Animals affected by COVID-19

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The coronavirus continues to wreak global havoc. To date, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people in the United States, and more than one million people around the world. It has also led to the death of many research animals.

As NAVS shared with you previously, the spread of the pandemic and “stay-at-home” orders earlier this spring led many universities to ask their researchers to “cull” extraneous lab animals due to disruptions in research and the potential shortage of animal care. As a result, researchers euthanized lab animals in very high numbers.

But that’s not the only way that animals have been negatively affected by the virus. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization put together a panel of individuals to develop animal models to test vaccines and therapeutics in an effort to combat the coronavirus. Since that time, animals of many species have been subjected to experimentation.

What kinds of animals are being used as models for COVID-19 research? A recent article in Nature revealed an expansive list that included mice, Syrian hamsters, ferrets, nonhuman primates, mink, cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, ducks and fruit bats. The article revealed that no one model mirrored all of the traits of human coronavirus infection, and a number of differences were noted in how the animals responded to the virus compared to humans.

Preclinical alternatives to animal models were also examined in the article, indicating the importance of using human-relevant, cell-based alternatives to animals for this line of research. Micro-engineered organs-on-chips and lung organoids were both mentioned as models that “have been shown to support key hallmarks of the cytopathology and inflammatory responses observed in human airways after infection with SARS-CoV-2.” As such, these models can be used not only to study coronavirus infections in humans, but also to test new therapeutics and examine whether existing drugs can be repurposed as therapies for those infected by the virus.

To learn more about this important topic, we would like to invite you to attend an important webinar, “COVID-19 Research: With or Without Animals?” being hosted by Animals, Climate Change and Global Health on Friday, October 16. This free webinar is being moderated by Dr. Kathrin Herrmann of the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing. NAVS has been working closely with Dr. Herrmann and other leading experts on the issue of reducing the number of—and even replacing entirely—nonhuman primates used in experimentation.

Using human-relevant research models is essential to finding safe and effective treatments for human conditions like coronavirus infection. We will continue to keep you posted on the progress that researchers make using these human-relevant tools in their efforts to combat the virus.

You can register for the webinar here!