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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Articles and Reports

The Animal Experimentation Scandal:
An Audit of the National Institutes of Health Funding of Animal Experimentation Listing the top Laboratories in Order of NIH Funding Received During 2002
By: Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director,
Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
513-575-5517  saen@saenonline.org

Audit Findings: Specific Facilities

If specific institutions are examined using the same method as was used to develop an estimated national total for NIH funding of animal experimentation, it is possible to arrive at estimates for the annual funding received by specific laboratories from the NIH for the performance of animal experimentation.

After examining information relevant to many well-known facilities, a list of twenty-six has been developed. These are very likely to be the top 26 facilities in the U.S. for NIH annual funding of animal experimentation. All of these facilities received over $100 million a year from the NIH for performing animal experiments during fiscal 2002, with funding amounts for some labs exceeding $200 million (please see Appendix B for funding estimates for specific facilities).

The top ten facilities nationally for the receipt of funds from the National Institutes of Health for the performance of animal experimentation are: the University of Washington, Seattle ($270,845,000); the University of Pennsylvania ($215,700,000); Johns Hopkins University ($191,400,000); the University of Michigan ($185,400,000); Yale ($173,400,000); Washington University ($173,400,000); Baylor ($162,300,000); the University of California, San Francisco ($159,600,000); the University of California, Los Angeles ($144,900,000); and the University of California, San Diego ($142,800,000).

These ten facilities averaged $181,974,500 per year for the performance of animal experimentation, as received from the NIH. The availability of sums of money of this magnitude must begin to raise questions about the facilities that receive it. Are the experiments performed by these facilities internally approved because they have the potential to further scientific knowledge, or because they have become budgetary necessities? Are university faculty pressured to perform research projects simply to justify (i.e. pay for) their own positions? Are university professors in the sciences viewed primarily as teachers or as procurers of grants? Are research projects proposed to obtain scientific knowledge, or simply to procure government funding? In essence, we must begin to wonder if the research that is underway at many universities is worthwhile in any sense other than monetary. Are NIH-funded research projects unique and innovative, or simply just re-treads of existing projects designed to bring in ever more funding?

It has already been demonstrated that a significant amount of duplication exists in many areas of animal experimentation. How can this duplication be interpreted? What does it tell us about the system of which animal experimentation is a part?

A grant system that is fraught with unnecessary duplication and redundancy would seem to indicate that the goal is not to obtain new and useful scientific knowledge, but simply to perform research. Where could such a system reveal itself? It may be revealed in the grant approval process.

Plous and Herzog (1) have performed an examination of the Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee (IACUC) system. The IACUC is the internal body that performs the first step in the approval process for each research project. The findings of this investigation were that unaffiliated IACUCs usually did not approve projects that had previously been examined and approved by the IACUC from the institution where the grant originated. The authors attempted to explain this finding by saying that it was based on familiarity with the researcher who originated the protocol in question.

I believe that this entirely misses the point. The fact is that IACUCs have a vested interest in approving every research project that comes before them. Every experiment, every project, potentially brings hundreds of thousands of dollars into the facility where it is performed. Investigators prestige and financial well-being are often connected to the successful completion of government-funded experiments. Institutional budgets are substantially subsidized by the income from government research grants.

The bottom line is that substantially more incentives exist for grant approval than for disapproval. Financial, prestigious, and bureaucratic motivations lead to the potentially unjustified approval of research projects. Only the interests of the animals, who are unable to speak, contradict this drive for approval.

This is the system that has lead to an ever-increasing tide of redundant research projects. For what better way to insure approval of a project, than to make only minor modifications in a paradigm that has already been accepted? If the goal is to bring in more money, not gain new knowledge, why gamble with unknown cutting-edge technology when tried-and-true (and previously-approved) methodologies are available? The safest thing is to engage in parametric tinkering, using a well defined and understood approach to measure some obscure aspect of an area of "basic science." This approach may well guarantee approval of a proposed research project. It also guarantees that many essentially useless and extremely redundant research projects will be performed over and over again.

From a governmental point of view this kind of duplication is potentially financially catastrophic. The hundreds of millions of dollars that the NIH spends every year to fund medical research using animals may well be going into a bottomless pit of duplication that accomplishes nothing other than funneling hundreds of millions of tax dollars into the coffers of nationally known laboratories.

We may be told that this funding system is well supervised and that the system does not allow for waste. However, animal based experimentation brings hundreds of millions of dollars into U.S. laboratories every year. In light of the fact that these institutions receive so much federal funding, it is highly likely that duplicative experimentation is funded on a regular basis with the primary purpose of filling out the budgets of local colleges and universities.

At the facility level, the membership of Institutional Animal Care & Use Committees (who are responsible for institutional protocol approval) are heavily weighted with people who either perform animal experiments or individuals who otherwise have a vested interest (i.e. -- institutionally affiliated veterinarians) in the performance of animal experimentation. Do they have any real motivation for declining to approve a project? It appears that these bodies are substantially biased toward grant approval because each additional grant brings more money into the laboratory. The grant approval process probably has more to do with job security and the prevention of budget shortfalls than with science.

At a time when projections for the federal budget include deficits for many years to come, the funding of animal experimentation should be closely examined.

1. Science : Volume 293, Number 5530, Issue of 27 Jul 2001, pp. 608-609.

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