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Euthanized mouse, 18 dead rats, and a carcass refrigerator: Watchdog alleges negligence in UW research practices

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Euthanized mouse, 18 dead rats, and a carcass refrigerator: Watchdog alleges negligence in UW research practices

For clinical reasons, a mouse was euthanized by a UW researcher in 2018 using carbon dioxide. One problem: The mouse was still found alive in a carcass refrigerator 30 minutes after being put to death.

The problem was the researcher only used carbon dioxide when two methods are needed to properly euthanize, according to a November 2018 letter from the office of the Health Sciences Administration executive director to the National Institutes of Health Office of Animal Welfare. 

The lead researcher, known as the principal investigator (PI), and the research technician were sent a letter of reprimand, which they responded to with remorse.

“In the reply, both the PI and the research technician involved were deeply apologetic and fully cognizant that proper laboratory procedures were not followed,” the 2018 letter reads. “They took responsibilities for ensuring animals in their care are treated humanely and do not experience undue suffering.”

The researchers offered several steps they’re taking to stop this from happening again, including retraining and reviewing lab procedures.

But for Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), an Ohio-based watchdog which received documents on the UW’s animal treatment under the Freedom of Information Act, this case is just one of several in the past 15 months that it claims shows the university’s negligence in research

“While the UW claims to provide adequate animal care, the reality is that despite receiving over $12,500 per hour for experiments involving rats and mice, the UW's staff can't be bothered to provide food and water or even perform euthanasia correctly,” SAEN wrote in its complaint. “This is beyond fraud, the UW has reached the level of out and out robbery.”

UW Medicine spokesperson Susan Gregg said in an email that “the welfare and care of our laboratory animals is of utmost importance to us at the University of Washington.”

“We investigate any concerns immediately and thoroughly,” Gregg said. “The UW reported the incidents mentioned in the recent news item to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare of the National Institutes of health and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These agencies looked into the incidents, determined the UW responses were appropriate, and considered the incidents closed.”

In another report from September 2019, 18 newly arrived rats died after the cart they were on was mistakenly rolled into an autoclave, a pressure chamber that uses steam to sterilize equipment, according to another letter to NIH from the Health Sciences Administration executive director cited in SAEN’s document summary. 

And a couple months later, 11 mice were infected with attenuated influenza virus. Two were found dead and the rest were euthanized, but at 1,000 times the prescribed dosage because of a dilution error.

UW lab staff have been accused of wrongdoing for years over its treatment of animals. 

SAEN wrote a letter in March 2017 to UW President Ana Mari Cauce with “grave concerns” over the school’s experimentation with lab animals. The letter cites several alleged incidents of mistreatment, including failing to provide pain medication to monkeys, the death of a guinea pig, and unapproved procedures with bats. 

SAEN also filed a federal complaint in January claiming violations of the Animal Welfare Act in the UW’s treatment of ferrets.

Reach News Editor Jake Goldstein-Street at Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet

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