Washington Update

VA Releases Five-Year Plan on Sensitive Species

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Thursday, July 22, 2021

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently submitted to Congress its five-year plan to gradually reduce research with canines, felines, and non-human primates (NHPs). Required by the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Appropriations Act, the plan includes a summary of the agency’s current animal numbers and strategies to enhance coordination with other federal entities.

Over the past decade, the number of canines, felines, and NHPs used in VA studies has fallen by 50–95 percent, totaling 29, 55, and four, respectively in 2019. Development of new models such as rodents that can replicate the relevant biological process has contributed to the reduction in feline, canine, and NHP use in recent years. This progress will be supplemented by the establishment of a “Sensitive Species Working Group” comprised of scientific program managers, VA-funded researchers, and staff from the Office of the Chief Veterinarian to facilitate the implementation of the five-year plan and adjust recommendations as data evolve.

Other elements of the department’s new plan directly address recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM’s) 2020 consensus study on the use of canines in VA research.  Although the overarching conclusion of this study reiterated the need for continued canine research to study cardiovascular and neurological diseases, suggestions for improvement were also included. In accordance with NASEM’s recommendation, VA reiterated its commitment to evaluating and testing different approaches to reduce the use of sensitive species, including funding tissue culture, organoid, and other non-animal methodology studies. To strengthen interagency partnerships and streamline studies focused on veterans’ health, VA also plans to establish memoranda of understanding and affiliation agreements with the U.S. Department of Defense, veterinary schools, and the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

To achieve implementation by 2025, the final component of VA’s plan specifies a timeline and specific actions organized by year. The plan’s publication parallels the release of the draft House Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee bill, which proposes defunding all VA studies with canines and felines for FY 2022. This is partially consistent with previous funding proposals; House appropriators notably refrained from including NHP studies in the “defunded” category, an area of research that remains a persistent target of animal rights groups.

Additional information about VA research with canines, felines, and NHPs—including detailed factsheets, testimonial videos, and presentations on the impact of this critical research—can be found on VA’s Animal Research Program website.