Mistreatment of UF research animals outlined in reports
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Kathryn A. Bayne, M.S., Ph.D., D.V.M.
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Please investigate animal care at University of Florida including dozens of mouse deaths, and deliberate abuse of animals including a python and a chameleon.

 

Mistreatment of UF research animals outlined in reports

From Cindy Swirko, The Gainesville Sun

Blunt force trauma to a chameleon, the kicking of a python and an attempt to draw blood from the neck of an alligator — all by one staffer — were included in the latest batch of reports on the treatment of research animals at the University of Florida.

Other reports detail how 60 mice had been overdosed with irradiation while others were kept in overcrowded conditions or in cages that lacked food and liquids.

The reports provided by UF to federal oversight agencies were collected by Stop Animal Exploitation NOW, a watchdog group that goes by SAEN.

“The number of cases where we see intentional cases of abuse is exceedingly small. If we see two or three a year, that’s a lot,” SAEN Executive Director Michael A. Budkie said. “So that incident in and of itself put the university in very bad company.”

Labs that get federal money for research are required to report "adverse events" involving animals such as rats, mice, birds and cold-blooded species to the National Institutes of Health.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the care of warm-blooded vertebrates used in research under the Animal Welfare Act.

Various UF reports of poor treatment of animals have surfaced in the past, including its use of beagles in research and incidents of careless actions that harmed animals.

UF submitted several reports to NIH covering April through June.

A report filed in June states that a UF Animal Care Services employee found 13 cages with 60 dead or near-dead mice that had received intracranial tumor injections and then irradiation.

The irradiator was new and lab staff said that the appropriate filter for the machine had not been used.

“As a result, the animals were likely overdosed,” the report states. “The surviving animals were euthanized by the lab for tissue collection. Splenic atrophy was noted in each mouse, likely caused by the irradiation overdose.”

Employees have been retrained in use of the irradiator.

UF wrote in an April 13 report that a study staff member use blunt force trauma on a veiled chameleon and then failed to conduct immediate “pithing” — piercing or severing the spinal cord — to ensure proper euthanasia.

The same report said the staff member kicked and prodded a Burmese python while taking photos.

“Photography is not approved ... protocol. Fellow laboratory members attempted unsuccessfully to stop this behavior,” the letter states. “This animal was then euthanized via captive bolt and personnel did not conduct immediate pithing…”

On another occasion the staffer attempted to take blood from an alligator at its neck, a method that is not approved.

The staffer was banned from working on animals and resigned from UF.

A May 4 report describes several instances in which procedures regarding the care of mice were not followed. Cages were crowded and lacked food, and weaned mice were not removed from the cages.

Incidents continued after the problems were first discovered. The employee involved with the problems was removed from hands-on work with animals.

Budkie said it's rare for a university lab to have to stop employees from working with animals.

“For one facility to have both of those in a relatively short period of time denotes what we believe to be systemwide problems at the University of Florida,” Budkie said.

Two other reports dealt with the mishandling of drugs, inaccurate reporting of drug use and inaccurate labeling of drugs. The drugs cited were cocaine, the sedative pentobarbital and narcotics buprenorphine and oxycodone.

For instance, multiple uncapped syringes of cocaine were kept in an unlocked room.

The Sun sent UF an email with several questions including whether a review of its animal experimentation system is underway and whether any upper-level employees in the system have been cited for lack of oversight. None were answered in a response.

“The University of Florida is committed to the ethical use of animals in its pursuit of medical advances that benefit both humans and animals,” the statement said in part, adding the UF has been accredited by an organization focused on care of animals used in research.

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