Lawmakers demand to know more about a proposed medical experiment on dogs at Los Angeles VA

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Lawmakers demand to know more about a proposed medical experiment on dogs at Los Angeles VA

Dogs could be dying as part of a proposed experiment at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and members of Congress say they want more information about animal testing at the facility.

In a Monday letter to the Veterans Affairs Inspector General, Nevada Rep. Dina Titus and eight members of Los Angeles' delegation demanded to know more about the experiment, including how much it could cost and what other experiments the Los Angeles VA is conducting on animals.

The proposed experiment involves giving 18 narcoleptic Dobermans antidepressants or methamphetamine, then killing the dogs and studying how the drugs affect the production of histamines — the body's response to allergens — in their brains. The animal rights group White Coat Waste Project, which obtained a 2016 research application for the experiment through a Freedom of Information Act request, brought the proposed experiment to the attention of lawmakers.

The experiment's goal is to determine if heightened histamine production in narcoleptics is a response to treatment or a part of the disease itself.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who represents the area of West L.A. where the VA is located, said he was "deeply troubled" to learn about the experiment described in the application.

“We were not aware of it, and frankly no one was aware of it,” Lieu said. “No federal agency should be doing that. If this is true, these dogs are being abused.”

It is unclear if the experiment was approved or is underway. Lieu said he plans to push to stop it if the department confirms the experiment is in progress.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs directed questions about the experiment to the agency's inspector general. An inspector general spokesman said it is reviewing the lawmakers' letter and will decide how to respond soon.

White Coat Waste Project vice president Justin Goodman said the whole VA experiments on half a million animals a year in 74 facilities, but only four VA facilities conduct medical testing on dogs. It's not clear how many dogs are tested at those facilities. 

The members of Congress were particularly upset about an April 3 VA statement about its animal testing standards. In the statement, the VA appears to describe the Los Angeles experiment as an "observational" study, which the congressional members say isn't accurate.

"Such harmful experiments on dogs cannot reasonably be described as observational," the members' letter states. "We are also concerned that without access to FOIA documents, we would not have known the VA was providing misleading information or that dogs were even being used in these experiments at the Greater LA VA."

California's members have been pushing to make information about animal testing and its costs available. Late last year, the Government Accountability Office began looking into animal research at the VA and other federal agencies after being prompted by members of Congress, including Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) and others from California.

White Coat Waste Project has long argued there should be more oversight of the costs of federal animal testing.

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