June 4, 2018

UMMS in the clear following animal rights group's complaints

Courtesy
UMass Medical School in Worcester

Despite complaints from an Ohio animal rights group about the deaths of 30 research animals -- mostly mice -- over the course of a year, a federal agency said UMass Medical School acted appropriately in its documentation of those issues and the school remains in good standing with the agency.

The complaint from Stop Animal Exploitation Now! detailed 20 reports documenting the deaths of 30 laboratory animals; 19 incidents involved mice and rats, and one involved zebrafish. The documents came from publicly available UMMS self-reports to the National Health Institute Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare about issues during animal testing. The issues range from paperwork issues about the types of euthanasia to be used after testing, to an incident last year where an investigator lost his funding after a researcher made repeated violations in using rats.

In a statement provided to WBJ, UMMS said it takes seriously its responsibilities in using animals in its research to find treatments and cures for diseases like cancer, stroke, neurological diseases, ALS, Parkinson's and Huntington's Disease. The school uses tens of thousands of animals in its research, the bulk of which are mice, flies and zebrafish.

"As noted in the voluntarily submitted letters to the National Institutes of Health, in rare instances when procedures or practices not explicitly described in approved protocol were performed, UMMS took swift correction actions, including meeting with the principal investigator and staff members; providing additional education and training; completing appropriate reporting; and, in some instances, revising and refining procedures," UMMS said in its statement to WBJ.

NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare confirmed UMMS' status of good standing to WBJ.

The Ohio-based SAEN, though, said the repeated problems with paperwork and care of laboratory animals required UMMS Chancellor Michael Collins to take administrative action to resolve what the animal rights group called a pattern of issues.

"In short, UMass MED has violated virtually every basic tenet of medical research: sterility, protocol adherence/approval, pain relief, appropriate euthanasia," wrote Michael Budkie, SAEN's executive director, in a letter to Collins, which was publicly released at the same time it was sent to the school.

The reports include instances where euthanasia of mice via carbon dioxide was not effective, and those mice were stored alive in a carcass freezer. The mice were then decapitated, which is an approved secondary euthanasia procedure.

Other reports include the unanticipated death of 14 mice that underwent a study involving brain injections, and another involved a researcher leaving two mice in cages thought to be empty in a drop off area. Those animals were then euthanized when found by animal medicine staff.

All of the incidents were reported to NIH, and the school took action, including meeting with staff to ensure the following of proper protocols.

"UMMS is committed to the highest standards of research compliance and does not tolerate research practices that fall short of federal regulations or do not accurately comply with protocols that have been approved by our institutional animal use and care committee," the school said. "UMass Medical School's expectation is that all faculty and research staff only perform research described in approved protocols."

SAEN raised similar concerns of a UMMS reseacher's methods last year, which resulted in the researcher being fired.

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