UTHSC rebuffs lab animal watchdog; says it reported lapses
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now



Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region, USDA
[email protected] 
[email protected]

Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the University of Tennessee, Memphis, for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their negligence denied euthanasia to at least two pigs. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


UTHSC rebuffs lab animal watchdog; says it reported lapses

From Jane Roberts, DailyMemphian.com, September 18, 2020

A watchdog group for the safety of laboratory animals says the University of Tennessee Health Science Center tolerates abuse, sending a signal that the cruelty results in “slap on the wrist” for researchers who go on to profit from their work.
In a letter this week to UTHSC chancellor and vice chancellor, Stop Animal Exploitation Now outlines two projects the university halted within months of each other as proof that “major problems” exist in its research program.

This is the second time in two months that SAEN has raised objections in the way research is conducted at UTHSC.

In the latest case, UTHSC suspended research on a viral lung infection project when the principal investigator failed to monitor and euthanize animals that had reached “humane endpoints,” completed an unauthorized pilot study and tried to cover up the issues when questioned by the university veterinarian and members of its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

“In other words, one of your staff went rogue, performed an unapproved study, failed to humanely euthanize animals, failed to provide care and/or document their care, and then lied about it when they were caught,” SAEN executive director Michael Budkie said in the letter.

“This is a serious issue because this project involved approximately $190,000 in federal funding.”

In a statement on Thursday, Sept. 17, UTHSC said it adheres to strict state and federal regulations and oversight, noting it has substantial rules for protecting the animals from “a legal and, more importantly, ethical perspective.”

But “as in every walk of life, there are those who choose not to comport themselves with the high standards expected by the university,” UTHSC said.

If questions arise about compliance, issues are promptly investigated, it said. When warranted, remedial action is taken, including suspending the research or allowing it to resume with additional oversight.

“In our oversight of animal research, the university is transparent with the federal government and makes all required reports about such matters to the appropriate federal agency. This was the case in both instances reported to The Daily Memphian,” it said.

“Further, the respective federal agencies were satisfied with the university’s response to the reported noncompliance. We cannot go into any further details because of privacy and confidentiality restrictions.”

Researchers can lose their jobs in these situations.

In the older case from 2019, the researcher was asked to leave after failing to euthanize two piglets that had reached the humane endpoint. UTHSC’s veterinarian had asked the researcher to euthanize one of them. The action was not carried out.

Dismissing a researcher is not enough, Budkie says.

He is calling on UTHSC to halt a second study, publish animal care data from both studies on its website so the public can see what happened, and forbid research from either lab from being published.

“Most journals require that projects be carried out in compliance with all federal regulations. Clearly, that cannot be said of either of these two projects,” Budkie said.

The university reported the issues to the agencies that oversee their compliance, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Institutes of Health.

“I’d actually say the fact that they self-report on the rare occasions when something goes wrong is a sign that they appear to be a good and thorough program,” said Jim Newman, communications director at Americans for Medical Progress, a nonprofit health research advocacy group that supports the advancement of human and animal medicine through responsible and highly regulated research.

“The University of Tennessee Health Science Center appears to have a very good animal care program,” he said, noting that a cursory review of USDA inspection reports back to 2014 were “remarkably clean.”

“I say that because USDA inspectors tend to be very thorough and detail-oriented,” Newman said.

In the most recent case, UTHSC required the researcher, who is not named, to complete three courses on the care of laboratory animals and create a score sheet to determine when animals must be euthanized.

That study resumed May 14. The researcher is on a six-month probation, during which time daily reports must be filed so they may be compared to notes on the animals made by staff in charge of their care.

UTHSC is accredited by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, which is difficult to achieve, Newman said.

“This is basically the gold standard of animal care, and achieving it requires extensive reporting and multi-day inspections by animal-care experts.”

UTHSC is trying to increase the amount of funding it receives for research. Those dollars, often from federal science institutes, bring prestige to the university but also help it offset operating expenses.

In his state-of-the-university address a year ago, Chancellor Steve Schwab announced his goal of being in the top 25% of health science centers, and included the metrics to achieve the goal.

In research, it means attracting tens of millions more in outside funding a year. In 2019, UTHSC surpassed $100 million in research investment for the first time. Top-tier schools garner at least $150 million.

In July, Budkie filed a formal complaint with USDA over the case with the piglets.

“Whatever changes they made don’t alter the fact that UTHSC violated federal regulations. And they need to be reinforced. We are hoping USDA will launch a full investigation.”

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