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									News                                                                                                                                            CMAJ

Harp seal heart valves being tested for human use

         esearchers in Quebec will soon
         begin testing heart valves from
         harp seals to determine if they
are suitable for use in humans.
   Animal rights groups say the re-
search is unnecessary and will serve
only as a government propaganda tool
to promote Canada’s sealing industry,
which received a major blow on May 5
when Europe banned imports of seal
products. The federal government proj-
ects that a commercial seal valve mar-
ket could generate substantial revenue
for Canada, but heart valve experts in-
volved in the project say the research
could lead to more than just financial
gain. If their theory is proven true — if
seal valves do offer significant advan-
                                             Reuters/Andrea Comas

tages over existing bioprosthetic valves
— the research could result in pro-
longed and improved lives for suffer-
ers of heart valve disease.
   “I’m optimistic that it could be su-
perior to bovine or porcine valves,”                                 Animal rights activists protest in Madrid, Spain, against Canada’s seal hunt.
says Philippe Pibarot, Canada research
chair in valvular heart diseases.
   Over the next 3 years, Pibarot and                               more elastic fibres. They have a more           needs nearly matches the allowable
his colleagues will conduct proof-of-                               robust structure because they are de-           catch,” says Lavigne.
concept research at the Quebec Heart                                signed by Mother Nature to survive                 Also of concern to Lavigne is the
and Lung Institute in Québec City.                                  harsher conditions.”                            inclusion in Agathos’ patents of sev-
They will collaborate with Ta Ma Su                                    David Lavigne, science adviser for           eral near-extinct marine mammals,
Inc., a Québec City–based producer of                               the International Fund for Animal Wel-          such as the Mediterranean Monk Seal.
seal products, and Laboratoires Per-                                fare, says he’s heard this story before.        Lavigne says Agathos has yet to re-
ouse, a company in France that makes                                “We roll our eyes every time it comes           lease any evidence that seal valves are
products for cardiovascular surgery and                             up,” says Lavigne, who for 23 years             superior to existing valves, even
oncology. Also involved is Dr. Andreas                              taught zoology at the University of             though the Greek doctor first tested
Agathos, a cardiac surgeon in Athens,                               Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. “It doesn’t          them in the 1990s and has spoken
Greece, who holds several patents on a                              seem very likely — or very necessary.”          about his research in the media several
method of replacing human valves with                                  Lavigne, who has studied seals since         times. “You don’t do research by press
marine mammal valves.                                               1969, says he is unaware of a demand            release or media interviews or propa-
   Pibarot, a medical professor at Uni-                             for more bioprosthetic valves. Harp             ganda from the federal Department of
versité Laval in Québec City, obtained                              seals carry bacteria and viruses that           Fisheries and Oceans.”
harp seal valves from Ta Ma Su Inc. in                              could prove harmful to humans, he                  Agathos says he has ample scientific
March 2008. He hopes to test seal                                   adds, and talk of harvesting seal valves        evidence to back his claims, and that it
valves in animals, possibly sheep,                                  only seems to arise during Canada’s an-         will be made public sometime in the
within 3 years. Though human implan-                                nual — and controversial — seal hunt.           next year, after he applies for a licence
tation may be 8 to 10 years away,                                   A commercial seal valve market could            to conduct clinical trials. He had wanted
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