New doctors at Washington University in St. Louis are no longer using cats to learn how to insert breathing tubes into human patients.
The medical school had been under pressure for years from animal rights activists who had tried to convince the school to end the practice and use high-tech mannequins instead.
"After careful consideration and a significant investment in its simulation center, Washington University School of Medicine now will provide neonatal intubation training using only mannequins and advanced simulators. Improvements in the simulators make this possible. Therefore, the university has made the decision to no longer rely on anesthetized cats in training health-care professionals to perform these life-saving intubation procedures," the school said in a statement.
According to the university, in the more than 25 years that cats have been used to train students, none have been harmed. The school says the cats currently in the program will be adopted by employees who work at the university.
Washington University was believed to be the last in the country that used live animals for training, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which was one of the groups that had campaigned the school for years to end the practice.
The group says it was notified about the change by Dr. Gary Silverman, who became chief of pediatrics at Washington University in late 2015.
"I guess I was a little bit surprised because it's been such a long struggle, but the dominant feeling was gratitude and relief," John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, told MNN. "We've been fighting this for so long and Wash U held out while all the other programs had changed."
Now, none of the 198 pediatrics programs in the U.S. surveyed by the Physicians Committee use animals for training. Only one of the 17 Canadian pediatrics residencies continues to use animals: Laval University of Quebec.
Just a few months ago, Pippin says, Johns Hopkins University stopped using pigs to train medical students. In June, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga ended the use of live animals in training its surgical students.
Pippin points out all the progress that's being made, including that the U.S. Department of Defense ended the use of animals in pediatrics residency courses and neonatal resuscitation training as of Jan. 1, 2015.
"What we're seeing now is a very clear move toward the ending of animal use in many areas of medical training," he said. "We're going to stay on this until we reach that point."