Researchers at University Hospital Essen in Essen, Germany, have developed a transplantation model in woodchucks that will allow researchers to better model how hepatitis B reinfection progresses in human beings.
After receiving a transplanted organ, patients are usually given an immunosuppressive drug such as cyclosporine. This helps reduce the risk of organ rejection but also makes recipients more susceptible to diseases such as hepatitis B.
This is especially the case with organ transplants such as the liver, where hepatitis B is a major cause of liver cancer and, hence, liver failure. Finding a way to reduce or eliminate the risk of hepatitis B reinfection would greatly enhance the outcomes of liver transplants.
Woodchucks contract a virus similar to hepatitis B called woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV). The German researchers devised a way to perform liver transplants with woodchucks that closely models the procedure in human beings, including the administering of daily doses of cyclosporine.
Woodchucks allow doctors to study hepatitis B reinfection after transplantation. Sonia Bell-Nichols, Virus Weekly, September 10, 2002.
Animal Liberation Front activists
claimed to have broken in to a Marmotech, Inc. testing laboratory in New
York and released 150 woodchucks. Bud Tennant, who runs the laboratory,
said the number was closer to 30 — most of the animals remained in or
around the facility.
The woodchucks were being used
for research into a possible vaccine for |hepatitis B|. A communiquÃ© from
ALF claimed, “Tennant is merely satisfying his own curiosity about
every minute detail of a specific type of hepatitis found only in woodchucks.”
Tennant told the Ithaca Times that the woodchuck strain of hepatitis
is in the same family as hepatitis B. The experiments on the woodchucks
could lead to “development of improved treatment and prevention [of
hepatitis B] in humans,” Tennant said.
According to |Americans for
Medical Progress| more than 300 million people worldwide
suffer from hepatitis B, with the disease causing one to two million deaths
each year. A drug manufactured by Triangle Pharmaceutical and tested in
Tennants lab was able to reduce the level of hepatitis virus in
the woodchucks blood by more than 1,000-fold in only seven days.
“CU scientist defends use of animals,” Ithaca Journal, July 9, 1998.
“Born Free,” Ithaca Times, July 8, 1998.
“ALF releases woodchucks from Cornell lab,” Americans for Medical
Progress Foundation release, July 6, 1998.