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The city has long considered it biomedical waste.
But now Albuquerque leaders are hoping that the reproductive tissue removed at its animal spay-and-neuter clinics will serve a greater purpose.
The City Council last week unanimously approved legislation directing the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department to collect what normally would be discarded and instead donate it to the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. It’s an arrangement that UNM School of Nursing professor and researcher Xiaozhong (John) Yu had pursued. Yu, a toxicologist, is exploring whether such animal tissue can be used as an alternative to live animals when studying how various chemicals impact humans.
The city “has a unique opportunity to participate in this ground-breaking research, which could ultimately lead to a dramatic reduction in the use of animals in laboratory research,” according to the resolution the council approved. The tissue will go specifically toward creating “in-vitro cell culture models as an alternative to lab testing on live animals,” it states.
The bill’s sponsor, Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, called the partnership an “awesome” way to help protect animals while also supporting scientists at Albuquerque-based UNM – all without much hassle.
“It’s such an easy thing,” she said. “Those tissues were just going to be thrown away (otherwise).”
In an interview, Yu said there is a larger, concerted effort to move away from live animal testing, noting as an example the Environmental Protection Agency’s stated plan to eliminate the practice in its research by 2035.
“This is a very ambitious goal, but in the future, the advance of biotechnology science eventually will help us to reach that point,” he said.
Yu said in the past he did his chemical safety tests on live rodents but previously used animal reproductive tissue from sterilization procedures in a past position at the University of Georgia, which had a veterinary school. Since coming to UNM, he has procured tissue from a few private animal clinics but nothing on the scale of what the city can offer. The city conducted 9,966 spay and neuter procedures on its shelter animals in 2021, according to the legislation.
If researchers demonstrate the tissue can create a viable replacement to live animals, Yu said it could both spare animals in the future but also make testing more efficient, allowing for study of more chemicals.
He said he is grateful for the city’s willingness to collaborate, as a good relationship will be essential for his project.
“Without community support,” he said, “we cannot do our work.”