Oregon primate research facility under scrutiny after deaths

SALEM, Ore (AP) — A state legislator in Oregon is using thousands of pages of corrected documents he’s been seeking for over a year to pass legislation that demands greater accountability and oversight of a primate research facility with a long history of complaints.

Incidents at the Oregon National Primate Research Center associated with Oregon’s largest hospital include an incident where two monkeys died after being placed in a hot cage wash system. Other animals perished from neglect. Workers’ morale is low, some drink on the job, and dozens complain of dysfunctional leadership, the documents show.

Problems at the facility in the suburb of Portland, Oregon came to the fore amid a heated debate between animal rights activists, who believe it is unethical to experiment on animals, and researchers who say the experiments save and improve human lives.

The U.S. took a small step away from animal testing when Congress passed a bill signed by President Joe Biden in December that eliminated the requirement for drugs in development to be tested on animals before they can be submitted for human trials. Proponents want computer modeling and organ chip technology to be used instead, but the Food and Drug Administration can still request animal testing.

“Reasonable people may disagree on whether using animals for medical research is scientifically valid or ethical,” Oregon Representative David Gomberg said in an interview.

After the scalding incident, Gomberg filed a public records request to learn more about the research center. He had to wait 17 months and pay a $1,000 fee to obtain thousands of pages of corrected internal documents.

The documents revealed that dozens of center staff had warned that a culture of leadership that strayed, distorted, and lacked responsibility was setting the stage for further tragedies.

Gomberg is currently in the Oregon Legislature behind a bill that calls for greater transparency, accountability, and oversight of the center administered by the Oregon Health and Science University.

Asked to comment on the issues raised by Gomberg, OHSU sent a statement from the university’s chief research officer and vice president, Peter Barr-Gillespie, in which he said faculty and staff at the primate center “understand and embrace the responsibility to show compassion.” and cutting-edge veterinary care that comes with the privilege of working with animals.

“While it is impossible to completely eliminate human error and the unpredictable behavior of undomesticated animals, we try to do everything we can to use best practices in engineering, training and inspection to protect against them,” said Barr-Gillespie.

According to a January 19 report from InvestigateWest, the Oregon facility was cited for more violations—31 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act—between 2014 and 2022 than any of the six other primate research centers funded by the National Institutes of Health. Seattle-based nonprofit investigative journalism.

Other NIH-funded centers are run by the University of California-Davis, the University of Washington, Tulane University, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Emory University.

Oregon employees, whose names were redacted in Gomberg’s version, said in their petition that they were devastated by the death of two monkeys, Earthquake and Whimsical, in August 2020. The cage it was in was accidentally placed in an industrial washing machine. The other survived but had to be euthanized due to his injuries.

“Most of us now grapple with doubts about our goals here and the investments we are making in our careers. Our love for these animals leaves us torn between a deep sense of responsibility to look after their welfare and a profound uncertainty about (the leadership)’s willingness to enact meaningful reforms,” the staff wrote. .

Gomberg said Oregon Health and Science University, or OHSU, has resisted outside scrutiny.

“My focus with this legislation is solely on accountability and transparency and ensuring that the public knows exactly what is going on at this facility,” Gomberg said.

When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also searched public records, OHSU unreasonably withheld photos and videos, a Multnomah County Environmental Court judge ruled last July.

Also, college police used a contractor called Pennsylvania-based Information Network Associates, founded by a former FBI special agent, to provide information about the animal welfare group’s activities and political and social views. Judge Andrew Lavin ordered the university to delete the information, saying the practice violated state law banning police surveillance unrelated to criminal investigations.

In October, OHSU agreed to pay a federal fine of $37,900 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act between 2018 and 2021, including incidents where a monkey was euthanized when its head was caught between two PVC pipes; rats dying of thirst; starving gerbils; and scalding.

Barr-Gillespie said that appropriate precautions were taken to prevent recurrence of events, and that animal studies were only done when other methods were inadequate or too dangerous for human participants.

Research at the Oregon center has contributed to a compound that supports rebuilding the protective sheath around nerve cells damaged in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, identifying and better understanding a gene that could lead to the development of drugs to prevent and treat alcoholism, Barr-Gillespie said, among many other advances. He said that brain damage and repair are also important.

But there are “systemic issues that need to be addressed within the institution,” Gomberg said.

“I haven’t seen anything that indicates there are no more problems on the horizon,” the MP said. said.

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