VIEWS: 7 PAGES: 3 CATEGORY: Medicine POSTED ON: 6/13/2010
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News CMAJ Harp seal heart valves being tested for human use R 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 Piba
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