Oregon Primate Research Center under surveillance after deaths

Oregon Primate Research Center under surveillance after deaths

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon state legislator is using thousands of pages of redacted documents he researched for more than a year to launch legislation demanding more accountability and oversight from a primate research center with a long history of complaints.

Incidents at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, associated with Oregon’s largest hospital, include an incident in which two monkeys died after being placed in a hot cage wash system. Other animals perished through negligence. Workers are in low morale, some have been drinking on the job and dozens have complained of dysfunctional leadership, the documents show.

The problems at the suburban Portland, Oregon facility have surfaced amid heated debate between animal rights activists who believe experimenting on animals is unethical and researchers who claim that the experiments save and improve human lives.

The United States moved away from animal testing a bit when Congress passed a bill, signed into law by President Joe Biden in December, that eliminated the requirement that drugs in development must undergo animal testing. animals before being provided in human trials. Proponents want computer modeling and organ chip technology used instead, although the Food and Drug Agency Administration can still require animal testing.

“Reasonable people can disagree on whether the use of animals for medical research is scientifically valid or ethical,” Oregon Rep. David Gomberg said in an interview. “But we have to agree that it’s not done very well here in Oregon.”

After the burning 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 get thousands of pages of redacted internal documents.

The documents revealed that dozens of staff at the center have warned that a leadership culture that cuts corners, deflects responsibility and lacks accountability sets the stage for further tragedies.

Gomberg is now behind a bill in the Oregon Legislature calling for greater transparency, accountability and oversight of the center, which is operated by Oregon Health & Science University.

Asked to comment on the issues raised by Gomberg, OHSU sent a statement from Peter Barr-Gillespie, the university’s director of research and executive vice president, in which he said faculty and staff at the center of primates “understood and accepted the responsibility to provide compassionate care”. and state-of-the-art 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 non-domesticated animals, we strive to do everything in our power to use the best practices in engineering, training and oversight to protect us from it,” Barr-Gillespie said.

The Oregon facility has been cited for more violations between 2014 and 2022 — with 31 violations of federal animal welfare law — than any of the other six Nationally-funded primate research centers. Institutes of Health, according to a Jan. 19 report from InvestigateWest, a Seattle-based nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

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

In their petition, the Oregon employees – whose names have been redacted in the version obtained by Gomberg – said they were devastated by the deaths of the two monkeys, named Earthquake and Whimsy, in August 2020. One of the monkeys died of boiling water after the cage he was in was accidentally placed in an industrial washing machine. The other survived but had to be euthanized due to his injuries.

“Many of us now struggle with doubts about our goals here and our investments in our careers. Our love for these animals leaves us torn between a deep sense of responsibility to look after the welfare of these animals and profound uncertainty about (management’s) willingness to enact meaningful reform,” the employees wrote.

Gomberg said Oregon Health & Science University, or OHSU, has withstood outside scrutiny.

“My focus with this legislation is just on accountability and transparency and letting the public know exactly what’s 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 Circuit Court judge ruled last July.

In addition, University Police hired a contractor – Pennsylvania-based Information Network Associates, founded by a former FBI special agent – ​​to provide information about the group’s political and social activities and views. animals. Judge Andrew Lavin ordered the university to suppress the information, saying the practice violated state law that prohibits police surveillance unrelated to criminal investigations.

In October, OHSU agreed to pay $37,900 to settle a federal fine for Animal Welfare Act violations between 2018 and 2021, including incidents in which a monkey was euthanized after its head was got stuck between two PVC pipes; voles dead of thirst; starved gerbils; and the burn incident.

Barr-Gillespie said appropriate measures are taken to prevent recurrence of incidents and animal studies are only conducted when other methods are inadequate or too dangerous for human participants.

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

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

“I haven’t seen anything to indicate to me that there are no more problems on the horizon,” the lawmaker said.

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