Physicians Committee under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the records, after the surgeries, the dogs are forced to run on treadmills while their heart rates are artificially elevated.

“Each of these dogs, like so many others, suffered and died at Wayne State,” Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy at the Physicians Committee, said in a statement. “For three decades, these experiments have failed to produce a single treatment for the millions of Michiganders suffering from heart disease while wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer money to literally run dogs to death.”

In a letter sent to Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson on Thursday, 11 state lawmakers urged the university to end the decades-long experiments.

“There is a clear pattern of dogs suffering and dying in troubling ways at Wayne State,” the lawmakers, led by Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, wrote, adding that Wayne State has conducted the experiments without any scientific progress.

“We are concerned that heart failure and hypertension research at Wayne State continues to involve surgically implanting devices, catheters, wires, and cables into the bodies of otherwise healthy dogs,” the letter continues. “We are also alarmed that these experiments have been conducted for 30 years without any evidence that they have benefited patients.”

In June, state Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren, introduced a bill that would prohibit Wayne State and other publicly funded institutions from conducting inhumane experiments on dogs. State Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, plans to introduce a resolution next month “to encourage Michigan’s public universities to eliminate painful experiments on dogs.”

The Physicians Committee and legislators say there are many effective and humane alternatives to animal experiments, including a functioning human heart model created by researchers at Michigan State University. Scientists may also use hearts donated for research and diseased hearts from patients undergoing transplants. In 2015, the Texas Heart Institute ended its experiments on dogs for research on cardiovascular disease.

“Wayne State has an opportunity to finally end these fruitless experiments and instead focus on research that is human-relevant and that benefits the people of Michigan,” the lawmakers wrote.

In a statement to Metro Times, Wayne State defended the experiments and said it "maintains the highest professional standards in conducting biomedical research, as well as the highest level of care for animals used in the research."

"Heart disease is the number one killer in America and more than 5 million people in the United States suffer from heart failure," the statement reads. "Therefore, this specific research project has the potential to impact the overall cardiovascular health and well-being of many individuals that may suffer from heart failure and related quality of life issues."

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