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University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT

'Monkey Business' Ends At UConn Health Center

By Andrew Porter
Issue date: 1/24/07 Section: News

The controversial research on non-human primates at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) has been stopped.

The research, which involved implanting coils into the eyes of rhesus macaque monkeys and drilling a hole into their heads, has been the subject of many protests, led in large part by UConn graduate student Justin Goodman.

According to documents from the USDA and the UCHC Animal Care Committee, the USDA made an inspection of the research facility on Aug. 29. Two days later on Aug. 31, Dr. David Waitzman, who was in charge of the research, voluntarily stopped his experiments. Then, on Sept. 6, UConn's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee revoked Waitzman's ability to continue the research.

The committee's decision came more than four months after UConn President Philip Austin said in a May 2 letter to the university community that UConn has "dealt successfully with problems related to research animal care."

According to Goodman, the USDA has now launched a formal investigation into the research, which can result in a formal charge with the Secretary of Agriculture as well as fines for the UCHC.

The UConn Animal Care Committee also formed a subcommittee to review the research. The subcommittee reviewed USDA inspection reports as well as an anonymous letter which alleged that one of the researchers assisting Waitzman was unfit to work with the monkeys and was cruel to the animals.

The subcommittee's final report included six recommendations. One suggested that Waitzman should receive a letter of reprimand signed by the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, Dr. Peter Deckers, while another suggested that any future animal use by Dr. Waitzman should be reviewed monthly.

"I feel this is a step in the right direction," said Goodman. However he cautioned that he didn't feel his work was done. "The school hasn't agreed to permanently stop the research ... The next phase is to encourage the school to place a permanent moratorium on non-human primate research."

Goodman also added that the stoppage of Waitzman's research felt "bittersweet" because "In the last year or so three monkeys died and one got sent to research elsewhere." According to Goodman, he had acquired funds to transfer the final monkey, as well as locate sanctuaries willing to house it, but the school declined his offer.

"I think when most people think of animal research they think of lab coats, Petri dishes and sterile white rooms," Goodman said. "In reality, it is demonstrably bloody and violent ... the animals don't want to be there."

The Daily Campus contacted the UCHC for this story, however, no member of the UCHC would comment.

The UCHC did release a statement that broadly defended its research practices and said in part, "Researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center are in the forefront of developing vaccines, treatments, and cures that will improve, prolong, and save human life.

Part of this research effort involves the humane and ethical use of animals, including primates. The UConn Health Center is committed to full compliance with all relevant animal welfare laws and guidelines followed by major research universities throughout the country. We constantly monitor and evaluate our use of animals in research to remain in compliance and improve the quality of our animal care activities."

"David Waitzman has had $1.7 million to do his research and he produced no useful data," Goodman said. "And that is because the animals won't give him the data he wants."

"The public support shows people don't like [the research]" he added. "And the administration's continuous denial to engage us in debate shows that there is no scientific, moral, or ethical way to defend it."

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Rats, mice, birds, amphibians and other animals have been excluded from coverage by the Animal Welfare Act. Therefore research facility reports do not include these animals. As a result of this situation, a blank report, or one with few animals listed, does not mean that a facility has not performed experiments on non-reportable animals. A blank form does mean that the facility in question has not used covered animals (primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, pigs, sheep, goats, etc.). Rats and mice alone are believed to comprise over 90% of the animals used in experimentation. Therefore the majority of animals used at research facilities are not even counted.

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