USF closes research project over poor care for test primates

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http://tbo.com/news/education/usf-closes-research-project-over-poor-care-for-test-primates-20140924/

USF closes research project over poor care for test primates

By Jerome R. Stockfisch, TBO.com, Wednesday, September 24, 2016

An Ohio animal-rights organization has filed a complaint with the federal government against the University of South Florida after primates in a diabetes study were denied water, causing the death of one and injury to others.

USF said the research projects have been closed, the researcher’s animal research privileges have been revoked and the remaining animals were placed under veterinary care and eventually transferred to an accredited primate management site.

A representative of Stop Animal Exploitation Now of Milford, Ohio, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging what it said were “clear violations” of the Animal Welfare Act.

USF self-reported the violations of federal policy on the care of research animals to the National Institutes of Health in August 2013. The school said that on April 8, 2013, water bottles were removed overnight from the enclosures of 27 primates in the university’s College of Medicine animal facility. Protocols approved by a USF committee did not include the restriction of fluids.

In another letter from Paul Sanberg, USF’s senior vice president for research and innovation, to the NIH this January, USF again acknowledged researchers withheld water from primates for three nights in December 2013.

USF veterinarians informed the school’s Research Integrity and Compliance office and its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The committee chair was also informed that four primates had experienced a condition called ketosis, an elevated level of ketones in the bloodstream that are formed when glycogen stores in the liver have run out. Those primates required veterinarian intervention that was not reported, USF said. One of the primates was unresponsive to treatment and was euthanized.

The types of primates were not specified in the complaint from Stop Animal Exploitation Now or in filings from USF. Primates account for less than 1 percent of animals used in scientific research, according to a fact sheet posted online by the California Biomedical Research Association — most commonly, long-tailed and rhesus monkeys.

USF admitted to multiple instances of unapproved overnight water deprivation of diabetic primates; failure to weigh primates at intervals established by protocol; and failure to promptly report when primates reached “clinical endpoints” that require veterinary intervention.

“This is clearly a very serious situation, and I would expect that the USDA will take substantial action,” said Michael Budkie, a co-founder of SAEN. “They should not be able to get away with this.”

NIH administers federal research grants, and requires institutions to report noncompliance with federal regulations. But it does not have punitive authority; the USDA does in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act.

In a letter dated Sept. 15, SAEN asked USDA for an official investigation. It is seeking the maximum fine allowable — $10,000 per infraction, citing numerous federal and internal USF violations. SAEN said the fines could total more than $100,000.

USF did not identify the primary researcher. The university released a statement late Wednesday saying, “In December 2013, a University of South Florida veterinarian discovered the violation and took immediate corrective action. The incident was then self-reported to the appropriate university oversight committee and federal authorities. The review determined that the research violated both university and federal guidelines ... After USF self-reported the incident, federal authorities accepted the corrective steps put in place by the university and consider the matter closed. USF no longer conducts any primate research projects.”

SAEN says it monitors every registered research center in the country. Under the federal Freedom of Information Act, it obtains and reviews reports such as those filed with NIH by USF.

SAEN has filed complaints over lab activity from centers at institutions including the Mayo Clinic and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On Sept. 16, it filed a complaint against the University of Florida over mistreatment of a dog and the deaths of a rabbit and goats.

Budkie of the watchdog group said he “could probably count on one hand” the number times he has seen a university halt research due to violations of federal rules, and he has never seen a university halt research, suspend animal privileges, and remove animals.

The USF statement concluded, “As an institution, USF believes in the respectful and ethical treatment of animals in research projects. The university has a vigorous review and training process. USF will continue to abide by all state and federal laws and guidelines.” 

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