SAEN LogoGRU on probation after monkey death
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Please contact the USDA to insist that Georgia Regents University receive the largest fine allowable under the Animal Welfare Act for the negligence which caused the deaths of a pig and denied food to monkeys.

GRU on probation after monkey death
By Tom Corwin and Sandy Hodson,, August 30, 3015

Georgia Regents Univer­sity is on six months of probation with a private animal care accreditation group after an inspection last year raised questions about the death of a monkey during surgery and found widespread infection and parasite problems with rats and mice and a lack of good veterinary oversight of laboratory animals in general, according to records obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.

The death of the 17-year-old rhesus macaque named Ovetchkin early last year was followed by the death of a pig after surgery and is the latest in the animal welfare controversies that have plagued the school in recent years.

A school statement acknowledged it has been placed on probation by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International.

The school has made changes as a result of the findings, including installing a new director of veterinary services and a new chairman and vice chairman of a key committee that must approve the protocols for the use of lab animals in research to ensure they comply with animal welfare regulations.

GRU has until Sept. 9 to answer the concerns raised by the accreditation group, which covered a number of different areas, including:

  • A lack of infection and pest control that allowed mouse hepatitis and parvovirus as well as mites and pinworms to spread among the rodents
  • A lack of training and a lack of access to veterinarians for the techs caring for the animals
  • Poor care for a primate with electrodes implanted in its head that caused undue stress for the animal
  • The death of the monkey Ovetchkin during surgery, which prompted several concerns by investigators. The site team had difficulty getting the medical records it requested on the monkey, and there were “further complications in this particular case … due to questions about the accuracy of the records.”

This same incident appears to be the basis of a whistleblower complaint last year to the Office of Labora­tory Animal Welfare of the Na­tional Institutes of Health that the records “may have been falsified,” according to an October letter from that agency to GRU Senior Vice President for Research Michael Diamond.

In its answer to that agency, the then-chairman of the GRU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, Dr. David Stepp, said its investigation found “no evidence for falsification” of the records, a conclusion the federal agency didn’t challenge.

But the accreditation group’s site team also noted concerns about the monkey’s fitness for surgery, particularly because it was coming off a “food restriction” research protocol, according to records obtained by The Chronicle. In a letter from Stepp to the NIH animal welfare agency, he acknowledged Ovetchkin was “healthy but thin.”

Lab tests after its death showed its immunity might have been compromised, either from that previous study or the fact that it was 17 years old at the time. Later testing found an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection at the site of screws in Ovetchkin’s head, but Stepp said their investigation concluded it did not contribute to the animal’s death.

Ovetchkin, named as an apparent homage to star hockey player Alex Ovechkin, had been subjected to seven previous surgeries in the five years since GRU acquired him, including placing electrodes in his brain, which had resulted in “micro brain injuries,” according to Stepp’s letter.

An autopsy on Ovetchkin found “brain damage that could have affected the animal,” according to the letter.

On the day of the Jan. 7, 2014, surgery, the consultant being brought in to implant electrodes into Ovetchkin’s brain was delayed entering into surgery and the anesthesia had to be started twice. Ovetchkin was under anesthesia for nearly seven hours, which likely led to fluid accumulating in his lungs, according to the records, and he subsequently died.

GRU contends that his death “while highly regrettable, reflects neither negligence nor malpractice on the part of our investigators or veterinary care team,” Stepp concluded in his letter. The federal agency accepted that conclusion.

“We share your concern and are deeply saddened by the loss of this animal that was part of our research here for five of his 17 years,” Stepp wrote.

The accrediting group’s team, however, could not determine whether the animal’s risk factors before surgery were considered or “if there was undue pressure to conduct the surgery,” it noted in its report. “(H)owever, the initiation of a surgical procedure in this animal may not have been in keeping with the practice of appropriate veterinary medical care.”

Ovetchkin’s death was followed by the death of a pig after surgery in June, a death that was not reported to the animal care and use committee for two weeks and which Diamond reported on to the federal animal welfare agency in February of this year.

Diamond told the agency that the planned two-hour procedure ended up lasting twice as long, “resulting in six hours of anesthesia and subsequent failure of the animal to recover.”

The pig’s death was not addressed by the private accreditation group. Accredi­tation by the group is voluntary, and GRU has done so since 1978.

In a letter to Diamond in March, the group notes that it gives probation “in instances where the site visit and peer review reveal that serious but correctable deficiencies have developed” in an accredited program.

Accreditation can be revoked if the deficiencies are not corrected during the probation period, the letter noted.

The group said it would not comment on GRU’s status.

In a statement, GRU said programs seek the voluntary accreditation to show they can “not only meet the minimum standards required by law but also take extra steps to achieve excellence in animal care.”

The group said it provides accreditation to 950 animal care programs in 40 countries.

Its inspection also questioned the storage of some drugs and the safety and training of some veterinary service workers. GRU said in its statement that it has addressed safety and training issues.

Based on Ovetchkin’s death and other serious questions about veterinary care, animal activist Michael Budkie of the group Stop Ani­mal Exploitation Now filed a complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Agri­culture, which also regulates GRU’s lab animal care, alleging “a significant pattern of Animal Welfare Act violations.”

GRU had previously been warned but not fined by USDA after a dog died while recovering from surgery in June 2010.

“They really do have a long-term pattern of violations,” Budkie said.

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