The Animal Experimentation Scandal - 2006

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The Animal Experimentation Scandal - 2006
An Audit of the 2005 National Institutes of Health Funding of Animal Experimentation
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN

Specific Facilities

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

After examining information relevant to many well-known facilities, a list of thirty has been developed. These are very likely to be the top 30 facilities in the U.S. for annual federal funding of animal experimentation, accounting for 39% of all animal research grants for the nation. These facilities range from over $440 million a year to just over $116 million per year in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ), and Office of Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH). (Please see Appendix B for funding estimates for all fifty facilities).

The top 30 facilities nationally for the receipt of funds from the agencies in question for the performance of animal experimentation are listed in the table below. They are listed in order of dollars received from the government agencies in question, with the top lab listed first.


Annual Funding


Harvard University



University of Washington, Seattle



Oregon Health Science University



Johns Hopkins University



University of Pennsylvania



Emory University



University of Michigan



Washington University



University of California, San Francisco






Southwest Found. for Biomedical Research



University of California, Los Angeles






University of Pittsburgh



NYU/Mt. Sinai









Massachusetts General Hospital









University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill



University of California, San Diego



Brigham & Women’s Hospital (MA)



Columbia University



University of California, Davis



University of Wisconsin, Madison



University of Texas, Dallas



Scripps Research Institute (San Diego)



University of Colorado



University of Alabama, Birmingham



These thirty facilities averaged an estimated $195,527,939 per year for the performance of animal experimentation, as received from the relevant agencies. 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 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.

This entirely misses the point. 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. The interests of the animals (who are unable to speak) and the public (who are under-represented on IACUCs) 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 spent every year by these seven agencies 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. For their own part, these laboratories have literally become fiscally dependent on animal experiments. What laboratory could afford to lose an average amount of $195,527,939 in federal funding? Losses of this magnitude would be fiscally catastrophic, potentially leading to laboratory closures and staff reductions. Every indication points to the primary motivation for the performance of animal research to be monetary, not scientific.

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 billions 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.

Statistical Highlights

Ø The average facility in the top 30 U.S. laboratories received an average of over $195,527,939 per year for the performance of animal experiments, or $53,569 per day/per facility.

Ø The top 30 labs in the US account for 39% of all animal experimentation grants funded through the National Institutes of Health.

1. Science : Volume 293, Number 5530, Issue of 27 Jul 2001, pp. 608-60

Go on to Animal Welfare Act Enforcement Within the top 30 labs
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