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University under fire for primate’s death

USF research is in the spotlight following the death of a primate used for research after the animal had been deprived of water, in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture dated Sept. 15, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based animal rights group, demanded an investigation into two separate incidents of animal abuse resulting from a study titled “Obesity, Diabetes, Aging and Their Complications” conducted at USF last year.

SAEN has asked the USDA to fine USF up to $10,000 for every infraction, such as failure to monitor the primates, a failure to seek veterinary care and illegal withholding of water. The total penalty could reach a maximum of $100,000, according to SAEN. 

USF will no longer conduct any primate research projects following the incident, according to a statement from USF Health.

“These kinds of things are not common; the number of times that I have seen research protocols permanently terminated is very few. And then on top of that, to actually relocate the animals to a different facility is virtually unheard of,” said Michael Budkie, co-founder of SAEN.

On April 30, 2013, USF reported 27 primates used in the research study were deprived water for a 14-hour time period. In January of this year, USF reported that the diabetic monkeys had been deprived of water overnight on several occasions, were not being weighed at established intervals, and the research staff failed to contact veterinary staff once the primates reached the clinical endpoint.

USF researchers restricted fluids under the belief it would enhance urine volume and concentration which was being analyzed for measures of glucose. Though urine collection was permitted, food and water deprivation is a violation of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocol.

In addition to an investigation into the incidents, the incident in January eventually led to four primates going into ketosis, a condition in which the body metabolizes fat instead of glucose, making the blood more acidic and damaging the liver and kidneys. This resulted in one monkey being euthanized. 

The university self reported the incident to federal authorities and, according to USF, federal authorities accepted the corrective measures and considered the case closed. 

As a result of the incidents, the study was suspended and all animal-use privileges, including access to animal facilities, were suspended for all research staff involved in the study. Additionally, all animals involved in the study were transferred to a facility in Immokalee owned by Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. 

USF did not identify the primary researcher. 

In correspondence with the National Institutes of Health, Paul Sanberg, senior vice president of Research and Innovation at USF, stated no federal funds were used in the noncompliant activities related to this study and all costs were paid from a non-federal source. 

According to USF Health’s statement, “as an institution, USF believes in the respectful and ethical treatment of animals in research projects. The university has a vigorous review and training process. USF will continue to abide by all state and federal laws and guidelines.” 

USF currently does not have any active primate research projects. However, Budkie has sent a letter to President Judy Genshaft requesting the university never use primates in future experimentation. As of Wednesday afternoon, Genshaft has not responded to Budkie’s request.