From 1998 to 2006, Dr. David Waitzman of the University of Connecticut Health Center went from receiving a $1.7 million grant from the National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institute of Health, to shutting down his lab at the urging of the University of Connecticut.
Waitzman, whose research concentrated on how the brain stem controls eye movement, ran into trouble in 2004 when then-UConn student Justin Goodman, founder of the UConn Animal Rights Collective and research associate with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), learned of his research, which included allegedly unauthorized experimentation involving monkeys.
"We did some background reconnaissance and were able to construct a good illustration of what was going on," Goodman said.
What was going on in the laboratories was, in fact, in full violation of National Institute of Health (NIH) standards. Monkeys would spend months being acclimatized, then, in various experiments, had parts of their skulls cut off and data collection chambers placed on their brains and small wire coils placed in their eyes. One subject in particular, a monkey named Cornelius, began displaying adverse affects to this treatment.
An official complaint from PETA, written by Goodman, to the National Eye Institute contains details of a treatment log kept by doctors at the laboratory. It reads in part that after experimentation, Cornelius was "returned to cage. Seemed to have loss of stability. Shaking in chair. Seizure developed." One month later, the animal died of cardiac arrest in the experiment chair.
Following this unexpected death, further investigations into the laboratory occurred. According to the PETA statement, "Waitzman's nonhuman primate laboratory in the Farmington facility was inspected by the USDA five times during the period from November 2005 to January 2007, resulting in 21 citations for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA)."
This included "failure to employ personnel who were appropriately qualified and trained and authorized by the IACUC to handle nonhuman primates" and "failure to handle nonhuman primates in a way that does not cause stress, trauma, and/or unnecessary discomfort."
Following these inspections, PETA has made three requests of the NIH: that the UConn Health Center return the grant money given, that the NIH consider revoking the Health Center's permission to conduct animal experiments, and to further investigate what Goodman calls the "culture of noncompliance," or the continuous violations by dozens of schools and organizations.
In a similar case of animal research involving the University of Washington, the NIH responded to complaints by declaring, "consistent with applicable NIH grants policy, the National Eye Institute has determined that grant funds may not be used to support unauthorized research activities."
For this reason, taking the same course of action at UConn "seemed like a promising avenue," Goodman said. "We're just asking them to do their job. NIH is the steward of public funds. This is taxpayers' money and it's being squandered, used for cruel, illicit experiments."