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FUNDING INCREASES FOR UND ANIMAL RESEARCH
NEW SCIENTISTS BRING RENEWED INTEREST
Kap Lee has 2,000 rats, mice, hamsters and rabbits for company on the fourth floor of the UND medical center south building. He is Korean-born veterinarian who heads up a staff of six at UND's Biomedical Research Facility, where animal research is gaining support in nationally funded projects and interests of new medical scientists at UND. "We're getting stronger all the time," said Lee, who's gotten busier with the arrival of new medical faculty members bringing animal research projects in physiology and pharmacology, among other fields.
Director Lee recently won $160,000 in national health institute funding to upgrade the animal research center this year. Two thousand to 3,000 animal -- mostly small rodents -- are kept there in a highly regulated, hand scrubbed environment. Lee hopes to raise another $160,000 soon for a "surgical suite." He favors giving nursing or medical students a better environment for hands-on experience for procedures they'll eventually use on people.
Lee now uses rats for family nurse practitioners to practice sewing up wounds. Once, he used rabbits. Because it was later in the spring, one or two students had qualms about working on "the Easter Bunny," he said, "I could understand that concern."
It appears to reflect a characteristic sensitivity to students on Lee's part.
He said he puts little "drapes" over the surgery rats, so as not to scare the nurses. Or make them more uncomfortable than they would otherwise be when first learning to sew flesh. Lee covers up the rats heads. And their tails.
Eventually Lee would like to see the animal facility become part of a much larger proposed UND health science and rural medicine center, for which federal funding will be sought this year.
He and other medical scientists at UND indicate live animal research will be pivotal in their growing numbers of grant-funded projects, despite controversies with animal right activists elsewhere in the nation. Those controversies appear to deal with animals subjected to more stress or pain than those at the medical school here.
UND is not without sensitive areas however, so far as public relations are concerned.
The numbers of dogs used in medical school research or teaching were reduced by the early '80s, in response to public concerns, Lee said.
Live dogs continue to be used though. They are operated on, in physiology classes to show heart and lung functions. Richard Rose, physiology department chairman, said. "This prepares them for the day when they'll be working on human tissues," he said.
"If the animal isn't living, the lessons aren't worthwhile."
Rose said, "This way, students can put their hands in there and feel the heart pumping."
Until recently, catheter tubes also were inserted into dogs urinary tracts for classroom representations. The dogs are anesthetized before the demonstrations and continually monitored during the two to three hour sessions. They never wake up, the medical faculty members say. Rose said he's told students that dogs will be used and they can visit him if they have concerns.
The past year, UND used 18 dogs -- bought for $125 each from a private breeder in Bottineau, N.D. They are used to show live-body processes to medical students and to undergraduate physiology students -- including nurses, paramedics and therapist.
In a number of projects, mice, rats, rabbits, and pigeons also are "sacrificed" for the advancement of medical science and human health. Lee and several researchers said that when an animal has to be killed, it's done in what are considered humane and painless ways. The care of live animals and the cremation of dead ones -- in a 1,700-degree F oven -- must meet university and national animal welfare guidelines.
The Grand Forks Humane Society's executive director, Terri Toay, said that organization has no formal stances on use of live animals for research, unless they re being treated in cruel or painful ways or used in repetitive research. There have been only a couple of complaints related to animal research or demonstrations at UND, she said. She said university officials were responsive in both instances. "We've had occasions to deal with Dr. Lee a couple of times." Toay said, "and he's been very helpful to us and supportive of the Humane Society."
In one case, someone reported students were asked to bring in their own animals for classes.
The society was told by Lee that such a practice would be considered unethical and out of line of the university, and that he found no evidence that any instructor had asked students to bring in animals for research. Standard procedure is for the biomedical lab staff to clear all animals used in classes or research projects.
Another case, Toay said, dealt with questions about how well a dog was anesthetized for a classroom demonstration. She said the society was assured that the appropriate faculty members would be alerted.
Although Lee reported little "invasive surgery" of animals at the UND medical school, there are numerous examples of animals dying in connection with research projects or student demonstrations. Often, animals are put to sleep so a surgical operation, such as removal of an organ, can be carried out. Then the animals are given enough drugs so they never wake up again. Others end up on the chopping block , so to speak -- though it's considered a painless death. David Lambeth of the biochemistry department uses what he described as a small guillotine to cut off the heads of pigeons. He and another biochemistry professor, Paul Ray, have used the pegions liver and heart tissue in studies of enzyme action in the production of body sugar and fat. Lambeth, a bird watcher and former local Audubon Society officer, said. "Scientists to their credit, are looking at computers and ways other than the use of animals to do research search. But we still have to have some kind of basic raw data before we can even do computer programs."
He considers animals vital to the basic science research he and his colleagues are carrying out, often with national health funding. Lambeth said, "I'm not bothered by it or troubled at all. If I were, I suppose I'd be a complete vegetarian. Of course, some people are. I'm sensitive to the fact we're using living creatures. . . . We handle them as humanely and as carefully as we can.
Not only scientists, but health workers take advantage of the animals in the UND biomedical facility. Lee uses rats to train family nurse practitioners to go out to handle rural medical emergencies. He cuts the skin of rats so the students can practice sewing them back together with sutures. The rats are put to sleep. They're given enough drugs so they never wake up. That's more humane, Lee said, than using rats or other animals for "multiple uses," with the likelihood they would suffer on recovering from surgery.
The animal lab staff also has worked with intensive-care nurses from The United Hospital in demonstrations of IV injections on the small veins inside rabbit ears. They resemble those of premature human infants. Once or twice a year, rabbits are anesthetized and used, too, for giving ambulance crew members practice inserting tracheal tubes (in the throat) and lung tubes. Those are life-saving procedures to help victims who can't breathe.
Lee, a Korean-born veterinarian who came to UND in 1981 from the faculty of Penn State's medical center in Hershey, Pa.; emphasized that the staff in Grand Forks is highly sensitive to animal treatment guidelines and public concerns. He said the laboratory animals are kept in cleaner, healthier conditions than most household pets or farm livestock.
Kap Lee, BORN: Feb. 11, 1941, Seoul, Korea.
EDUCATION: Doctor of veterinary medicine, Seoul National University; laboratory animal specialist, Pennsylvania State University, Hershey Medical School.
CAREER: Associate professor, Penn State Hershey Medical Center, 1974-81; director of UND Biomedical Research Facility and professor of community medicine since 1981.
SPECIAL INTERESTS: Karate, racquetball, golf and music.
FAMILY: Married to Yun Lee, daughters, Susie and Jennifer.
Grand Forks Herald, January 8, 1990