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  March 11, 2002

University Affirms Importance of
Adhering to Research Protocols
By Karen A. Grava

The Chancellor has reaffirmed the importance of adhering to research protocols and has committed $20 million to upgrading animal care facilities, in an effort to ensure appropriate care of animals in the University's research program.

In January, the University paid a fine of $129,500 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to settle a lawsuit resulting from a series of inspections that started in 1998 and discovered violations of the Animal Welfare Act on the Storrs campus.

The settlement, signed early in January, required the University to admit fault in the case, a rare occurrence, and to assure the USDA that it will sanction faculty who violate animal care protocols in the future.

"The University acknowledges that there have been long-term deficiencies in animal care that remained unaddressed when they should have been remediated," Chancellor John D. Petersen said. "However, in the last two years, the University has moved aggressively and comprehensively to improve, enhance, and restructure its program of animal care. We have made tremendous progress and will continue to focus on improvements."

Evidence of the progress was an inspection by the USDA of the University in January that resulted in no citations. "This is the standard we must work to achieve for every inspection," the chancellor said.

Petersen noted that the University has worked closely with the USDA to improve the program and has also brought in outside consultants to advise the University. Resulting changes have led to restructuring the animal care program and to strengthening the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which oversees all animal research on campus.

The IACUC, in concert with the chancellor, is charged with sanctioning researchers who do not comply with research protocols and animal welfare act requirements. The University has also hired an associate director of research compliance to oversee not only animal research but also to ensure the University complies with all federal, state and university regulations.

In addition, changes made include:

  • centralization of all animal care staff;
  • a decrease in the number of animal care facilities;
  • new record keeping procedures and oversight;
  • mandatory annual training programs for all researchers, students, and animal care workers.

To address facilities issues, the University has not only routinized tasks such as painting, but also undertaken a $20 million program to improve all animal care facilities. The program has already resulted in such improvements as new air conditioning systems, new cages, and upgraded facilities, and will also include new accommodations in the pharmacy/biology building when it is constructed. In addition, improvements to the farm buildings are included in the proposed 21st Century UConn program.

The fine paid by the University is the largest ever paid by a university for this type of offense and includes $4,500 from a 1998 settlement with the USDA. That settlement resulted in a $9,000 fine. Half of the fine was paid in 1998, and the other half was suspended as long as the University made certain facilities improvements by January 1999.

Under the terms of the January 2002 settlement, the University has agreed to check every research animal on campus on a daily basis. In addition to sanctioning individual researchers, the University has agreed to pay a fine of $25,000 if further violations are found.

"The University's progress with regard to animal care depends on the cooperation not only of the highly dedicated animal care staff we have here but also on the faculty and students who are involved in the animal research program," Petersen said. "This is a case where the efforts of everyone working together can benefit the institution as a whole."

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