July 14, 2017

Animal rights group calls out UMass Medical for rat testing deaths

An animal rights group is calling on UMass Medical School to permanently ban a researcher from working with animals after the school reported violations in an experiment involving rats to the National Institutes of Health.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, an Ohio-based animal rights group, issued its statement Monday in response to incidents that took place last year in a research lab. During the experiment, aimed towards counteracting the side effects of severe poisoning, a researcher working for Dr. Steven Bird committed several protocol violations over the course of several months, according to a letter from the medical school to the NIH.

According to the letter, the unnamed researcher failed to monitor paralyzed rats and report their deaths, performed electric shock and surgery on them without approval, and didn't document giving them pain medication. The researcher allowed some rats to fall into a biohazard bin with blood and feces in it.

Bird did not dispute the allegations, according to the letter, but said at the time he was overwhelmed with his duties as an emergency physician. He also said his researcher had difficulty understanding English, making it hard to communicate.

After the violations were discovered during a site visit by an accreditation agency, UMass Medical School investigated and found several weaknesses in compliance, as well as a failure to adhere to animal care standards and documentation inaccuracies. The school suspended testing and imposed conditions in order for the research to continue -- including retraining of the researcher.

However, a few months later, the same researcher conducted two surgeries resulting in two rat deaths, even though surgical privileges hadn't been reinstated, according to documents from the medical school. After this incident, Bird's animal vertebrae research privileges were revoked, and he was prohibited from re-applying for a year. The researcher was fired.

Michael Budkie, co-founder of the animal rights group, said the medical school should permanently ban Bird from conducting animal research.

The medical school apologized for the violations and said it has developed new programs, policies and procedures to make sure all of its research activity meets the appropriate standards. The new policies include a new post-approval monitoring program to ensure continued compliance.

"We sincerely regret that the failure of the investigator involved to adhere to the approved protocol resulted in inadequate animal care," the medical school said in a statement.

The research grant has been transferred and is currently being carried out under the supervision of a different investigator, according to UMass.

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