Friday, January 12, 2007

Cruelty to Animals at Yale University in Connecticut?


Note: Picture is not from the Hartford Courant and is not part of the below story.

CONNECTICUT NEWS
Primate Lab Violations End Project At UConn
January 12, 2007
By GRACE E. MERRITT, Courant Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- The University of Connecticut Health Center has stopped a controversial neuroscience project involving monkeys and reprimanded the researcher after U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections found about a dozen violations in the primate lab.

The researcher, David Waitzman, voluntarily stopped the research on rhesus monkeys in August, two days after a USDA inspector cited him for incorrect drug dosages and failure to follow approved research procedures, including unapproved injections into a monkey's brain that temporarily resulted in a severe head tilt to the left, an inability to look left and other problems.

The developments, which came to light this week, follow protests and petitions by UConn student and animal activist Justin Goodman to stop the research and free the monkeys. Last winter, Goodman chained himself to a railing and staged a raucous protest outside a gala hosted by UConn President Philip E. Austin after learning that two of the three monkeys involved in the project - Cornelius and Lips - had died.

"As far as I'm concerned, the monkeys who died at UConn did not die in vain," Goodman said Wednesday. "People know their names. People know what they went through."

Four USDA inspections conducted from November 2005 through October 2006 found violations, including a failure to provide alternatives to potentially painful or distressful procedures, failure to provide adequate water, failure to provide adequate veterinary care and failure to adequately train handlers. Inspection reports also cited the researchers for causing bruises around a monkey's eye, face and neck by using a metal collar and pole to train the animal.

The project allowed researchers to drill holes into the monkeys' skulls and to implant steel coils in their brains to record eye movements.

The research, which studied the coordinated control of the eyes by the brain to direct the center of gaze, was designed to help clinicians diagnose and treat stroke, progressive supranuclear palsy and other diseases, Peter J. Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs at the Health Center, has said.

USDA spokesman Darby Holladay said Thursday that the agency has not taken any enforcement action against the Health Center. "It is our policy not to comment on open investigations," he said.

He added, "The USDA takes seriously any non-compliant items in an inspection report."

Health Center officials declined to comment on the findings and simply reproduced a press release written last year to defend the research.

The release states that UConn is keenly aware of the controversy surrounding the use of monkeys in medical research and says the university uses humane and ethical procedures on animals in its research to develop vaccines, treatments and cures that will save human lives.

"The UConn Health Center is committed to full compliance with all relevant animal welfare laws and guidelines followed by major research universities through the country," the release says.

Reports obtained by The Courant show that the Health Center's own animal care committee investigated findings in the USDA reports and made several recommendations. The committee found that researchers performed unauthorized procedures and employed unauthorized staff, and that discrepancies in drug dosing were the result of carelessness and typographical errors.

As a result, Waitzman voluntarily stopped all work on the project on Aug. 31 and was given a letter of reprimand, according to a letter written by Leonard P. Paplauskas, associate vice president for research administration at the UConn Health Center, to the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

In addition, research staff members were barred from the laboratory, required to be retrained in animal care and must document that they have read the approved protocols for work they are conducting.

Goodman and a small group of protesters have been pushing for more than a year to stop the project and transfer the remaining monkey, Mowgli, to an animal sanctuary. Mowgli is now being used in another project conducted by a researcher at the University of Mississippi.

"It's not a victory for us in that everything we wanted happened because the monkey still got sent away elsewhere. But it's some progress," said Goodman, a graduate student in sociology.

Two other monkeys in Waitzman's lab have died. One was euthanized as part of the experiment protocol, and the other died during research, "although it received proper veterinary attention and treatment," Deckers has said in a report to Austin.

The USDA has taken enforcement action against UConn's main campus, not the Health Center, twice in the past nine years for animal care violations. In a consent decision in 2002, UConn paid $129,500 for failure to provide adequate veterinary care, Holladay said. The university paid a $4,500 fine in 1998 because the attending veterinarian did not have proper authority over the health and well-being of the animals, Holladay said.

Contact Grace E. Merritt at gmerritt@courant.com.

A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Grace Merritt is scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News each hour today between 9 a.m. and noon.

* * * *

The author of actionlyme.org emailed me the link to the above story.

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