Feds end UTMB animal treatment investigation
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Feds end UTMB animal treatment investigation
By Marissa Barnett, The Daily News, March 29, 2017

A federal agency ended its nearly two-year investigation of animal welfare and research practices at the University of Texas Medical Branch after the medical branch implemented new policies to better monitor animals used in studies.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston announced Wednesday the federal Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare had closed its investigation, which stemmed from a 2015 audit by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases that found primates died instead of being humanely euthanized because they had not been monitored properly.

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare had threatened to withdraw the institution’s funding for animal research if corrections had not been made, according to a March 21 report by the office.

The medical branch’s hiring of additional veterinarians and the increased training for employees engaged in animal research, as well as changes to more frequently monitor animals infected with diseases have strengthened the institution’s animal program, officials said.

“Since my arrival at UTMB in 2015, we’ve worked hard to enhance the monitoring and documentation of all animals involved in scientific research,” said Doug Brining, director of the medical branch’s Animal Resource Center.

“I’m happy to see that OLAW recognizes that these employment additions, our efforts to increase training of staff, and other programmatic enhancements have had a positive impact on the overall program,” Brining said.

In August 2015, the office received complaints concerning federally funded nonhuman primate studies on Marburg virus at the medical branch, which stemmed from a January 2015 audit.

The office investigated and determined research was not properly being conducted and animals were dying instead of being euthanized because they weren’t being observed frequently enough, according to the March 21 report. The office told the medical branch it had to take corrective actions or risk losing funding, according to the report.

“If no actions were taken, OLAW would withdraw the institution’s assurance and that PHS funding for all animal activities would cease,” according to the report.

Over the past two years, the medical branch has hired a new attending veterinarian with biocontainment experience, increased communication among staff, increased animal observations and ensured prompt reporting of unexpected events, the report said. More employees now have access to the facility to provide care for the animals, according to the report.

“OLAW assessed all of the actions that had been taken by UTMB and concurred that the institution was successful in correcting the original problems and in ensuring a compliant animal care and use program to prevent recurrence,” according to the report.

Still, the executive director of an Ohio-based animal-rights group that’s called for investigations of the program said the report painted the picture of an animal program in chaos and vowed to keep up its probes.

The medical branch had taken two years to come to “some semblance of compliance” and had more issues to correct, said Michael A. Budkie, co-founder of the animal-rights group. He didn’t elaborate about what the uncorrected issues were.

“They should never again be trusted relevant to animal experimentation,” Budkie said.

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