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Media Coverage

Johns Hopkins U. Agrees to $25,000 Settlement Over Animal-Care Allegations

From the Chronicle of higher education
Wednesday, August 10, 2005



The Johns Hopkins University has paid a fine of $25,000 to settle complaints from animal-welfare inspectors that it failed to give adequate care to animals used in some research projects.

The inspectors, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleged that university staff members did not give anesthesia or proper veterinary care to several animals during experiments that caused them pain, and that at least 37 primates were housed in conditions that were too small or otherwise deficient.

The alleged incidents occurred mostly from 1998 to 2003, and it took several years for the university and the Agriculture Department to reach the settlement, which was completed in February. The Agriculture Department, which is responsible for inspecting research laboratories that use animals, does not generally publicize such agreements. An Ohio-based group that opposes animal research, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, described the settlement in a news release on Tuesday.

The university admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle. A spokeswoman said on Tuesday that Johns Hopkins had taken steps to strengthen its oversight of research involving animals and to improve the facilities where they are housed.

In recent years, the Agriculture Department has stepped up the number of settlements it has reached with universities over animal research, but such agreements continue to be rare. Johns Hopkins is the largest university to have reached one.

Johns Hopkins was by far the top recipient of research money from the National Institutes of Health in 2004, with $599-million for more than 1,300 projects. The university has an annual budget of $2.4-billion.

The Agriculture Department's amended complaint, filed in September 2004, said that "the gravity of respondent's violations is great." The complaint did not specify how many animals were involved, but they appeared to represent a small portion of the total covered by inspections. The department's inspectors checked on 1,154 research animals at Johns Hopkins in August 2000 alone.

The complaint mentioned at least 16 specific research studies, some of which induced pain in animals. In one study, three pigs did not receive any analgesics or proper care following a pain-inducing experiment; the same was true of a dog in another experiment and a marmoset monkey in a third. In other cases, the complaint merely noted that the research project did not spell out a plan for relieving a research animal's pain.

The complaint also cited inadequate care for various monkeys used by Johns Hopkins. The alleged deficiencies included not providing "environmental enhancements" necessary to promote the monkeys' psychological well-being. For example, the university housed nine macaques in isolation, which can cause them considerable distress because they are social animals. The complaint also alleged substandard housing conditions for primates in some rooms at the university's Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, including dirt and grease and damaged plaster.

Some of the other alleged violations involved inadequate oversight by the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which is responsible under federal regulations for monitoring research involving animals. The inspectors said researchers had modified some projects without first obtaining the committee's approval.

The university "has been making great improvements in the processes in place to oversee animal research and to maintain and improve the quality of our research and care program," said Joanna B. Downer, a spokeswoman. "If our animals aren't doing well, it doesn't contribute to excellent research."

Some of the changes the university has made have been organizational. Before 1999, the university had separate animal-care-and-use committees for its schools of medicine and public health. Now, the university has a single, universitywide committee, improving consistency, Ms. Downer said.

In addition, the office for monitoring animal research had been housed within the university's School of Medicine. Under that arrangement, the "potential" existed for the office to be insufficiently independent of the school's medical researchers, making it difficult to monitor them adequately, Ms. Downer said. Now, the oversight office is an independent unit and reports to a vice provost. That change gave the oversight office more money and clout to make changes in animal care and research.

Among other changes, the university has increased the size of the staff that cares for research animals, although Ms. Downer was unable to say immediately by how much. Johns Hopkins has also provided more education and training programs for workers who handle research animals. And the university opened a modern new animal-holding facility last September.


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