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  May 15, 2000

Serious Animal Care Problems
Lead to Strong Actions

Two inspections of some of the University's animal care facilities, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this spring, have found serious but limited problems with research animal care on the Storrs campus, and continuing - mostly minor - problems with facilities maintenance.

Even though the research animal care problems were limited to just two of the 82 labs on campus that work with animals, "we recognize that every animal must be housed in suitable facilities and receive appropriate care,"said Robert Smith, vice provost for graduate education and research and dean of the graduate school.

The inspections are likely to result in a fine for the University, Smith said. When the USDA finds repeat violations, it treats them more seriously than individual violations. Smith said a type of facilities problem cited in one lab similar to a problem found in another lab during a prior investigation is deemed by the USDA to be a repeat violation. UConn was fined $4,500 for facilities problems found in a 1998 inspection. By federal law, the USDA and the National Institutes of Health regulate how research animals are treated.

"Unfortunately, we have had problems in the past, and we have not remediated them as quickly as we should have," said Smith.

"These problems are disturbing, and it is now up to the University to ensure compliance with USDA standards," Fred Maryanski, interim chancellor, said. "Prompt action is imperative and I am certain that I can count on the cooperation of all faculty, staff, administrato rs, and graduate students in ensuring that our research activities are conducted in a proper and humane manner. Animal research is an important piece of our mission as a land grant institution and we must adhere to all relevant standards."

On Friday, Smith outlined a series of short and long-term steps the University is taking to ensure compliance with USDA standards for animal care and noted that "the University is sending a strong message to faculty, technicians, and graduate students that we will not tolerate the types of animal care problems that turned up on these inspections."

Specific violations of USDA regulations discovered in inspections on March 27-29 and May 8 and 9 include:

  • Inappropriate animal care and staffing, resulting in the death of five rabbits because of a change in their feeding schedule, failure to notify the University's veterinarian of the illness of a small number of rabbits, and swine penned outside with insufficient shade and potable water;

  • Procedural problems, including a researcher who began experiments before being notified that the protocol had been approved by the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and who did not keep, in one case, adequate records of the steps followed during the experiment;

  • Management problems, such as labs with outdated drugs, or drugs stored improperly;

  • Structural facilities problems, such as animal care facilities with broken air conditioning; and

  • Minor facilities problems, such as peeling paint, dirty water troughs, cluttered labs, and a loose board over a swine pen.

"While the animal care problems were limited, we are taking them very seriously," Smith said. He noted that the facilities needs have been a continuing problem.

The University is taking immediate steps to address the issues raised in the inspection reports including:

  • Continuing steps begun late last year to centralize the animal care program, by reorganizing the Office of Animal Research Services (OARS). Herbert Whiteley, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, who heads pathobiology, is serving as acting director for six months while a search for a permanent director is conducted. Whiteley has already drawn up an operating plan for OARS and secured the chancellor's approval to implement the plan. He has met individually with every campus administrator and official responsible for animal research and care.

  • Over the next few months, Whiteley will complete specific plans for centralizing and coordinating all activities in the numerous facilities where research animals are housed.

  • By the end of the month, Whiteley will hire a program manager of animal care services who will oversee the 14.5 staff assigned on campus to various animal care facilities. The staff will be reorganized into one unit so that they can be assigned on an as-needed basis to any facility on campus.

  • The University's attending veterinarian, who is a diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, will focus his efforts on direct animal care.

  • Relocating rabbits from a building where the air conditioning is not working properly to another facility.

  • Suspension by the IACUC of the work of a researcher who did not secure approval before beginning experiments.

  • Training sessions for researchers and graduate students involved with animals will be conducted regularly and attendance will be mandatory. Three such sessions have taken place already and more are scheduled in the near future.

  • The role of the IACUC has been strengthened, and members of the committee have already begun inspecting animal care facilities to determine whether or not the labs are in compliance with all USDA standards.

  • The director of facilities operations has been designated by the chancellor as facilities management liaison for the campus; the director has added on-call staff for weekend coverage related to cooling systems.

  • Minor facilities problems are being corrected as soon as possible.

  • An assessment of major facilities needs is being compiled and priced so that a plan to correct facilities can be drawn and incorporated into the University's budget, which takes effect July 1.

  • A plan for routine and preventive maintenance is being developed, so recurring problems such as peeling paint can be dealt with on a fixed schedule.

  • USDA officials have met with the IACUC and will meet soon with researchers to discuss USDA regulations.

Karen A. Grava