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UCSF animal research called top 'lawbreaker': 51 federal citations over three years, activists report




 

A national group trying to stop the use of animals in medical research has found UC San Francisco to be the nation's worst violator of federal animal welfare laws, listing 51 federal citations over three years.

A report released Thursday by the nonprofit group Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) said the 51 violations ranged from inadequately trained laboratory personnel to failing to administer painkiller to a monkey after cranial surgery. Of the total, 30 were repeat violations, and 10 involved direct misuse of animals.

The animal welfare group based its report, "Breaking the Law: Animal Care in U.S. Labs," on U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports between 2000 and 2003. The USDA is required to conduct biannual inspections of research facilities.

Other institutions cited by SAEN as "major violators" of the federal Animal Welfare Act include: Johns Hopkins, Emory University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the University of Florida and the University of Pittsburgh. In all, there were 559 violations by 25 institutions over three years.

"Dozens of labs across the country are violating federal law, and UCSF is the No. 1 lawbreaker," said SAEN's executive director, Michael Budkie, standing in front of the UCSF campus on Parnassus Avenue. "UCSF is first in number of violations, number of repeat violations and violations that directly affect animals."

UCSF has more than 500 active research studies involving rodents, rabbits, dogs, cats, sheep, pigs, ferrets, squirrels and nonhuman primates.

UCSF associate vice chancellor for research Ara Tahmassian said in a statement Thursday that animal research is never undertaken lightly and that many layers of oversight exist to ensure animals are treated humanely and appropriately.

"The university believes that certain animal activist organizations are philosophically opposed to animal research and present statistics out of context and in a way that misrepresents the facts," Tahmassian said.

He said the university tries to minimize the use of animals and seeks alternatives but believes such research is essential to medical innovation.

UCSF researchers who work with animals have been credited with an array of medical breakthroughs.

One example is a UCSF researcher who spent three decades studying the lungs of rabbits, dogs, cows and other animals and produced an artificial form of a substance that coats the interior of lungs and allows them to expand and contract. The discovery saves the lives of tens of thousands of premature infants every year who are born without the ability to produce the substance.

In another example, listed by UCSF, researchers working with dogs and other animals pioneered the development of catheter ablation techniques that cure heart rhythm disorders, making it possible to treat common disorders by threading a tiny catheter through a vein and into the heart. Before the breakthrough, open-heart surgery was the only way to treat many of the disorders.

Another UCSF researcher advanced the understanding of HIV. A mouse model developed 10 years ago allows researchers to test antiviral drugs and explore the mechanisms of the AIDS virus. The mouse was developed with a human-like blood-forming system that acts like a human immune system.

SAEN's Budkie said his work focuses on experiments that are redundant and cause animals to suffer unnecessarily. He believes that animals are routinely harmed in the name of "scientifically meritless" studies. He earned a bachelor's degree in animal health technology and trained in a lab at the University of Cincinnati.

Budkie said some of the worst experiments at UCSF involve primates that undergo multiple surgeries and are trained through water deprivation. He said one UCSF researcher, who has been cited numerous times by the USDA, is studying neural control of eye movement. The researcher implants metal coils in the monkey's eyes and a hook that protrudes from the skull. The monkeys can be restrained in a chair for as long as eight hours.

"Animals are not inanimate objects," Budkie said. "They have a concept of self. They feel pain."

Monkey experiments at UCSF are replicated in labs across the country, Budkie said. He said he recently searched the National Institutes of Health database and found 180 similar studies.

He believes in effecting change not through outrageous -- and sometimes unlawful -- tactics adopted by groups such as the Animal Liberation Front and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but by gathering records through legal channels and presenting the findings in reports.

"We get the data, get it right and get it to the public," said Budkie, who has a second bachelor's degree in theology. "If the American public had all the facts about what's happening to animals in labs, labs would be closed."

Bob O'Brien, an organizer with the San Francisco group Vigil for Animals, has spent one day a month for the past year sitting on a bench in front of UCSF, protesting research practices. He has problems with all of the research, he said, but finds certain studies unthinkable. Descriptions of the studies, written by the researchers, were obtained by SAEN, he said.

"The experiments are cruel and unnecessary," O'Brien said.

Jeremy Beckham, another activist who joined the group gathered in front of UCSF, is spending the summer protesting the use of primates in medical research. Earlier this week, he protested the use of monkeys in research at the UC Davis primate center, one of the largest in the nation.

"I read a book about primates who were taught sign language," Beckham said. "I know sign language and got to visit these chimps who sign. It was amazing to communicate. I look in their eyes, and it's so much like interacting with humans. Their awareness is not unlike a child's. Would we do these things to children?"

UCSF is the nation's fourth-largest National Institutes of Health grant recipient, after Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington.

E-mail Julian Guthrie at jguthrie@sfchronicle.com.



 


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Information in this article was accurate in August 6, 2004. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.