New Iberia Research Center pays 4th settlement for poor research practices
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New Iberia Research Center pays 4th settlement for poor research practices
By Shane Manthei,, August 23, 2017

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center agreed in July to pay a $100,000 settlement to the USDA for alleged violations during 2012-2014, marking the fourth time the institution has been fined for its treatment of research monkeys.

Settling complaints of poor enclosure hygiene, insecure enclosures that led to five primates’ escapes, injured primates and research activities not assured to produce duplicate experiments, the NIRC faces its largest fine yet. The newest fine dwarfs the $2,062 paid in 2007; $18,000 paid in 2010; and $38,571 paid in 2013 in related settlements.

In the settlement, UL Lafayette did not admit wrongdoing in the allegations from the USDA. Both parties have declined to hold a hearing.

Francois Villinger, Ph.D., the NIRC director, said the settlement will not inhibit the institution’s research.

“Most alleged issues raised in the complaints had been self-reported and remedied by the research center, even before the USDA inspections,” he said.

Villinger said all employees follow the standard operating procedures as set by the NIRC. If an employee does not follow the procedures, they participate in one-on-one training to ensure they do.

The settlements have drawn criticism from Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, an Ohio-based watchdog group that monitors the NIRC.

“There are very few laboratories that you can find that have been fined this many times in a relatively short time,” said Michael Budkie, SAEN executive director.

The USDA’s complaint details each incident, including one in March 2013 when an adult female rhesus macaque and her infant were placed in a squeeze restraint. The adult female resisted, resulting in the breaking of her arm, which was then left unattended for five days by the NIRC’s assigned veterinarian.

And in July of 2013, a rhesus macaque had its hand trapped in an unsecured enclosure, resulting in multiple lacerations and two fractured fingers. The monkey later died from a cerebral hemorrhage, likely caused by the incident.

“Both of those examples,” Budkie responded, “show the New Iberia staff don’t pay attention to their animals at all times.

“Leaving a monkey alone with a broken bone for five days is simply unconscionable,” he continued.

The Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International had given the NIRC outstanding ratings in 2012 and 2015 for its animal care and breeding program.

In a news release posted to the NIRC webpage, UL Lafayette stated the alleged violations occurred during “routine housing and care of non-human primates, most of which were self-reported by the New Iberia Research Center.”

In a follow-up to a previous Vermilion article, there were reported public concerns over the NIRC’s more than 200 chimpanzees. Alleged violations of chimp abuse were apparent in earlier USDA complaints, but not the most current complaint.

“The center retired its chimpanzees in 2015, prior to their reclassification under the Endangered Species Act,” Villinger said.

The chimps were planned to undergo a relocation in partnership with Project Chimps of Georgia. Of that plan, Villinger said: “There are 192 remaining with 22 having been transferred.”

“Following the chimpanzee’s retirement,” Villinger added, “we have been in regular contact with Project Chimps regarding their well-being and health. Our veterinary staff is available to Project Chimps for consultation about any potential health issue and colony management.”

“They’re one of the main facilities we focus on sheerly because of the number of primates that they deal with,” Budkie stated.

On SAEN’s website, Budkie referenced several articles that detailed this purpose. SAEN’s earliest such complaints were filed to the USDA in 2009.

“It is a step in the right direction,” said Budkie of the USDA fine. “From what we know, it is the fifth largest fine ever levied against a laboratory.”

As for what the NIRC could do differently, Budkie said: “Adopt the course of other research facilities who are putting more effort into cutting edge technology.”

“The NIRC contributes significantly to the University’s annual research and development awards and expenditures,” Villinger stated. “Fines are paid through self-generated, non-state funds.”

According to UL Lafayette’s webpage for the NIRC, the location has undergone several changes in ownership and renovation since the 1950s, when it was constructed to serve as a naval base. The university purchased the land in 1984 to serve as a primate research lab with emphasis on contract work. Since then, the NIRC maintains it has also expanded into evaluations of pharmaceutical and biotechnology products.

With roughly 200 employees and newly hired research faculty, Villinger said: “We anticipate increased access for students at undergraduate and graduate levels in the next few years.”

Villinger pointed to “new abilities to image pathological and physiological process at the macro and microscopic level, that will be quite attractive to students.”

Ramesh Kolluru, UL Lafayette’s vice president for research, did not to respond to requests for comment on the USDA decision. Dominique Rosado, the university’s research coordinator, redirected The Vermilion to the Office of Communications and Marketing. They were unavailable for comment.

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