Researchers at the University of Washington may be getting a stern letter from PETA after announcing that they would be testing controversial new treatments for sleep apnea on miniature pigs.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received a grant for over $200,000 from the federal government to conduct the study, titled “Obstructive Sleep Apnea, an Obese Minipig Model.” The project will begin this month in Washington.
A statement accompanying the grant explains the purpose of the study, in addition to why overweight pigs are ideal testing subjects.
“Clinical data show that patients with obstructive sleep apnea or hypopnea (OSA) commonly have anatomic compromise of the [upper airway] UA due to either excessive tissue mass or neuromuscular compromise of the tongue base and/or soft palate,” the statement noted.
“Human study cannot address these critical questions underlying the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of [obstructive sleep apnea] because of the invasive technology necessary,” the statement continued. “Thus, a suitable and reliable animal model is an imperative.”
Obese miniature pigs were specifically chosen because of their “considerable similarity with humans.” Excess weight is the strongest risk for factor for the development of sleep apnea in humans, and researchers believe the pudgy pigs will provide a good benchmark for how humans would respond to treatments.
More than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, but experts suggest that this number could actually be substantially higher. According to the New York Daily News, doctors estimate that 80-90% of sleep apnea patients remain undiagnosed.
As for the NIH study, the primary treatment that will be tested on the pigs is low-level electric shock therapy, known throughout the medical community as Functional Neuromuscular Stimulation.
The statement added that using obese pigs for the study would allow researchers to test “controversial therapies such as neuromuscular stimulation and pharmacological application under well-controlled experimental conditions.”
Before the study can officially begin, the obese mini pigs will be tested to see which ones actually suffer from sleep apnea. Once this is determined and the project commences, researchers hope that the findings will “create a useful tool and solid body of knowledge for understanding the beneficial and adverse effects of various [sleep apnea] treatments.”
Currently, the research has cost taxpayers $231,750. However, this number is expected to increase, as the study’s budget will remain open through November 2016.