Doctors' Group to A&M: Stop Killing Lambs for Alcohol Study

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Courtesy PCRM
This study sounds pretty baaaaaahhhhd to us.
For the last 17 years, researchers at Texas A&M have been getting pregnant sheep drunk and dissecting their babies' brains. No, they're not doing it for fun, but to find "preventative and ameliorative strategies" for addressing fetal alcohol syndrome.

The National Institutes of Health has dropped roughly $4.2 million on this endeavor, with no clear-cut results. That's why a group called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants A&M to cut it out.

To help its crusade to halt the study, the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee is asking U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and a state agency called the Texas Office for the Prevention of Developmental Disabilities, whose mission is pretty much spelled out in the name. The office wants to "minimize the losses caused by preventable disabilities, especially fetal alcohol spectrum disorders..."

The study tries to replicate different ways pregnant human women imbibe, including binge drinking. To simulate the effect of four alcohol binges, researchers administer alcohol to pregnant ewes intravenously for an hour, for three consecutive days, followed by four days off. This continues for most of the ewe's gestational period.

The Physicians Committee has drafted a letter to Texas Office for the Prevention of Developmental Disabilities Chairman Richard Garnett, claiming that "the real-world application of these experiments has not been evident," and argues that the animal models used to study fetal alcohol syndrome "are grossly oversimplified and do not mimic [the syndrome] as it develops in the human." We put in a call to the Texas Office, and will update if we hear back. (The Physicians Committee has also campaigned against testing on chimpanzees.)

But A&M study personnel wrote in the application to the NIH that the "well established sheep model" offers "unique advantages." One key factor in the study is examining how alcohol intake affects glutamine, and if maternal administration of glutamine can prevent the syndrome. This would be part of a "practical, combinatory, nutritional prevention." (We put in a call to A&M's vet department, and will update if we hear back.)

It's the "practical" claim that gets us. We can buy the idea that, if given 100 years and 100,000 lambs' brains, scientists can find the key to creating a nutritional supplement, or dietary regimen, that will allow a pregnant woman to get shitfaced without screwing up her fetus too much. That's when the researchers will high-five each other over their hard-won breakthrough, and probably celebrate by mainlining some of that sheep-booze themselves. But for them, "practical" stops right there.

But to us, practical also involves the marketing and distribution of this solution. It will have to be readily available -- and desirable -- to a demographic of people who want (or perhaps need) alcohol right now, dangit. That's going to be a little tricky.

The Physicians Committee has paid for billboard space near A&M to draw attention to its campaign, so we're curious to see how much fuss, if any, the billboards raise. We'll keep you posted.

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