UTMB researcher disciplined over violations, medical center confirms
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UTMB researcher disciplined over violations, medical center confirms
By Hravey Rice, HoustonChronicle.com, February 16, 2017

UTMB researcher disciplined over violations, medical center confirms By Harvey Rice, Houston ChronicleFebruary 16, 2017

GALVESTON - The revelation this week that a University of Texas Medical Branch researcher has been disciplined is another setback for an institution plagued by repeated findings and accusations of failure to follow animal-welfare guidelines.

A UTMB spokesman declined to identify the researcher, whose animal-use privileges were suspended indefinitely for using mice in experiments in a manner that violated the medical center's and federal guidelines, according to a statement released by UTMB on Monday.

UTMB also released a Dec. 1 letter informing the federal Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare that the researcher had used pregnant animals without authorization, allowed unauthorized persons to experiment on the animals, infected animals with a viral agent without authorization and allowed animals to die during the experiment without euthanizing them to prevent painful deaths.

A spokesman said the problems were discovered during a routine internal audit.

The UTMB statement said the federal office was satisfied and would take no action.

"UTMB is vigilant in its efforts to ensure that all proper procedures, regulations and federal and state guidelines are followed and that research animals are treated as humanely as possible," the statement said.

Michael Budkie, spokesman for the animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, a persistent critic of UTMB's animal-handling practices, called the UTMB statement about concern for animals "nothing more than a bold-faced lie."

Budkie said animal-use privileges were not suspended for UTMB researchers involved in the treatment of guinea pigs - the subject of a $33,000 fine in November.

In December 2015, the former top UTMB veterinarian, Brian Gordon, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health's Office of Animal Laboratory Welfare. The complaint alleged that UTMB officials intentionally covered up the deaths of animals, in violation of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA has taken no action.

Gordon, fired by UTMB in June 2013, sued for defamation and wrongful termination, claiming he was fired in retaliation for complaining about the failure of UTMB personnel to comply with its own standards and federal law governing the treatment of animals.

U.S. District Judge George Hanks Jr. dismissed the lawsuit Feb. 2, ruling that UTMB and Gordon's boss, Toni D'Agostino, were protected by sovereign immunity because UTMB is a state institution.

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