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PETA seeks to block NIH from funding animal sepsis research

An animal rights group is using comments made in 2013 by Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, as evidence that NIH acknowledges that experimentation on rodents is not yielding any findings to help treat sepsis in humans. NIH did not comment on the pending lawsuit seeking to end its funding for those experiments. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

The National Institutes of Health must end its multimillion dollar funding of experimentation on mice and other rodents in a futile attempt to find a cure for the often fatal disease sepsis, an animal rights group stated this week in seeking a court order that Bethesda-based NIH halt the grant awards.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alleged NIH concluded eight years ago that animals do not experience sepsis but continued to grant $10 million annually to medical researchers seeking to combat the infection-related disease that kills 270,000 Americans per year.

By continuing to fund the animal research, NIH is in violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act’s prohibition on agencies acting arbitrarily and capriciously, PETA stated in its filing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Allowing NIH to keep awarding grants would waste taxpayer money and needlessly harm animals, PETA added.

“The agency’s entrenchment in a research model that it has acknowledged does not accurately replicate the disease that humans experience, and that, despite decades of research, has failed to result in any treatment for humans with sepsis, goes beyond poor stewardship to deliberate actions to exercise its statutory authority in a manner that is outside its mandate,” wrote PETA’s attorneys with DiMuroGinsberg PC in Alexandria, Virginia.

“Animal sepsis experiments on mice and other animals inherently cause extreme pain,” added Billy B. Ruhling II and Jonathan R. Mook. “They experience fever, chills, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, lethargy, disorientation, shock, multiple-organ failure, and, eventually, death – commonly after first suffering for one or two weeks.”

NIH declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has defined sepsis as “the body’s extreme response to infection.” Each year, the disease afflicts 1.7 million Americans, including  one in three patients who die in a hospital, according to the CDC.

NIH has funded animal research to combat sepsis since at least 1985, PETA stated in its court filing.

The institutes’ director, Francis Collins, stated in 2013 that the inability to find a cure is not because “wonder drugs designed for the mice failed in humans” but because the drugs “were, in fact, treating different conditions,” a statement PETA has interpreted as NIH’s acknowledgment that animal research for a sepsis cure is futile.

Norfolk, Virginia-based PETA said NIH should fund research methods that use existing and emerging technologies to find a sepsis cure rather than resort to animal experimentation.

“Sepsis in animals is not human sepsis; they are different conditions, and the findings generated from experiments on mice and other animals do not translate into treatments for human sepsis patients,” Ruhling and Mook wrote. “For NIH to acknowledge this in 2013 yet continue to award grants for animal-sepsis experiments that it knows are inherently ill-suited to develop a treatment for sepsis in humans is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with law, and in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

The case is docketed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Inc. v. National Institutes of Health et al., No. 8-21-cv-02413-PWG.