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
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
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
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
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.