Friday, January 12, 2007

Primate Lab Violations End Project At UConn

The University of Connecticut Health Center has stopped a controversial neuroscience project involving monkeys and reprimanded the researcher after U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections found about a dozen violations in the primate lab.

The researcher, David Waitzman, voluntarily stopped the research on rhesus monkeys in August, two days after a USDA inspector cited him for incorrect drug dosages and failure to follow approved research procedures, including unapproved injections into a monkey's brain that temporarily resulted in a severe head tilt to the left, an inability to look left and other problems.

The developments, which came to light this week, follow protests and petitions by UConn student and animal activist Justin Goodman to stop the research and free the monkeys. Last winter, Goodman chained himself to a railing and staged a raucous protest outside a gala hosted by UConn President Philip E. Austin after learning that two of the three monkeys involved in the project - Cornelius and Lips - had died.

"As far as I'm concerned, the monkeys who died at UConn did not die in vain," Goodman said Wednesday. "People know their names. People know what they went through."

Four USDA inspections conducted from November 2005 through October 2006 found violations, including a failure to provide alternatives to potentially painful or distressful procedures, failure to provide adequate water, failure to provide adequate veterinary care and failure to adequately train handlers. Inspection reports also cited the researchers for causing bruises around a monkey's eye, face and neck by using a metal collar and pole to train the animal.

The project allowed researchers to drill holes into the monkeys' skulls and to implant steel coils in their brains to record eye movements.

The research, which studied the coordinated control of the eyes by the brain to direct the center of gaze, was designed to help clinicians diagnose and treat stroke, progressive supranuclear palsy and other diseases, Peter J. Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs at the Health Center, has said.

USDA spokesman Darby Holladay said Thursday that the agency has not taken any enforcement action against the Health Center. "It is our policy not to comment on open investigations," he said.

He added, "The USDA takes seriously any non-compliant items in an inspection report."

Health Center officials declined to comment on the findings and simply reproduced a press release written last year to defend the research.

Story here.

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