University of Arizona research program criticized for animal welfare

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The University of Arizona has been asked to investigate failures in its animal research programs, which resulted in the deaths of two sheep and caused it to temporarily suspend surgeries on mice.

In a letter to University President Robert Robbins, animal rights organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now called on the University to launch an investigation into five incidents involving animal research in 2020 that resulted in a response from the federal government.

Michael Budkie, co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, urged that personnel involved in the incidents be prohibited from working with animals in the future and that AU officials end projects in which the incidents happened.

In 2020, the University of Arizona itself reported four incidents that negatively affected the health and welfare of animals involved in research to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

In an incident on November 1, 2020, the sheep area of ​​the campus agricultural center was broken into and vandalized. Two sheep were injured and veterinarians at the center determined that they needed to be euthanized.

UA said it addressed the issue by implementing additional security measures at the site, according to its response to the federal government.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now has also filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture accusing the AU of violating the Animal Welfare Act because sheep are a regulated species under the law. (Mice are not.)

In a second incident, during a biannual inspection of animal facilities on Nov. 2, the university discovered that a senior researcher was performing surgeries on mice without proper sterilization tools and not keeping surgical records.

The university halted all surgical activities until appropriate training was provided. The university said in documents the researcher expressed regret and was retrained before resuming surgeries in January 2021.

It was the second incident in a month. A lab worker was found on October 12 performing survival surgery without proper aseptic surgical techniques.

It is not clear whether this was the same person involved in the November incident, as the University of Arizona did not answer this question when asked by the Republic of Arizona. The AU did not comment on the complaint despite having two and a half days to respond.

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In late May, a self-reported incident involving rats occurred in the post-mortem room at the University of Arizona Health Sciences.

Two of the rats were paralyzed and unable to reach food or water, and a third suffered from paresis and had difficulty moving. According to the report, veterinary staff told the lab’s senior researcher to euthanize the rats, but the researcher didn’t and left the rats in the autopsy area after working hours.

After discovering the rats, veterinary staff euthanized them. The researcher expressed regret and said it was a misunderstanding. The staff member was trained and shown the correct procedures for requesting euthanasia, according to the documents.

In addition to the incidents that were reported to the Bureau of Laboratory Animal Welfare, an investigation by the Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services found that the former professor of AU Charles A. Downs had committed a research fault by falsifying or fabricating data in six different grant applications.

The Office of Research Agreement found that Downs “knowingly, intentionally or recklessly tampered with and / or fabricated” images and bar charts involving data from rat lung tissue. He found that he had reused and relabeled previously released figures in 12 of the six grant applications involving federal funds.

He had a dual assistant professor position in the College of Nursing and the Division of Translational and Regenerative Medicine at the College of Medicine.

He left for the University of Miami in 2018, but later resigned his position as associate dean after reaching a settlement agreement with the Office of Research Integrity in late 2020. In the In agreement with the Office of Research Integrity, he neither admitted nor denied the findings of research misconduct.

Downs, who is an assistant professor in Miami, did not respond to the request for comment.

The University of Miami made a statement saying, “Charles Downs is an associate professor in the School of Nursing and Health, University of Miami. The University of Miami is aware of the Office’s findings. integrity of research involving Dr Downs that occurred while employed by a previous institution.When the University of Miami became aware of ORI’s investigation, we have conducted a comprehensive assessment of his work since ‘he joined the University of Miami in August 2018, and no evidence of research misconduct has been identified.

Budkie said research misconduct findings are extremely rare; there were only 10 cases in 2020 in the United States. He said this puts the AU in “extremely bad company”.

He estimated that there had been only 60 cases nationwide similar to AU terminating surgical procedures in mice.

“Suspending protocols like this or stopping proceedings is not something that the laboratory research administration does lightly,” Budkie said.

He said a second-year veterinary technician would know that surgeries need to be sterile and aseptic. He called it “an extremely basic thing.”

Budkie said UA has system-wide issues and called on the university to launch an investigation to determine what is going on.

“The University of Arizona has a very serious system-wide problem, because it’s not just that there has been a finding of research misconduct,” Budkie said. “It’s not just that there was a case where animals died in violation of animal welfare law. It’s not just that there were issues with the way the surgeries were being done. It’s all of those things. “

Contact reporter Rob O’Dell at [email protected] or on Twitter @robodellaz.

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