Whenever a conversation ensues about the UW's use of animals in its labs, one very common question or assertion, depending on who is involved in the conversation, is the issue of oversight. Aren't the experiments regulated? The experiments are highly regulated!
First, consider what the primate center has to say about this topic:
Center research projects are reviewed at many regulatory levels to insure conformity with the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA Guide for the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and NIH research protocols. The Graduate School, including the Primate Center, is fully accredited by the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care –International (AAALAC-I).
AAALAC-I accreditation is claimed to be the "gold standard" of accreditation -- by the laboratories AAALAC certified. But history suggests that AAALAC accreditation amounts to little more than just another smokescreen. The actual value of AAALAC accreditation is illustrated by the situation at the University of Florida.
The University of Florida has been AAALAC accredited since 1966 according to an article in the Sunday, March 26, 2000 Gainesville Sun. In spite of this, dire conditions within the University of Florida's laboratories led to repeated complaints by senior staff that eventually led to the removal of the university's director of Animal Resources. The Associate Director of Animal Resources is quoted as saying, "This information, if put in the public domain, will do much more than expose a poorly run laboratory animal medicine program, it will be used to show what the real 'behind the scenes' may look like in our modern biomedical research facility."
More recently, the nation's premier biomedical laboratory, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), AAALAC certified since 1967, was discovered to have essentially no ongoing or meaningful oversight.
And consider what UW spokesperson's say about their own oversight:
Once a study begins, care is provided every day to animals by specially-trained scientists, veterinarians, technicians and animal caretakers who assume stewardship of the animals under their care. (Unnamed UW researcher, Wisconsin State Journal, 4/23/05)
On paper, in the spin-zone, it sounds so very reassuring. The reality is otherwise.
One recent illuminating example of the real effects of the UW's oversight is the situation concerning senior scientist Ei Terasawa's seventeen years of push-pull perfusion experiments on awake monkeys' brains.
Here's what she has to say:
Before push-pull perfusion experiments, monkeys were stereotaxically implanted with a stainless steel cranial pedestal (200 mm od) under halothane anesthesia, as described previously. This pedestal was aligned dorsoventrally with the infundibular recess of the third ventricle using an x-ray ventriculogram obtained after ventricular injection of a radioopaque dye (iohexol). The pedestal was then fixed to the skull with surgical bolts and dental acrylic. Monkeys were allowed at least 4 weeks to recover and were gradually adapted to a primate chair, the experimental environment, and the presence of the researchers.
Three days before each push-pull perfusion experiment, the monkey was anesthetized with 10 mg/kg BW ketamine hydrochloride (Bristol Laboratories, Syracuse, NY) and placed in a stereotaxic apparatus (Model 1504, David Kopf, Tujunga, CA). A hydraulic microdrive unit (model MO95-B, Narishige, Tokyo, Japan), allowing precise three-dimensional adjustment, was used to insert an outer cannula (20 gauge, 0.80 mm od) with an inner stylet (27 gauge, 0.42 mm od) into the S-ME.
MO-95 - Single-Axis Oil Hydraulic Fine Microdrive Micromanipulator (Skull Mounting)
MO-95: $4,324.32 - Ships in 3-5 days
As described previously, accurate placement of the cannula was confirmed using x-rays that were compared with the ventriculogram obtained earlier. The location of the outer cannula tip, relative to the ventral tip of the third ventricle, was similar for each of the groups in the two experiments of this study. After cannula placement, monkeys were placed in a primate chair for 3 days. [Our emphasis.] The procedure does not induce stress, judged from cortisol levels and behaviors, given that monkeys were well adapted to primate chairs before this study.
Push-pull perfusion was performed three days after insertion of the outer cannula. The stylet was replaced with an inner cannula (29 gauge, 0.32 mm od), through which modified Krebs-Ringer phosphate buffer solution (aCSF, pH 7.4) with bacitracin (4 U/ml) was infused at 20 µl/min with a peristaltic pump. Ten-minute fractions were collected continuously in polypropylene vials on ice, immediately frozen on dry ice, and stored at -20 C. Perfusions were begun at 0700 h–0800 h and continued for 10–12 h. After the experiment, the monkeys were returned to their home cages to rest for at least 1 month before the next push-pull perfusion. [From Claypool LE, Kasuya E, Saitoh Y, Marzban F, Terasawa E. N-methyl D,L-aspartate induces the release of luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone in the prepubertal and pubertal female rhesus monkey as measured by in vivo push-pull perfusion in the stalk-median eminence. Endocrinology. 2000 Jan;141(1):219-28. http://endo.endojournals.org/cgi/content/full/141/1/219]
Now consider the spin after we publicly disclosed that USDA inspectors had discovered that monkeys were being left alone, unobserved, and dying while strapped into the chair while the pumps pushed and pulled the chemicals from their brains:
"This is evidence of the process of oversight working,” Sandgren said of Terasawa's research. “We investigated, we determined a particular procedure was too risky and could no longer be performed at all.” [UW monkey deaths during experiments raise questions. Researcher suspended in 2004. Capital Times (web edition). August 16, 2005.]
