FEDERAL INSPECTOR APPROVES OF UNIVERSITY'S ANIMAL CARE PROGRAM
COLUMBUS - An unannounced, two-day inspection of Ohio State University's laboratory animal program by an official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has resulted in the institution receiving high marks for complying with federal animal welfare regulations.
The investigation came as a result of a complaint filed with the USDA and the National Institutes of Health by a national animal rights group opposed to a controversial research project underway at Ohio State. The group alleged that the university's procedures and program were "inadequate" with regard to this project.
"The report by the USDA inspector investigating this complaint specifically stated that we are in full compliance in regards to following federal animal welfare requirements," explained William P. Yonushonis, director of University Laboratory Animal Resources.
"In essence, this finding vindicates the university. We are, in fact, following guidelines intended to insure the safety and health of laboratory animals in our care."
In February, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine complained to officials at both the USDA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the federal agency supporting the controversial research. In their complaints, PCRM alleged that the "procedures for the care and use of animals are inadequate" and the researcher "failed to adequately consider alternatives to animal use as is required by federal law."
During the recent two-day review, the USDA inspector reviewed the initial research plan, or protocol, of the project; the minutes of the Institutional Laboratory Animal Care and Use Committee (ILACUC) meetings where the project was discussed; all animal care records related to the project; and reviewed the university's overall animal care program.
The verdict: "No non-compliances identified during this inspection," the report read.
"This shows once again that the ILACUC provides a system of properly monitoring the care and treatment of animals used in research at Ohio State," Yonushonis said.
The ILACUC is the university's institutional review board, or IRB, and is made up of more than a dozen university researchers and members of the community who regularly meet to consider new research protocols and monitor ongoing use of research animals. They are the primary group charged with insuring the proper use of animals in research on campus.
USDA officials inspect the university's 15 animal facilities, the ILACUC and the entire animal care program twice annually. This latest inspection was focused primarily on one project and the ILACUC's handling of it. In addition, the university is also inspected and accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care on a three-year interval.
At the center of the PCRM's complaints is a current research project that uses a unique viral infection in cats to learn how drug abuse can accelerate the debilitating effects of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS. The project, headed by veterinarian Michael Podell, has been the target of protests by demonstrators for nearly two years.
PCRM had asked the university to halt Podell's work and re-evaluate the ILACUC's procedures regarding the project. Following the USDA's formal report, university officials sent a letter to the organization today declining that request.