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Published April 23, 2010, 10:22 AM

Feds ID 9 problems at University of Utah labs

SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers at the University of Utah don’t always follow protocols when it comes to the welfare of its laboratory animals, according to federal inspectors.

By: MIke Stark, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers at the University of Utah don’t always follow protocols when it comes to the welfare of its laboratory animals, according to federal inspectors.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported nine violations after an inspection in January, including that some animals didn’t get pain medications or antibiotics in a timely manner. They also found that a kitten had died after being given too much dextrose and an enclosure for guinea pigs was too crowded.

Most of the issues involved research protocols that tightly script how experiments are supposed to be carried out. None was severe enough to merit a larger investigation at the university, said David Sacks, a USDA spokesman.

“But of course, our goal is full compliance for all of these licensees,” Sacks said Thursday.

The USDA told the university to correct the problems before the next inspection.

Tom Parks, the university’s vice president for research, said most of the problems were relatively minor and could be easily addressed.

Among other steps, an additional staffer will likely be hired to help ensure protocols are closely followed, Parks said.

The USDA report follows concerns raised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals last fall, which said one of its agents spent eight months working undercover in the labs and documented neglectful and harmful conditions.

“The USDA found the same things that our investigator found: neglect, misery and death in University of Utah laboratories,” PETA’s Kathy Guillermo said in a statement Thursday.

The group filed complaints with the USDA and the National Institutes of Health.

The USDA spent five days in late January going through the research labs and going over paperwork.

Other problems they noted included calves that were tied to a post for several days with-out the exercise they were supposed to get, eye surgery on a rabbit without proper paper-work and a primate who wasn’t being provided with the proper level of stimulation.

USDA licenses animal research operations and is charged with making sure they comply with the federal Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the treatment of animals in research labs. Before the January inspection, the University of Utah had no compliance problems with the USDA.

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare with the National Institutes of Health also inspected and noted one problem: a cage where mice were overcrowded.

Otherwise, the agency said in a letter, the animal care program is in “very capable hands and in good order.”

Parks said the university typically has about 50,000 animals at its research facilities. About 95 percent are mice.

Animal research is a vital part of developing drugs, devices and other medical advancements, Parks said.

It’s only done when the work has a “valuable scientific purpose” and is aimed at combating disease and easing human suffering, the university said on a website about its animal research.

Projects include gene experiments with mice to study human neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and research into how aging causes decline in human vision, memory and other functions.

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