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UBC med school will no longer use live animals

March 2nd, 2003, 07:12 AM
UBC med school will no longer use live animals

Canadian Press

The University of British Columbia school of medicine will no longer use live animals in its teaching curriculum.

It was one of the last universities in Canada to use live animals to train doctors.

Dean of Medicine John Cairns confirmed Thursday that when classes begin in September, none will include the use of any live animals.

Instead students will use robotics, computer models and animal tissue taken from slaughterhouses, he said. Surgery skills are also learned on live human patients.

Last autumn, second-year students used pigs in a surgical skills course, but that was the last time, Cairns said. As of now no more live animals of any kind will be used.

A survey conducted in late 2001 by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, showed that UBC was one of only three medical schools in Canada that continued to use live animals in school curricula.

The others were Memorial University in Newfoundland and the University of Western Ontario in London.

Representatives of those schools were not available Thursday for comment.

At the time, Wes Schreiber, associate dean of UBC's medical school undergraduate program, said the school continued to use live pigs to teach students sterile techniques, suturing, intravenous line placement, insertion of chest tubes, tracheotomies, arterial lines and to monitor heart rates.

About 25 animals were used each year, he said.

"We continue to use live animals because they more closely mimic human tissue than do models -- which is what other schools are using -- and in particular living tissues," said Schreiber.

"Even if it is animal tissue, it is more like human tissue than would be a plastic or rubber model. Therefore it's better for teaching techniques."

But on Thursday, Cairns said halting the use of live animals wasn't just better for the animals, but for students, too.

"The question we've always asked is, what is the best way to ensure the students get the information they need?" Cairns said.

"At the same time we're considering social issues. We need to know that skills and information could be gained in other ways."

A number of students had complained to the faculty about having to use live animals in their course work,' he said.

"It wasn't a positive thing," said Cairns. "We'd rather not have the students concerned about any aspect of the program.

"We're concerned about producing the best physicians possible, and this change in no way compromises that."

Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Washington-based physicians' committee, said the overwhelming trend among medical schools in both Canada and the United States is to stop using live animals.

Of 126 U.S. schools, 92 have stopped using live animals, including Yale, Harvard and Stanford, he said.

"I would have to say it's an excellent and appropriate decision, not only for the animals, but for the students," Barnard said.

"The emphasis from here on out will be on human anatomy and like every other medical centre that's made this switch, the quality of education only improves."

Barnard said until the mid-1980s, it was common practice for North American medical schools to teach a wide variety of medical techniques on live animals.

Dogs were the most commonly used animal, but at UBC rats and rabbits also were used, Cairns said.

Cats were used as well, he added, but only after they had been killed first.

Barnard said it was customary in the past to assign one dog to every four students. With up to 150 students per class and 126 medical schools in the United States, that amounted to thousands of animals being destroyed each year.

"Surgery is 90-per-cent anatomy," he said. "It's knowing where the arteries, the nerves and the veins are. If you learn that on a pig, you'll be in danger when you make it to the operating room.

"(Using a pig) might make you a better veterinarian, but it doesn't make you a better surgeon."

March 3rd, 2003, 07:15 AM
:D YAY! This is good news. It's about time !