RPI cancer study suspended after lapses found
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Associate Vice President Hull
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The Rensselaer Institute must take action to permanently terminate all animal use privileges for all staff connected to experiment INT-001-17. This project must be ended because it involved inadequately trained personnel, failure to follow proper procedures, etc. Sloppy actions like this should not be allowed to masquerade as "science."


RPI cancer study suspended after lapses found

From Rachel Silberstein, TimesUnion.com, November 6, 2019

Dead mice raised concerns for veterinarian assigned to oversee use of lab animals.

A cancer study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's biomedical research labs involving mice was temporarily suspended last spring when an internal investigation found several lapses in protocol, according to a report filed with the federal agency that oversees the welfare of lab animals.

RPI's in-house veterinarian flagged several issues at the facility to the school's Institutional Animal Care Use Committee (IACUC), which oversees compliance in animal research, after one mouse died and another was euthanized after showing signs of malnourishment and dehydration, according to the document.

The report cited an internal investigation that uncovered after-the-fact record-keeping, poor training of researchers, and the use of mouse strains not approved for the particular research project.

"There were incidences of animal misidentification and other errors in record keeping," wrote RPI Associate Vice President of Research Robert Hull in his summary of the investigation's findings and corrective actions taken.

The investigation uncovered communication breakdown among student researchers, attending veterinarian Neda Bajalo, and Prof. Xavier Intes, who oversees the cancer imaging lab.

For example, Bajalo "brought to the attention of IACUC that students within Dr. Intes' group had placed their initials against procedures for which they were either not listed on the protocol and/or not adequately trained," the report states.

The report was brought to light by the animal rights organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now, which has called on RPI officials to conduct an independent inquiry into what happened; to revoke the animal-use privileges of the researchers involved; and to release full veterinary histories of the dead mice.

"We get these reports relevant to every research project in the U.S. Suspending a protocol is something that doesn't happen often at all, which puts this facility in very bad company," SAEN executive director Michael A. Budkie said.

The communications issues detailed in the report included students' claims that the instructions for record-keeping, delivered orally, were unclear and they were unable to get questions answered. For four days during the study, the records failed to make it clear whether or not the animals had been correctly returned to their cages. In at least one occasion, the start time for food deprivation was noted, but not the end time. Mice could not be deprived of food for more than 20 hours, according to the protocol.

Faculty members will be required to attend communication workshops and animal welfare workshops as corrective measures.

The investigation also turned up problems with the imaging lab's anesthesia vaporizer, which had not been inspected in several years. Faulty delivery of anesthesia resulted in a prolonged anesthetic process.

RPI officials wrote that they were "confident" this issue did not lead to animal suffering since researchers always measured the depth of anesthesia by checking "the paw pinching reflex" before starting an experiment and measured animals' breathing rate during the procedure.

"Adverse events were never observed," according to the report.

The machines have since been serviced and passed all functional tests on May 2.

In a statement, RPI said that the institute holds itself to "the very highest standards of research integrity and compliance, particularly with respect to animal welfare."

"On learning of the concerns described in the report to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) of the National Institute of Health, we immediately launched an intensive investigation," RPI officials said in a statement. "We implemented corrective action plans to prevent any future recurrence. As part of this process, the protocols under which the research group was operating were suspended, until the necessary corrective measures had been established."

While records appear to have been modified after the fact, researchers noted that the investigation did not find that anyone had intentionally falsified records.

"We self-reported these events and corrective actions in an extensive report to OLAW. The response from OLAW concurred with the actions taken by the institution and acknowledged our thorough response," RPI officials said in a statement. "We believe this issue has been adequately addressed and resolved."

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