British Heart Foundation supports appalling experiment on pregnant sheep

This macabre and truly repugnant experiment, financially supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF)[i] and performed at Cambridge University, involved cutting open the bellies of sheep in late pregnancy and placing tubes and monitors into the legs and major blood vessels of their babies. Both were then deprived of oxygen via the repeated suffocation of the mothers, and were killed several days later.


Animal suffering:

  • The ewes were starved for 24 hours, then anaesthetised and surgically mutilated so that invasive recording devices could be inserted into the legs and major blood vessels of their unborn lambs.
  • The ewes and unborn lambs were then made to endure two prolonged episodes of suffocation – essentially by a bag being placed over the mothers’ heads – before they were killed.
  • While they were being suffocated, the unborn lambs’ heart rates dropped, their blood became more acidic and there was a massive release of stress hormones. The heart rate and blood pressure of the ewes increased as a response to suffocation, and the level of oxygen in their blood decreased dramatically.
  • The ewes spent their final days confined alone in a ‘metabolic crate’, a small cage in which they were experimented on and deprived of exercise and social contact with other sheep.
  • The published paper makes no reference to the sheep being given pain relief.


Faulty science:

  • The experiment was concerned with investigating the effect of statins on oxygen-starved foetuses. Many human studies have already reported on the health impact of statins on pregnant women and their babies, and newer trials are in progress.
  • Assessing the possibly subtle effects of oxygen deprivation on the foetal brain would take years of follow-up, something clearly not possible in animal studies.
  • In clinical practice, statins are taken orally by pregnant women, rather than being administered directly to the unborn child, but in this experiment the researchers did give the drug directly to the unborn lambs.
  • The researchers conclude with a series of speculations that would require further investigation, some of which are contradictory as to whether the use of statins helps or hinders the brains of foetuses during periods of oxygen deprivation.

Please click here to read an in-depth analysis of the experiment

Update: Read our response to the British Heart Foundation

[i] The published paper states that the work was supported by the BHF and  Professor Dino Giussani – who heads the research programme of which the experiment was part – has received a Programme Grant from the BHF



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