Group calls for fines after animal deaths reported in USDA inspections of Vanderbilt medical research

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — An Ohio-based animal welfare group is calling on the USDA to fine Vanderbilt University following inspection reports of the University’s treatment of animals used for medical research. 

A USDA inspection report released at the end of April identified a critical non-compliant violation for the treatment of guinea pigs used for intubation and ventilator testing in August of 2020.  

According to the report, four guinea pigs died during the testing that were not fully anesthetized. The Principal Investigator, or PI, did not communicate the date, time, or nature of the procedure to veterinary staff, as required by USDA protocol. The PI also failed to report the guinea pig’s death, according to the report.  

The April report is one of several inspections where Vanderbilt researchers were found to have non-compliant items.  

Advocacy group “Stop Animal Exploitation Now,” or SAEN, called for the USDA to impose a maximum penalty against Vanderbilt for $10,000 per infraction. 

“Vanderbilt has now been issued six citations in three years, with fully half of them being of the more serious variety — either critical or direct. These violations involved death/injury/inadequate care for at least 40 animals,” SAEN co-founder Michael A. Budkie said in a media release.  

An inspection report from February 2020, the USDA found six New Zealand white rabbits with eye swelling and abnormalities after a procedure involving “intravitreal drug injections into the eyes of rabbits.” Inspectors found that research protocols did not have any monitoring parameters or treatments for the eye problems the rabbits were experiencing.  

“Adequate pre- and post-procedural care is necessary to ensure that procedures involving rabbits will avoid or minimize discomfort, distress and pain to the animals,” the inspection stated. 

A June 2019 inspection reported 17 of 23 gerbils used in a pilot study died and were not reported to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, or IACUC. The report noted that Vanderbilt had already identified the issue and made significant changes prior to the inspection.  

Vanderbilt University Medical Center issued the following statement to News 2: 

“Advancing scientific knowledge so that researchers around the world can better understand and treat human diseases has its roots in animal research. Virtually any new medication or surgical advancement has its origins in an animal research model. Vanderbilt University Medical Center commits considerable manpower and financial resources to its programs in animal research so that the most humane approaches can be used. All incidents appearing in USDA inspection reports are self-reported by VUMC to regulatory officials and we work closely with these officials on any process improvements that may be needed.”

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