UTMB (Finally) complying with animal welfare guidelines, 2-year probe finds
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UTMB (Finally) complying with animal welfare guidelines, 2-year probe finds
By Harvey Rice, Chron.com, March 29, 2017

GALVESTON Federal investigators have concluded that the University of Texas Medical Branch is in compliance with federal animal-welfare guidelines, ending a two-year investigation that put crucial research funding in jeopardy.

The investigation by the Office of Laboratory and Animal Welfare found that UTMB had dealt with problems discovered in on-site visits conducted with agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, interviews with a former employee and a 2015 audit. That report revealed improperly conducted research that had resulted in the painful deaths of a dozen monkeys.

A failure by UTMB to correct the problems could have resulted in a loss of funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

"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 UTMB's Animal Resource Center.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, the animal welfare organization that filed the complaint that launched the investigation, called the federal report a vindication of its criticism of UTMB's animal-welfare practices.

"This report proves that UTMB violated the public trust and that they have lied about it though the process," said Michael Budkie, the group's director.

The animal welfare organization filed a complaint after an audit by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found researchers had used shoddy practices in an experiment involving monkeys infected with Marburg, a lethal virus similar to Ebola. Researchers failed to properly observe the monkeys, allowing them to die painful deaths instead of being euthanized.

The Office of Laboratory and Animal Welfare, part of the NIH, found UTMB had failed to comply with the Public Health Service policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. UTMB has since improved oversight, procedures and training to bring its practices into compliance, the report said.

UTMB paid a $33,000 fine in November after the USDA found it had mishandled guinea pigs.

Despite the investigation, UTMB scientists have done important research on Ebola, developed a vaccine for the Chikungunya virus and created a quick test for the Zika virus.

Budkie said SAEN! would continue to monitor UTMB's handling of animals. "If UTMB thinks this is over with, they've got another thing coming," he said. "We don't give up that easily."

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