Snow and Avalanche Center 2010 Avalanche News

Pigs Buried Alive for Avalanche Research!
EcoWorldly January 17th, 2010

In order to save human lives and study the effects of being buried in avalanches, researchers buried live pigs in snow while monitoring them as they died. The research was conducted in order to better understand the effects of oxygen deprivation from being buried in the snow as well as study the timescale of death. A total of 29 pigs were part of the two-week study.

Earlier this week, an international group of scientists sedated the animals and then buried them under the snow in the Tyrol region of the Austrian Alps. Some of the pigs were completely buried and suffocated. Other pigs, covered up to their necks, reportedly froze to death.

Scientists from Austria’s Medical University of Innsbruck and Italy’s Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine, conducted the controversial avalanche research. Those involved in the study defended their research saying the animals did not experience any unnecessary suffering because they were sedated and given an anesthetic prior to burial. Dr. Hermann Brugger, co-director of the study, told the Associated Press, “We want to save lives, that’s the only goal of this study.”

According to a statement posted on the Medical University’s website on January 15th, since testing can not be conducted on people and because no virtual testbed to stimulate avalanche survival conditions exists, there is no “alternative to animal experiments.”

The Austrian Association of Animal Protection said, “The scientists should bury themselves, and their colleagues can analyze the results.” Following a public outcry, protests from animal rights groups and intense media coverage, the “barbaric” research has been stopped – temporarily.

While the pigs were saved from avalanche studies they ended up destined for the sausage factory.

Avalanche study in vent broken off

Statement by the University of Innsbruck
(Translated with Babel Fish, with some minor editing.)

The international research team of the avalanche study in vent in the Ötztal announces that the attempts in Vent on self initiative were broken off, since by the outside circumstances a smooth operational sequence of the attempts cannot be ensured any longer.

The research team of the study consists of coworkers from Austria (medical University of Innsbruck), Germany (Charitè Berlin), Norway (University of Tromsö) and South Tyrol (Eurac, Bozen) with contacts to the USA (Mayo Clinic, Rochester). In the reporting on the animal experiment the medically scientific suitability of this experiment did not come across clearly. The research team strove for eight years, which expected „ profit “ for the medical research in form of a reduction of the mortality rate of the avalanche accident by improvement of the emergency-medical treatment and by development of safety equipment.

To the scientific question of the attempt

"We accomplished in the last 20 years a leading position world-wide in investigations in the area of the avalanche medicine, with evaluations of accident minutes and experiments with test persons. These investigations led in the past to the fact that both improved the emergency-medical and the clinical treatment and again a whole set of emergency equipments (Airbag, AvaLung, improvement of the LVS of devices) was developed and improved. These investigations supplied the basis to the fact that the mortality rate of the avalanche accident could be reduced in the last 25 years to about a quarter “, underlines Dr. Paal and Dr. Brugger.

From these investigations it could be stated that the majority of the buried ones suffocate in the avalanche and die, with about 5% at fatal injuries. Above all however it was stated that in the avalanche about twenty per cent of all buried ones do not suffocate immediately, but survive about two hours and, if they are optimally supplied and again-warmed up at a heart lung machine no permanent damage by oxygen deficiency to suffer. The pathophysiology of this singular phenomenon in medicine (tripolarize H syndrome) is today unsettled until, i.e., it is not known which factors make possible this surviving. It is assumed that rapid entering of the cooling is crucial, before it comes to suffocating. Whether suffocating or undercooling wins out is crucial for the prognosis. A rapid cooling during the avalanche burying is partly denied in European countries and in North America, but the assumption of the study authors is supported on the other hand by accident reports. "Our theory proves as sound, is that the proof for the fact that buried no more with an airway and a breath cave in the future for dead explained separate instead must be again-warmed up. This would lead numerous deaths to a paradigm shift in the therapy and could be avoided “, so the projects manager.

In summary the question reads thus: How rapidly does the cooling enter and which factors protects the organism against the feared oxygen deficiency and makes thereby a surviving possible for hours?

"The answer to these questions leads in all countries in the world with avalanche fatalities, to a better diagnosis and to the optimization of the treatment. We are convinced of the fact that thereby false death statements could be avoided and the mortality rate be reduced “, said Pal and Brugger.

To the necessity for the animal experiment

It is not permitted for ethical reasons (Helsinki declaration) to accomplish experiments at undercooled humans. There is also no possibility of simulating pathophysiological changes in a virtual test field. In order to answer the questions specified above, it gives thus to today no alternative to an animal experiment. It is conscious to the responsible persons that an animal experiment may be only the last possibility, in order to use an experiment, even if this is to benefit humans. For this reason the study design was prepared and optimized for many years in such a way that with only one attempt and the statistically necessary minimum number (drop number analysis) at experimental animals in a realistic surrounding field all data would be collected, which are necessary for the answer of the scientific question, in order not to risk animal lives unnecessarily. For this reason the international cooperation mentioned above was aimed at also from the outset, in order to avoid double attempts in other countries. A goal was to answer with the minimum of attempt animals in only one attempt all questions which would have also succeeded to the test series with a completion.

"Naturally we could have remained also, as with other attempts, in the animal hospital and, with security, no public reaction would have occured. We would have questioned however the force of expression of the study, and we would have used above all more test series.“

To the treatment of the animals

When further basic condition, it would drive through an animal experiment to be allowed is valid that the tested animals may not suffer. The animals therefore received before transport a tranquilizer (which is not permitted for example in the case of a transport into the slaughterhouse) and at the experiment location they were set into the deep sleep in a careful way. During the entire test process it could be excluded with certainty that the animals regained consciousness.

By aborting the test series we unfortunately did not succeed in obtaining a meaningful result.

While the pigs were saved from avalanche studies they ended up destined for the sausage factory.

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