For a second time, the University of Washington’s governing board has approved a $123 million underground building to expand animal research — but not before a group of about 20 protesters disrupted the regents’ vote Thursday and briefly brought the meeting to a standstill.
“If you want some peace and rest, cut your ties with animal tests,” the group chanted, unfurling a banner decrying the use of animals in medical tests. After about five minutes, UW Police accompanied the group out of the meeting in Allen Library. No arrests were made.
The group, Don’t Expand UW Primate Testing, filed a lawsuit last month arguing that regents broke the state’s open-meetings law in November 2013 when they approved construction of the building. The group says the regents discussed the vote, and came to a consensus, during a private dinner meeting; the UW maintains the meeting was open to the public.
Staffers advised the regents, in what they called “an abundance of caution,” to vote again. Thursday’s vote was unanimous, as was the first vote a year ago.
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In a related action, regent chair Bill Ayer affirmed a decision to begin holding the regents’ monthly dinner meetings at The University Club on campus, to allow more members of the public to attend.
For years, all of the pre-meeting dinners have taken place at the university-owned president’s mansion, two miles south of campus. But some open-government advocates recently said that while the meetings may have followed the letter of the law, they might violate its spirit.
Construction on the animal-research building will start early next year, and it’s expected to be finished in April 2017. It will be located on Northeast Pacific Street between Foege and Hitchcock halls.
The building will be paid for through UW-issued bonds that will be paid back largely with federal research funding, and is being constructed underground because of an agreement with the city that requires the UW to keep the aboveground space as a view corridor to Portage Bay.
The UW uses about 650 monkeys, primarily macaques, in medical research. The new building will allow it to add a maximum of 280 additional primates, said David Anderson, executive director of the UW’s Health Sciences Administration.
Animal research is scattered in locations across campus, Anderson said, making it harder to maintain a uniform standard of care for the animals.
In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited the UW for failing to provide adequate pain medicine to some research animals, including rabbits and a guinea pig, and criticized its care of some macaques.
Anderson said growth in large-animal research will come not from primates but from other species, mostly pigs. The first floor of the building will be for rodents, and the second floor will be for large animals such as pigs and monkeys.
Amanda Schemkes, head of the anti-testing group, urged the regents to delay the vote and do their own homework on alternatives to animal testing.
Her group says other research universities are moving away from animal testing, and are using other methods to investigate promising drugs in the lab.
But Anderson said UW scientists believe it’s essential to use animals because computer models can’t account for all possible reactions when a drug is given to a living creature. If scientists were to skip that step, “humans would become the test subjects,” he said.
One-third of UW research funding — about $500 million annually — is tied to the use of animal subjects, he said.