Eric Sandgren is the Chair of two of the UW's oversight committees, including the Graduate School IACUC that oversees Terasawa's experiments; and so, Sandgren is directly responsible for the failure of the university to constrain Terasawa. It would be too easy to claim that the oversight committees had simply overlooked this senior scientist's research for seventeen years. The university's claim that the oversight system is working is fraught with problems.
For more on Terasawa, see: http://www.primatefreedom.com/uwbustedbyusda.html
And the United States Department of Agriculture Inspector General's office says that oversight in the nation's labs is failing to enforce even the minimal requirements of the Animal Welfare Act.
USDA oversight problems : 10/20/2005 - APHIS Animal Care Program Inspection and Enforcement Activities http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33002-03-SF.pdf
No discussion of oversight would be complete without mention of the current definitive evaluation of the IACUC system of oversight. [Plous S, Herzog H. Animal research. Reliability of protocol reviews for animal research. Science . 2001 Jul 27;293(5530):608-9.]:
Over the past 20 years, the reliability of scientific peer-review judgments has been a topic of frequent debate and scrutiny. However, one area of peer review that has not received much empirical investigation is the system that protects animal subjects from research risks. At most research institutions, studies involving animal subjects must be approved by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). …
… [W]e conducted a study of randomly selected IACUCs from U.S. universities and colleges. Seventy committees were drawn from a master list of 916 IACUCs maintained by the U.S. Office for Protection from Research Risks. Of these 70, 50 agreed to participate in the study. Thirty-four IACUCs came from research or doctoral universities, seven came from master's colleges or universities, six came from specialized institutions (e.g., medical colleges), and three came from liberal arts colleges. In all, 494 of 566 voting members (151 females and 343 males), or 87% of those approached, took part in the study.
Each IACUC was asked to submit its three most recently reviewed protocols involving animal behavior, including the committee's decision on whether to approve the research in question. All information identifying the investigator or institution was then removed from the protocols, and each protocol was randomly assigned to be reviewed a second time by another participating IACUC. Voting members of the second committee were sent packets containing three masked protocols with a request to review the protocols and to send us a completed evaluation anonymously in a prepaid envelope.
Once we received reviews from individual committee members, the IACUCs were asked to meet as a group and render a final evaluation for each of the three protocols. Committees were asked to follow their standard operating procedures and to discuss the protocols as they would any other research proposal.
Protocol evaluations from the originating committee and from the second committee were not significantly related to one another…. This absence of a relation was found not only across the full set of 150 protocols, but for relatively invasive research involving procedures such as electric shock, food or water deprivation, surgery, and drug or alcohol research…; for protocols involving euthanasia …; and for protocols in which the reviewing IACUC expected animals to experience a significant amount of pain…. Thus, regardless of whether the research involved terminal or painful procedures, IACUC protocol reviews did not exceed chance levels of intercommittee agreement….
Any and every claim that research using animals at the UW is monitored and regulated in a manner that assures humane care is pure propaganda.
Consider the case of Dr. Jennifer Hess.
Consider the cows who died of malnutrition, the monkeys who have been scalded to death in the cage washers, Ei Terasawa's seventeen year study, all of these cases are a result of the UW's failed oversight system.
Finally, the university is required by federal regulation to submit a report documenting the number of animals used on campus to the USDA. (This includes only members of the AWA-covered species.) The WPRC reports here that they have about 1480 monkeys. The Harlow lab reports here that they have about 500 monkeys on hand. These numbers have been fairly stable over the past few years.
So why, in the university's 2004 Annual Report to the USDA*, does the university claim to have 1313 monkeys? Who can't count? The federal government, or the monkey lab workers? (Compare this with the 2000 Annual Report.)
UW's problems are not unique. Similar problem occur regularly around the country. The animal research culture is understandably numb to the animals' suffering. Claims made by them must be considered in light of their willingness to hurt animals on a daily basis.
*Public access to this and similar documents has been increasingly curtailed over the past few years. In spite of the fact that it is a public document by every meaning of the term, it would have taken years to obtain through "normal" channels.