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Prestigious vaccine research lab caught torturing monkeys in the name of "science"

Animal research

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(NaturalNews) A respected scientific lab in Texas has come under federal investigation following the issuance by auditors of a preliminary report claiming it did not do enough to prevent suffering of monkeys used in research after they were infected with a deadly virus for a disease study.

Auditors with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that the Galveston National Laboratory made several procedural mistakes during the study. The lab is one of the country's top research facilities seeking vaccine treatments for a number of the most lethal diseases. The New York Times reported that the lab and inspectors are discussing the findings before a final decision on any actions is reached.

The NYT further reported:

The lab had a contract with the national institute to develop a strain of the Marburg virus that could be used on monkeys to find a cure; all of the monkeys were expected to die. Federal inspectors conducted an audit early this year of the research being done on Macaque monkeys.

The Marburg virus has similarities to Ebola and is among the most virulent pathogens known to infect people, according to the World Health Organization.

'We've disagreed quite strenuously'

Investigators conducting the audit found dozens of improprieties and irregularities – some minor, while others more serious – including incomplete training files for some employees to information that was not recorded to operating procedures that were not followed.

Penalties for violations of protocol and such range from federal enforcement actions to ensure compliance, like mandating additional staff training, to the loss of federal funding, depending on final conclusions.

Officials at the lab have admitted there were minor rules infractions, but they vehemently denied that any primates at the facility were allowed to suffer.

"We've disagreed quite strenuously with a number of the findings that were cited," Toby Boenig, University of Texas Medical Branch vice president and chief compliance officer said.

Among the allegations leveled by federal auditors is that at least 12 monkeys that were infected with Marburg were summarily left unattended for as long as 18 hours. The auditors said that leaving them unattended for so long likely meant that researchers missed valuable data collection opportunities. The length of time also resulted in the primates' suffering longer than necessary before they died, inspectors added. Four of the 12 were euthanized; eight others were found dead in their cages.

"It is unknown how long these animals might have suffered before dying," the report said, then added, "The clear signs of clinical decline for many of the animals ultimately found dead should have prompted the study director to increase the number of observations in these animals."

The National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare said that it is investigating the Galveston facility.

Different protocols

The laboratory, part of The University of Texas Medical Branch, opened in 2008. It's one of the few biocontainment facilities in the U.S. licensed to handle the most dangerous pathogens, and the only one operating on a university campus.

Boenig, along with other lab administrators, said that the facility and federal oversight officials initially agreed on a set of protocols for terms of the $2.4 million study. However, Boenig said when federal auditors conducted their review of the program they used a different set of protocols.

For example, he noted, inspectors criticized the lab for leaving the Macaque monkeys unattended overnight.

However, UTMB chief research officer Dave Niesel said that the lab never agreed to that stipulation. He said the lab is a highly secure facility in which employees must often wear protective gear that is similar to a spacesuit. And, he said, researchers keep lights off at night so as not to disturb the primates. Lab officials also said the monkeys were monitored via video stream.





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