An animal rights group is alleging Washington State University may have concealed from federal regulators that it terminated a research project in which four rabbits died.
Stop Animal Exploitation Now filed complaints with both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health, saying the university appeared to have terminated the research project that centered on testing bone implant materials in rabbits. The group alleges the university is required to report termination of such research to federal regulators.
The organization, a frequent critic of the university, based the complaints on internal documents from the school.
“WSU’s negligence continues to kill animals constantly,” said Michael A. Budkie, co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. “SAEN is calling for investigations by both the USDA and the NIH.”
In response to questions about the complaint, Nina Woodford, director and attending veterinarian at the WSU office of the Campus Veterinarian, said the group is mistaken that the research project has ended. Woodford said the mistake likely is related to imprecise language in meeting minutes the animal rights group obtained from the university.
Instead, Woodford said, one phase of the study that resulted in the deaths of the rabbits is on hold and under review. She said the overall study, which has been going on for a number of years, will proceed following the review.
In order for the entire study to be terminated, Woodford said, the school’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee would have to vote to do so, and that has not happened.
“It would have been more precise to say this cohort or this part of the project was terminated, not the entire project,” she said.
Researchers hope to learn what kinds of material can be used for bone implants in both animals and humans. The research in the phase of the experiment in question led to complications in four of the animals. Some experienced broken bones; others developed infections. The animals were euthanized early because of the complications but were scheduled to be euthanized at the conclusion of the research.
Woodford said the university is reviewing the incident to learn from it and won’t restart the long-term project until that review is complete.
“They are not going to start another cohort of animals until we have a complete answer of what occurred,” she said. “If there are some improvements we can make in the process, we definitely want to do that.”
She said all of the animals that developed complications received immediate veterinary care.
“The animals were under veterinary care the entire time, and there was no noncompliance,” she said.
Budkie said rabbits have low-density bones and are not good animals for such research. He said the research should be abandoned.
“Any project that has had as many adverse events, or basically this many problems, should be stopped,” he said.
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