UCSF animal research called top 'lawbreaker'
51 federal citations over three
years, activists report
Julian Guthrie, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2004
A national group trying to stop the use of animals in
medical research has found UC San Francisco to be the nation's worst
violator of federal animal welfare laws, listing 51 federal citations
over three years.
A report released Thursday by the nonprofit group Stop
Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) said the 51 violations ranged from
inadequately trained laboratory personnel to failing to administer
painkiller to a monkey after cranial surgery. Of the total, 30 were
repeat violations, and 10 involved direct misuse of animals.
The animal welfare group based its report, "Breaking
the Law: Animal Care in U.S. Labs," on U.S. Department of Agriculture
inspection reports between 2000 and 2003. The USDA is required to
conduct biannual inspections of research facilities.
Other institutions cited by SAEN as "major violators"
of the federal Animal Welfare Act include: Johns Hopkins, Emory
University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the
University of Florida and the University of Pittsburgh. In all, there
were 559 violations by 25 institutions over three years.
"Dozens of labs across the country are violating
federal law, and UCSF is the No. 1 lawbreaker," said SAEN's executive
director, Michael Budkie, standing in front of the UCSF campus on
Parnassus Avenue. "UCSF is first in number of violations, number of
repeat violations and violations that directly affect animals."
UCSF has more than 500 active research studies
involving rodents, rabbits, dogs, cats, sheep, pigs, ferrets, squirrels
and nonhuman primates.
UCSF associate vice chancellor for research Ara
Tahmassian said in a statement Thursday that animal research is never
undertaken lightly and that many layers of oversight exist to ensure
animals are treated humanely and appropriately.
"The university believes that certain animal activist
organizations are philosophically opposed to animal research and present
statistics out of context and in a way that misrepresents the facts,"
He said the university tries to minimize the use of
animals and seeks alternatives but believes such research is essential
to medical innovation.
UCSF researchers who work with animals have been
credited with an array of medical breakthroughs.
One example is a UCSF researcher who spent three
decades studying the lungs of rabbits, dogs, cows and other animals and
produced an artificial form of a substance that coats the interior of
lungs and allows them to expand and contract. The discovery saves the
lives of tens of thousands of premature infants every year who are born
without the ability to produce the substance.
In another example, listed by UCSF, researchers
working with dogs and other animals pioneered the development of
catheter ablation techniques that cure heart rhythm disorders, making it
possible to treat common disorders by threading a tiny catheter through
a vein and into the heart. Before the breakthrough, open-heart surgery
was the only way to treat many of the disorders.
Another UCSF researcher advanced the understanding of
HIV. A mouse model developed 10 years ago allows researchers to test
antiviral drugs and explore the mechanisms of the AIDS virus. The mouse
was developed with a human-like blood-forming system that acts like a
human immune system.
SAEN's Budkie said his work focuses on experiments
that are redundant and cause animals to suffer unnecessarily. He
believes that animals are routinely harmed in the name of
"scientifically meritless" studies. He earned a bachelor's degree in
animal health technology and trained in a lab at the University of
Budkie said some of the worst experiments at UCSF
involve primates that undergo multiple surgeries and are trained through
water deprivation. He said one UCSF researcher, who has been cited
numerous times by the USDA, is studying neural control of eye movement.
The researcher implants metal coils in the monkey's eyes and a hook that
protrudes from the skull. The monkeys can be restrained in a chair for
as long as eight hours.
"Animals are not inanimate objects,'' Budkie said.
"They have a concept of self. They feel pain."
Monkey experiments at UCSF are replicated in labs
across the country, Budkie said. He said he recently searched the
National Institutes of Health database and found 180 similar studies.
He believes in effecting change by gathering records
through legal channels and presenting the findings in reports. "We get
the data, get it right and get it to the public," said Budkie, who has a
second bachelor's degree in theology. "If the American public had all
the facts about what's happening to animals in labs, labs would be
Bob O'Brien, an organizer with the San Francisco group
Vigil for Animals, has spent one day a month for the past year sitting
on a bench in front of UCSF, protesting research practices. He has
problems with all of the research, he said, but finds certain studies
unthinkable. Descriptions of the studies, written by the researchers,
were obtained by SAEN, he said.
"The experiments are cruel and unnecessary," O'Brien
Jeremy Beckham, another activist who joined the group
gathered in front of UCSF, is spending the summer protesting the use of
primates in medical research. Earlier this week, he protested the use of
monkeys in research at the UC Davis primate center, one of the largest
in the nation.
"I read a book about primates who were taught sign
language," Beckham said. "I know sign language and got to visit these
chimps who sign. It was amazing to communicate. I look in their eyes,
and it's so much like interacting with humans. Their awareness is not
unlike a child's. Would we do these things to children?"
UCSF is the nation's fourth-largest National
Institutes of Health grant recipient, after Johns Hopkins, the
University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington.
E-mail Julian Guthrie at