AR-News: USDA reports abuses in NU's animal research

Rob Russell PoetWill at worldnet.att.net
Thu Sep 4 16:32:42 EDT 2003


http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0309010185sep01,0,5874905.story?coll=chi-news-hed 
USDA reports abuses in NU's animal research
School accused of failure to act on past findings
By Robert Becker
Tribune higher education reporter

September 1, 2003

In a scathing critique of Northwestern University's care of its research animals, the U. S. Department of Agriculture has found that the school "is not in compliance" with federal animal welfare laws.

The Aug. 8 report, released Friday, also reported that the university's office that oversees the care and treatment of research animals "has failed to recognize or has elected to disregard the serious nature" of earlier USDA inspection findings.

A USDA spokesman in Washington said the August report, which stemmed from a routine inspection, would trigger follow-up action by the agency to ensure compliance.

Late Friday, however, Northwestern officials, said, "Many of the issues raised in the report have been addressed, and we continue to work with the USDA toward full resolution of the remaining issues."

Northwestern was already under federal investigation by both the USDA and the National Institutes of Health, which operates the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, for possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

That legislation mandates that research facilities do everything from providing exercise for dogs to promoting "the psychological well-being of primates used in laboratories."

The act also prohibits "the unnecessary duplication of a specific experiment using regulated animals."

Northwestern could face fines if it is found to have violated the act, USDA officials said.

Last September, the USDA disclosed a series of problems with the tracking and handling of research animals at Northwestern, ranging from failure to keep precise tabs on which animals were destined for a particular experiment to the possible death by dehydration of a monkey.

The university has acknowledged shortcomings in its record keeping and lack of administrative support and said it has moved to correct the problems.

But the report released on Friday suggests problems persist.

"Significant non-compliance still exists in the research facility's ability to train and ensure the . . . qualifications of all Northwestern University personnel involved in the use and care of animals," the report states.

USDA investigators also alleged that the university committee in charge of animal welfare "has failed to identify serious, significant deficiencies as it only reported three `minor deficiencies' in its summary of facility inspections."

Federal inspectors detailed lapses by the university, including instances where Northwestern researchers did not follow proper protocols or failed to "provide a full description of the multiple surgeries" to be performed on research animals.

Inspectors said Northwestern "must evaluate its animal care and use program" and devise a schedule "for correcting each deficiency."

University officials said they take very seriously their relationship with the federal government and "the need to respond fully to agency issues and concerns."

"We have been in close contact with representatives of the USDA for approximately one year regarding the matters raised in the August 2003 report," said a Northwestern representative. "This contact has included a series of meetings with senior university officials and regular updates to the USDA."

Northwestern officials point to steps they have taken in recent months to address the USDA's concerns.

In April, the school, which received $325 million in sponsored research funds last year, announced a $1.8 million plan to ramp up support for university research, which includes buying a new computer system to track research animals as well as hiring additional personnel.

The university also has retained an outside consultant to assess "staff needs and other support required to sustain and grow Northwestern's research enterprise," according to a university memo on research compliance.

Personnel changes have added to the problems, university officials said. The Office for the Protection of Research Subjects, which facilitates the review of research project protocols, recently experienced a 100 percent turnover in staff.


Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune 
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