Seattle’s University of Washington (UW) has reintroduced the use of live animals in its general surgery residency, following a five-year span in which human-relevant methods were used exclusively for training surgery residents. According to a federal complaint filed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a nonprofit of more than 12,000 doctors—this use of animals is in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
At UW, live pigs are once again used for training in the general surgery residency. The training is also offered to community surgeons, a likely source of revenue for UW. Compared to humans, pigs have smaller torsos, lighter limbs, and thicker skin. There are also important differences in the anatomy of the head and neck, internal organs, rib cage, blood vessels, and the airway.
Currently, 68 of 93 surveyed surgery residency programs in the United States exclude live animal use from training. Other regional programs at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma and Swedish Medical Center/First Hall in Seattle use human-relevant methods alone. Instead of animals, human-patient simulators, laparoscopic simulators, virtual reality simulators, and human cadavers, which can be used to teach all surgical procedures, are widely used. The simulators accurately replicate human anatomy and can include layers of lifelike skin, fat, and muscle. Prior to reinstating this animal use, UW used its WWAMI Institute for Simulation in Healthcare (WISH) to train surgery residents over the past five years.
“UW’s return to a practice they abandoned and improved upon is head-scratching,” said Physicians Committee director of academic affairs, John Pippin, MD, FACC. “The hypocrisy is that either UW knowingly provided what they consider substandard training for five surgery cohorts, or UW is taking advantage of new funding to add irrelevant pig labs to its current training protocol and possibly to profit from those pig labs. The truth is that animal use was not and is not necessary to train surgery residents or established surgeons.”
Lisa Jones-Engel, PhD, a member of UW’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), sent a letter detailing “significant scientific, ethical and legal deficiencies in the UW’s animal care and use programs” to UW President Ana Mari Cauce on May 16. In the letter, Jones-Engel requests “a transparent investigation of the structure, leadership, functions, and committee review practices for the UW IACUC.”
The Animal Welfare Act’s implementing regulations require that a principal investigator—including course instructors—consider alternatives to the use of animals for such training. The Physicians Committee’s complaint, which is filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, cites violations of the Animal Welfare Act and inadequate oversight of the training protocol by UW’s IACUC.
In May, the Physicians Committee launched a campaign against UW. We need your help to keep the pressure on. Please call UW today! When you call, it’s important that you are polite and encouraging. When you call, you will reach Dr. Cauce’s secretary. Please leave a polite message.
Here is what you should say: “Please tell the president to replace live animals in UW’s surgery residency with other human-relevant methods.”
Ana Mari Cauce, PhD
President, University of Washington
After you call, please send an email to UW officials. Thank you for taking action.
Featured image: pigs behind bars. Image via Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.