Monday, June 24, 2024

UConn Health criticized for lapse in animal research protocol

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UConn Health has acknowledged that it had a lapse in an approved research protocol involving use of animals in the research process and that it was reported to federal regulators.

A spokeswoman for UConn Health did not name the animals involved or what the research process was, but according to a copy of a United States Department of Agriculture report provided by SAEN, a watchdog nonprofit that investigates alleged animal abuse and activities at U.S. research facilities, the animals were rabbits.

The animals were allegedly injected with an unspecified “study compound” as part of the research.

The report notes that, according to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee acclimation policy researchers follow for IACUC approved protocols, the acclimation period for non-rodents in research is a minimum of seven days.

However, UConn facility records for the six rabbits delivered on Nov. 16, 2023 allegedly showed that six rabbits underwent a procedure requiring anesthesia the next day and one rabbit delivered in December 2023 underwent a procedure requiring anesthesia five days later.

“Shortening of the acclimation period is a significant change regarding the use of animals in an ongoing activity that was not reviewed or approved by the IACUC committee,” the report says.

Further, the report states, while protocol states that two injections of the study compound will be administered to the rabbits, one on study “day 0” and the second on study “day 3,” a review of the medical record of a specific rabbit allegedly showed that the second injection was administered six days after the first. “Doubling the time interval between study compound injections is a significant change regarding the use of animals in an ongoing activity that was not reviewed or approved by the IACUC committee,” the report says.

“During a routine inspection, non-compliance in an approved research protocol was identified at UConn Health,” the UConn Health spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “As a result, UConn’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which oversees the welfare of animals, proactively reported a protocol lapse to federal regulators. The IACUC required a series of corrective actions that were implemented, and the research was permitted to proceed. The federal agency acknowledged UConn’s corrective measures, and no further action was required.”

No federal laws were broken.

“UConn has strong research integrity infrastructures in place. In fact, UConn has been recognized by its national accrediting agency for its program’s excellence and high standards ensuring the welfare of animals under its care and the integrity of the research process,” the spokeswoman said.

The USDA report also says that, under protocol, rabbits “undergoing a major operative procedure will receive antibiotics for three days post-operatively. There was no documentation noted in the review of the medical records of five animals that underwent surgery that antibiotics were administered as described in the approved protocol.”

Further, it states, protocol requires that “acepromazine (a sedative) will be administered prior to procedures either as the sole agent or in addition to an inhalant agent, and the protocol includes an approved range for the dose. The dose of acepromazine administered to the rabbits was not documented in the medical records and it could not be determined if the dose of the medication was as described in the approved protocol.”

The report also notes the volume of blood taken from the rabbits was allegedly “not documented in the medical records for the majority of the blood draws and it could not be determined if the volume of blood taken was as described in the approved protocol.”

Michael Budkie, speaking for SAEN, said the organization “is opposed to all use of animals in experimentation on both ethical and scientific grounds.”

Budkie said SAEN filed a complaint with the interim CEO of UCONN Health about its concerns about the report.

“SAEN has filed an administrative complaint with Bruce T. Liang Interim CEO, University of Connecticut Health, insisting on the termination of the research project and the UCONN Health employment of the responsible researcher,” according to Budkie, who provided a copy of the complaint.

Budkie said, “This must not be allowed to continue,” and in his opinion, this researcher should be let go from employment at UCONN Health, and “this project must be halted.”

He termed such research “a meaningless effort to perform counterfeit science.”

“It is up to you to remedy this heinous situation which needlessly abused animals (i.e. denying them adequate veterinary care), ignored scientific principles and wasted federal funding,” Budkie wrote to Liang. “To prevent further abuses, you must halt this project immediately, and terminate the employment of the offending researcher.

“These noncompliances render the pain and suffering of these animals meaningless, which is somehow even more cruel,” Budkie wrote.

The letter by UConn to the federal Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare notes that a rabbit with an injury of unknown origin was reported to the IACUC in January, and the USDA arrived later that month for a routine annual inspection and is when “multiple issues” in protocol were found.

In a separate and unrelated matter, UConn proactively reported to federal regulators that it had discovered, investigated and addressed issues involving non-compliance in a research protocol involving rabbits at UConn Storrs.

“The report reflected one rare but unfortunate instance, and one in which the University swiftly conducted a full review, took corrective action, and reported its findings to the appropriate organizations in a timely, candid manner.”

A spokesperson for the university said no federal laws were broken, “however, UConn’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) imposed a series of corrective actions, including suspending all activities with live rabbits that were formerly approved under the protocol. The federal agency acknowledged UConn’s corrective actions and required no additional actions.”

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