SAEN LogoSecond federal agency reviewing UTMB's treatment of monkeys, group says Another agency to visit laboratory next week
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Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the University of Texas, Medical Branch, Galveston for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their ineptitude allowed many monkeys to die painfully without being euthanized. Their utter disregard for the animals and the Animal Welfare Act CANNOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

 

Second federal agency reviewing UTMB's treatment of monkeys, group says Another agency to visit laboratory next week
By Harvey Rice, HoustonChronicle.com, November 10, 2015

GALVESTON - An animal rights group says a second federal agency is investigating the National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch for allegedly allowing a dozen monkeys to suffer painful deaths after being infected with a lethal virus.

The monkeys' treatment already is under investigation by the National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare after a scathing audit earlier this year. That audit, by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, accused researchers of mistreating the monkeys and using sloppy procedures.

The group - Stop Animal Exploitation Now! - says the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun a separate investigation linked to allegations in the audit about the monkeys' treatment. The department enforces animal rights laws and has the power to impose financial penalties.

UTMB confirmed the USDA was scheduled to visit the National Laboratory on Nov. 17 but declined to characterize the visit as part of an investigation.

Alarming audit

The USDA refused to confirm an investigation was underway, but the animal rights group made available to the Houston Chronicle a copy of a Nov. 3 email from a USDA official on the condition that the official not be identified. The email was in reply to one from the animal rights group's spokesman, Michael Budkie.

"Can you confirm for me that there is an open case against UTMB ...?" Budkie asked.

"Yes. But UTMB may or may not be aware," the USDA official responded, according to the email.

The February audit became public after a whistleblower contacted the animal rights group and alleged that monkeys infected with Marburg, a virus as deadly as Ebola, were allowed to suffer painful deaths instead of being euthanized. The group filed a complaint with the USDA about the alleged mistreatment of the monkeys.

The academic medical center has forcefully defended its practices and accused auditors of applying the wrong standards.

"UTMB respectfully but strongly disagrees with the speculative observations made regarding UTMB's animal welfare program under this study ..." it says in a letter specifically addressing accusations about the monkeys' treatment.

The audit criticized the National Lab for leaving 12 Macaque monkeys infected with Marburg unattended for 15 to 18 hours. Eight of the monkeys were found dead in their cages.

"It is unknown how long these animals might have suffered before dying," the audit said. "It is unacceptable to leave animals that are expected to die unattended during the time frame death is expected."

Questionable practices

The whistleblower who revealed the existence of the audit told the Chronicle that monkeys had died in other experiments but that the alleged violations were limited to the National Laboratory and did not extend to other parts of the university.

The scheduled USDA visit next week is at least the second since the audit. A USDA spokeswoman said four agencies would be involved in the visit: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (both part of the National Institutes of Health) as well as the Animal Care and Investigation and Enforcement Services divisions (both part of USDA).

The report examined the National Laboratory's performance on a contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a strain of Marburg virus for use in experiments on monkeys to find a cure. The audit found 11 critical research problems that "would affect the validity or integrity of a study and/or the acceptability of a contract research organization" and 59 major problems that showed a departure from standard procedures and good practices "that could jeopardize the acceptability of a research organization."

Waiting for answers

 Auditors examined two previous studies after uncovering problems in the Marburg study. Six of the critical problems and six of the major problems were from one of those studies.

Budkie said it was unusual for so many federal agencies to be involved in a single incident.

"I am unaware of a joint investigation, and I've been working on issues like this since '86," Budkie said.

UTMB spokesman Raul Reyes said the USDA's follow-up interviews were unremarkable.

"Let's just wait to see what the people who are here next week find," Reyes said.

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