Research Animal Care Improves,
But Greater Vigilance Urged
An inspection in May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found marked progress on animal care initiatives although the University was cited for a small number of items of non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
The inspection was a follow-up to inspections in March and May last year, when the USDA found serious problems with research animal care on the Storrs campus and continuing problems with related facilities maintenance.
"The University is committed to investing in animal care programs and facilities," says Chancellor John D. Petersen. "Continued investment in this program is critically important to our research programs in several areas, including biotechnology."
More than $20 million is committed to improving and consolidating facilities for animals at the Storrs campus, and many changes have been made already, both to correct facilities programs and to streamline and strengthen the animal care program.
In addition to facility renovations, the University is completing a new animal care facility in the Agricultural Biotechnology Building, and is drawing up plans for another facility in the new pharmacy/biology building planned for the science neighborhood of campus. Other facilities have already been renovated and consolidated, and the animal care staff has been centralized under the Office of Animal Research Services. Mandatory training programs for faculty and students begun last year will be continued, and the role of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which must approve all animal research, has been strengthened as well.
In addition, the University has used the expertise of three consultants over the past year to help plan both long- and short-term improvements to the animal care program and has set a goal of becoming accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC). Such accreditation is not only prestigious but also will help the University attract additional private research grants, since it provides an independent assessment of quality care. The Health Center is already AAALAC-accredited.
"The USDA inspector told us he was amazed at the progress we have made in the past year," said Ian Hart, vice provost for research and graduate education. "The inspector was pleased with the work that has been done on the facilities, with the changes that have been made in the animal care program, and with the steps the University has taken to tighten control of the program. But it is also clear that there is more work to be done."
The inspection resulted in citations for sheep housed outdoors without adequate shelter from sunlight; for an unsound pasture gate; and for wood rot in a swine unit that also needed paint. In addition, the inspector singled out four incidents from the University's own regular reports to the IACUC as "deficiencies in personnel." The violations included two instances of protocols approved by the IACUC not being followed; one incident - prior to the reorganization of the animal care staff last year - of naked mole rats dying because a substitute caretaker was not contacted when the principal investigator was on vacation; and an incident of a rabbit dying after a technician tried to correct a problem surgically without contacting the University's attending veterinarian.
"Clearly, we have further work to do in order to ensure that each of our faculty members understands the importance of following each and every regulation," Hart said. He added that efforts to ensure that faculty are fully apprised of all animal care requirements will continue; faculty members who do not comply will be sanctioned.
Karen A. Grava