The incident marks the third primate death since February 2016 at the UW lab, which conducts studies related to human health and neuroscience on hundreds of monkeys in a newly-built $142 million underground facility.
The federal government has issued a citation against the University of Washington after the death of a research monkey that was accidentally strangled in April. Animal-rights activists aren’t satisfied and want the school to be fined.
A male pigtail macaque died after a chain it pulled through the bars of its cage got wrapped around its head, the university said in a report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in May. The chain was attached to a foraging board that holds food monkeys can obtain themselves, which was not installed properly, and the monkey’s social partner had to be sedated after witnessing the death, the university said.
The incident marked the third primate death since February 2016 at the UW lab, USDA spokesman Andre Bell said in an email. The lab conducts studies related to human health and neuroscience on hundreds of monkeys in a newly-built $142 million underground facility. The “critical citation” issued by the Department of Agriculture is the university’s fourth since the start of 2016, drawing sharp criticism from organizations like Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), a group that focuses on the treatment of research animals.
Thomas Hartung, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, said accidental deaths of primates may indicate a lack of training or negligence among staff. Monkeys are curious creatures and will explore anything in their environment, which means more attention is required to prevent accidents than using other animals such as rodents, he said.
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“You can always say accidents happen, but that this animal was able to get the chain in the cage was preventable,” Hartung said.
USDA inspected UW’s lab Nov. 15 in response to the monkey’s death, Bell said. The school took corrective action by replacing “enrichment devices,” like the one that proved fatal, with puzzle balls, according to an inspection report from USDA.
University spokeswoman Susan Gregg said the school promptly reports all incidents and takes immediate action to prevent them from reoccurring.
“These incidents were self-identified and self-reported by the institution to our oversight bodies as part of our ethical and responsible care of the animals,” Gregg said in an emailed statement.
Previous critical citations against the university were issued after investigators found the animal-research facility collected more than the approved amount of blood from monkeys in August 2016 and didn’t have anesthetic-monitoring records for a procedure that ended with a monkey’s death in December 2016, according to inspection reports. In January 2017, the university was cited again after a monkey died of dehydration because researchers didn’t notice a water line was disconnected from its cage. The university self-reported all the incidents, according to USDA.
“It is absurd that this facility continues to kill animals and has not been penalized in a more meaningful manner,” SAEN spokesman Michael Budkie said in a Dec. 15 letter asking USDA to fine the school. His organization monitors eight primate-research facilities around the country, including the one at UW.
The USDA found the lab to be compliant during three routine inspections in 2016, two in 2017 and two in early 2018, according to inspection reports.
UW was fined nearly $11,000 for the death of a male macaque due to starvation in 2009. Bell declined to comment on whether USDA is considering a future fine for the most recent incident.
At UW’s Washington National Primate Research Center, some of the research examines how to rewire the brain to reanimate paralyzed limbs, treat color blindness and find a cure for AIDs, according to the center’s website. The center used 667 primates in research last year, according to the university’s 2017 report to the USDA. About 300 of those monkeys were used in research that involved pain or distress to the animals and required the use of anesthetic or other drugs, it said.
While Hartung of the Johns Hopkins Center advocates for using other methods of research, such as stem cells, he said he understands that some animal testing is necessary. That’s why more should be done to ensure that animals are only being used for experiments when necessary, and that labs cultivate a culture of care for the them, he said.
Compared with UW’s four citations since the start of 2016, the Oregon Health & Science University and the University California, Davis, have each received seven, according to USDA. Those facilities house 5,538 and 2,387 nonhuman primates for research, respectively. Emory University got three citations and University of Wisconsin, Madison, got two citations in the same period. Each of those institutions has about 1,900 primates.
In 2015, the National Institutes of Health ended its support for the use of chimpanzees in research, following recommendations from an independent review that found use of chimpanzees was unnecessary due to technological advances. While most chimps have been sent from labs to sanctuaries, the number of monkeys used in research has increased 22 percent since then, according to Science Magazine.
Information from Seattle Times archives included in this report.