Lawmakers pen letter to Fauci, NIH over funding for alleged experiments with puppies

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Dr. Anthony Fauci and the National Institutes of Health demanding answers about the agency’s funding of alleged overseas experiments involving the abuse of puppies.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., authored the letter, which was signed by 23 other Democratic and Republican lawmakers and sent to the nation’s top infectious disease expert last week.

"Yesterday, I sent a letter to Dr. Fauci regarding cruel, taxpayer-funded experiments on puppies; debarking before drugging and killing them," Mace posted on Twitter Saturday. "Thankful to my 23 democrat and republican colleagues who signed on. This is disgusting. What say you @NIH."

In the letter, Mace said she became aware of the alleged overseas experiments from watchdog group White Coat Waste Project. She explained that the group claimed that "from October 2018 until February 2019, NIAID [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] spent $1.68 million in taxpayers funds on drug tests involving 44 beagle puppies." 

On its website, the group claims the experiments took place at an "NIH lab run by Anthony Fauci."

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"The dogs were all between six and eight months old," Mace’s letter continued. "The commissioned tests involved injecting and force-feeding the puppies an experimental drug for several weeks, before killing and dissecting them."

Mace also wrote in the letter that the alleged experiments involved a cordectomy — the removal of the vocal cords — in order to prevent barking, howling or crying. 

The watchdog group claimed the information was based on a Freedom of Information Act request with the NIAID. It also alleged that more than $400,000 in taxpayer money was spent on canine experiments during which beagles were infected with parasites via biting flies.

Mace called the alleged experiments a "cruel procedure" and said she felt Fauci was the right person at the NIH with whom to raise the issue. 

"Dr. Fauci helps lead the NIH," Mace said in an interview with FOX Television Stations Monday. "So Fauci was the appropriate person to address this concern with, at the top of the food chain I guess. "

"Of course, there are many people that work at the NIH, but at the end of the day, it’s the NIH that oversees the grant-funding of these kinds of programs," she added. 

Mace said her pursuit isn’t politically motivated, and she’s not calling on Fauci to resign at the moment regarding the matter. But her letter lists several questions she would like Fauci and the NIH to answer. 

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Mace wants to know how many tests have involved dogs since January 2018, and why the agency has commissioned such testing on dogs even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require it. Mace also wants to know what alternatives the agency has explored, and whether any of the dogs have been made available for adoption at the end of the experiments. Mace also inquired as to why researchers resorted to cordectomies. 

"I want to get as much information as possible and then figure out ways we can prevent this from happening again in the future," Mace said, adding that the matter is personal to her as she is a human and animal rights activist. 

Mace said she expects to get a response from the NIH in a couple of days. 

The NIH responded to the claims in a statement to FOX Television Stations. 

"All animals used in NIH-funded research are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare. Institutions receiving funds, including those in other countries, must conduct research that involves animals in accordance with the Public Health Service Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. The proposed use of animals in research is evaluated during peer review for both contract and grant proposals, and animals used in research are to be provided with appropriate anesthesia and veterinary care. The principles for what is -- and is not -- allowed are governed both by regulations administered by the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and the grantee institution's animal care and use committee (IACUC), and these principles apply to the situations described below," the NIH said. 

The NIH also added further statements:

• The images of beagles were drawn from a manuscript published in July 2021 in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The manuscript mistakenly cited support from NIAID, when in fact NIAID did not support this specific research shown in the images of the beagles being circulated. NIAID has funded a separate project involving the study of a vaccine to prevent leishmaniasis, a serious parasitic disease transmitted by sand flies that poses a threat in particular to US troops and other personnel, as well as US military dogs, in areas where the disease is endemic. In the NIAID-supported study, twelve dogs were immunized with the experimental vaccine at the Pasteur Institute of Tunis, and then let out in an enclosed open space during the day, during high sandfly season in an area of Tunisia considered to be hyper-endemic for canine leishmaniasis. The goal of the research was to determine if the experimental vaccine prevented the dogs from becoming infected in a natural setting. Developing a vaccine to prevent leishmaniasis is an important research goal. In this case, the researchers are supported through multiple different funding sources. The NIAID grant ended in July 2021. White Coat Waste also noted a 2016 leishmaniasis project conducted in NIAID laboratories; dogs were the necessary animal model for the research, and the researchers ensured that the dogs experienced no discomfort.

• The research described by the White Coat Waste Project at the University of Georgia focuses on lymphatic filariasis (LF), a mosquito-transmitted parasitic disease that affects millions of people in many countries around the world. According to the World Health Organization, LF is the second leading cause of human disability in endemic countries. People disfigured by LF are frequently unable to work because of their disability. No licensed prophylactic vaccine is  available to prevent  LF; the development of an effective vaccine against the parasites that cause LF could prevent significant disease and suffering globally. The vaccine candidate under investigation in the NIAID-supported project at the University of Georgia  targets a protein that is common among  multiple species of filarial parasites. It  potentially could be used to prevent LF in humans as well as filarial infections, including heartworm, in dogs. Dogs are a natural host for the B. pahangi parasite and exhibit clinical and pathologic changes like those seen in human filarial infection. As such, they represent an appropriate model for testing this investigational vaccine prior to evaluation in humans.

• There also are concerns raised about work involving beagles under an NIAID contract for preclinical pharmacology and toxicology services. Under this contract, the contractor conducts testing as required in animal models by the FDA, in compliance with Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) guidelines and in a facility accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) or its equivalent. Vocal cordectomies, conducted humanely under anesthesia, may be used in research facilities where numerous dogs are present. This is to reduce noise, which is not only stressful to the animals but can also reach decibel levels that exceed OSHA allowable limits for people and can lead to hearing loss.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.