Animal rights group decries ‘barbaric’ experiments on ferrets at OHSU
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Dr. Danny Jacobs, President
Oregon Health & Science University
Email: [email protected] ; [email protected]

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President Jacobs,

You MUST immediately terminate the abusive ferret experiment at OHSU which have been cited by the USDA for violating the Animal Welfare Act. This experiment must not be allowed to inflict further abuse on ferrets or waste additional federal funding.

Animal rights group decries ‘barbaric’ experiments on ferrets at OHSU

From Kale Williams, OregonLive.com, April 15, 2020

An animal rights group is demanding the Oregon Health and Science University stop some experiments on ferrets after photographs emerged showing the animals in restrained in dirty conditions and the university was cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

The experiments, which were briefly suspended last summer, were blasted by Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, who obtained the pictures through a records request.
“The photos of the ferret in the restraint device ... prove that this project is nothing short of barbaric,” Budkie wrote in an April 8 letter to OHSU President Danny Jacobs. “These images are the stuff of nightmares.”

Officials from the university said they self-reported some of the issues Budkie cited and that changes had been made to lab protocols, which had resulted in violations issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during a surprise inspection last year.

“We strive for perfection but unfortunately that can’t always be met,” said Kim Saunders, a veterinarian and director of the Department of Comparative Medicine at the university. ”When something goes wrong, we take it seriously.”

For the experiments in question, which focus on how the brain processes sound, small holes were drilled through the skulls of ferrets, and electrodes were inserted into the brain to measure how audible stimulation was interpreted by the animals. After the surgery, the animals are fitted with pink acrylic caps to protect their skulls.

The experiments help researchers develop cochlear implants and other aides for people experiencing hearing loss, Saunders said.

During one surgical procedure on a ferret in April of 2019, some people in the operating room failed to keep the area sterile. The animal proved to be unsuitable for the experiment and was euthanized using an unapproved method, Saunders said, though she noted the method used was similar to how domestic animals are put down in veterinarian offices on a regular basis.

In June, a federal inspector came to the university’s Portland lab and found several ferrets had infections around their head caps, including “crusty, foul-smelling exudate,” and several pieces of equipment in the operating room were “corroded and dirty looking.”

filthy ferret restraint

Saunders said infections are not uncommon in animals that have head caps and that, while the containers appeared corroded on the outside, the insides were sterile.

Still, the research was suspended soon after the inspection while the university worked to put more protections in place. The work to resume after the university hired additional personnel to monitor the lab and corrected other issues flagged by the USDA.

“I’ve been here for over 20 years, and this is the only suspension I’ve ever seen,” Saunders said. They are rare occurrences but we take them very seriously.”

While the pictures may be shocking to the public, Sauders said the research conducted in OHSU labs is important.

“We do believe biomedical research is important to finding treatments and cures for our loved ones,” she said.

Budkie, though, argued that whatever benefits are outweighed by the costs to the animals involved and that the research should be terminated.

“The lab staff connected to this ill-fated experiment has bungled this project so seriously that no useful information can come from it,” he wrote. “This assault on human decency which is masquerading as a supposedly scientific experiment must not be allowed to continue.”

restrained ferret
A ferret with an acrylic skull cap is immobilized as part of an experiment at Oregon Health and Science University. An animal rights group blasted the institution for what it called "barbaric" violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

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