By LEAH RAE
THE JOURNAL NEWS
November 27, 2007
VALHALLA - The newest class of students at New York Medical
College will study the basics of cardiology without the traditional method:
They won't be opening the chest of a live dog and watching its heart beat.
Responding to appeals from humanitarian groups, the college said
yesterday that it would end the practice normally used to teach
190 students in first-year physiology class. Echocardiography and
simulators will replace the use of live dogs when they reach that
phase of their course in early 2008.
The college attracted a mini-movement of opposition over the past
two years as the only medical school in New York that apparently
still used animals. Animal-rights groups, neighborhood dog lovers
and politicians joined the cause.
Bob Funck, who lives in Harrison, said he began fighting the policy
after hearing about it from a student. "I give the folks at the college
credit for making a good, positive decision - for them and for the
animals," he said.
An organization called the Physicians Committee for Responsible
Medicine is fighting the practice around the country. Just 11
medical schools still use live animals, none of them in New York
state, said Dr. John J. Pippin, a Dallas cardiologist working with the
organization. He said technological tools have quickly become the
standard in education.
Dr. Karl Adler, president of the college in Valhalla, said that last he
had heard, about seven dogs were used annually in the lab. The
animals were given anesthesia during the procedure and euthanized
afterward, administrators have said.
"The reason why the dogs were used in the past is that the students
could actually see a beating heart, and understand the physiology of
how the heart works," Adler said. "It's the only internal organ where
there's actually movement that you can understand the physiology of."
Animals were once a common study aid, he said. An internist,
Adler remembers learning about treatment for seizures in a medical
school lab with a number of seizing dogs.
Technology has since provided alternative ways to display and simulate
the heart's function. With a portable echocardiograph machine, the
class will be able to attach an electrode to a student's chest and watch
the heart's activity on a video monitor. Simulators with computerized
models will be able to mimic things like cardiac arrest or the effect of a
New York Medical College's curriculum committee was asked in July to
study alternatives to the animal lab, and reported back to the dean that
the alternatives were just as effective in instruction. Adler had no
on how much the college would spend on the technology.
"We're not teaching open-heart surgery. What we're teaching is first-year medical students to understand how the heart works," he said.
"And we think that the exposure using (echocardiography) and the
simulators is equivalent now to using a live dog."
Among the elected officials pressing against the practice was
Assemblyman Adam Bradley, who wrote to the college dean,
Dr. Ralph O'Connell, this month.
Bradley called the procedure "unjustified and unnecessary." He wrote
that the practice could not have been a great benefit to graduates,
given that students were already allowed to opt out.
Typically, animals in a lab are anesthetized and given a
breathing tube, and students open the chest, observe the heart
and give drugs intravenously to watch the effects, said Pippin, the
Dallas cardiologist. Modern simulators, in the form of humans,
replicate the process so well that students can become emotional
when the device simulates death.
The advantage: "You get to go back and learn and do it all over again
and be successful, as opposed to using a dog, where if you do make
a mistake and the dog dies, you're done," he said. "The traditional
notion that, 'Well, we're going to use an animal to show you this
'cause we don't know how else to do it' - that doesn't hold water
anymore, because there are much better ways to do it."
Reach Leah Rae at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-694-3526.