Complaint says Pitt lab didn't properly care for four primates
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now

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Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region, USDA
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Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the University of Pittsburgh for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their negligence caused four monkeys to become severely anemic. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

 

Complaint says Pitt lab didn't properly care for four primates

From David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.com, May 29, 2020

In February 2019, the University of Pittsburgh suspended a research project after veterinarians discovered four primates with anemia resulting from too many blood draws and the lack of proper care.

On Tuesday, the Milford, Ohio-based watchdog group Stop Animal Experimentation NOW! or SAEN, filed a complaint against Pitt with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that seeks fines up to $10,000 for each day that each animal was not cared for properly.

“I have obtained a University of Pittsburgh report which reveals multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act,” stated SAEN co-founder Michael Budkie. “In fact, the situation with this project was so serious that the University of Pittsburgh research administration suspended this project.”

But the university said that in addition to its own internal investigation, “this matter was investigated by the USDA who determined that there were no violations of the Animal Welfare Act or the USDA Animal Welfare Regulations.”

“When this matter was discovered, the university took swift action to address this situation, including reporting of the incident to both the National Institutes of Health and the USDA and taking the appropriate action regarding the personnel involved.” It did not describe those actions.

The internal investigation also led to a corrective action plan “requiring the research group to hire a veterinarian dedicated to the care of animals in the study,” with that research veterinarian being supervised by the university attending veterinarian.

The university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, known as IACUC, also suspended “the studies in question” until it was determined that the they could “resume without harm to animal welfare.”

The study now will undergo frequent IACUC audits “to assure regulatory compliance,” Pitt said in its prepared statement.

Mr. Budkie said Pitt officials “did something positive with this issue” by suspending the study on their own but questioned why it should have been allowed to resume.

“The staff demonstrated that not only was it not following Animal Welfare Act regulations but it wasn’t following basic science,” he said Thursday. “The question becomes, why wasn’t the staff adequately trained before they started the experiment? Why didn’t the research administration come in and stop it earlier? These are legitimate questions.”

The SAEN complaint, Mr. Budkie said, refers to lab practices used in the Pitt study, “Interventions to Reduce Hypercoagulability in old SIV-Infected [NonHuman Primate Species],” referring to simian immunodeficiency virus, which is a primate viral infection closely similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The study, now resumed, is testing whether reducing blood coagulation in older primates with SIV would lead to better outcomes, and if so, would a similar treatment help aging patients with HIV?

Funded by a $708,651 grant through a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grant, the study is led by Dr. Ivona Vasile-Pandrea, a pathology professor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health who’s published multiple studies and received multiple awards for her research. She did not respond to an email request for comment.

In his complaint, Mr. Budkie said federal policies require a laboratory staff to minimize discomfort, distress, and pain that laboratory animals experience, with requirements that personnel be trained and qualified to follow all procedures.

Violations listed in the complaint include blood draws taken from the four primates that “exceeded the limit stated on the investigator's IACUC protocol.

That excessive blood withdrawal, the complaint says, led to anemia with routine, aggressive fluid and nutritional support “not administered regularly” after the animals had infections — a situation that runs contrary to recovery procedures described in the protocol.

Weekly and monthly blood counts weren’t conducted, so the animals' anemic states were not detected, “and blood draw frequency was not altered to allow the animals to recover, leading to a more injurious state of anemia,” it says.

In addition, animal weights were recorded but not evaluated and monthly physical exams weren’t conducted, as required by the protocol, the complaint says.

“As a result, weight loss, general body systems, and body condition scores for the animals were not being monitored,” it says. “Animals did not receive daily multivitamin with iron to aid in preventing anemia, as required by the protocol.

“These issues were discovered by university veterinarians during a routine examination,” it continues. Then during the investigation, “it was discovered that members of the investigator's staff had not read the protocol,” as required for safe care of animals.

A Feb. 6, 2019, meeting of Pitt’s IACUC led to suspension of the study as the result of numerous serious violations, the complaint says.

In recent years, Pitt has faced periodic problems with proper care for its lab animals, leading to complaints, and in some cases resulting in violations and fines.

As recently as October, SAEN filed a USDA complaint to investigate violations in Pitt’s treatment of lab animals after federal records showed that one monkey died in the lab, another had to be euthanized after an injury, and a third had to have two fingers amputated after an escape attempt.

The results of the USDA investigation were not immediately available.

Other incidents at Pitt included two rabbit deaths — one reported in July 2012, when a rabbit fell out of an improperly locked cage and was euthanized due to head trauma, and one reported in February 2013, when a rabbit was improperly transported and euthanized against the protocol in the investigator's study.

Pitt fined the researcher in the 2013 case, among several other disciplinary actions taken by the university.

For now, Pitt continues to be one of the major research institutions nationwide that uses large numbers of animals, mostly for medical research. The USDA shows that Pitt’s lab animals in 2019 included 719 primates, 641 rabbits, 191 pigs, 60 cats, 38 sheep, 37 guinea pigs and 16 dogs, along with 259 other animals.

In its statement, Pitt said it takes its responsibility seriously “not only to comply with all federal and internal policies, laws and regulations, but also to provide humane and ethical care to all of our research animals.”

It also roundly defended its continued use of animals in research.

“Now more than ever as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize that for over hundreds of years, animal research has contributed to every major medical advancement — such as the antibiotic penicillin, the polio vaccine and the hormone insulin — leading to dramatic improvements in both how long we live and how healthy we are,” it stated.

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