A primate research facility in Oregon undergoes post-mortem examination

Salem, Oregon (AP) — An Oregon lawmaker is using thousands of pages of redacted documents he sought to obtain…

SALEM, Oregon (AP) — An Oregon lawmaker is using thousands of pages of redacted documents he has sought for more than a year to launch legislation demanding more accountability and oversight for a primate research facility with a long history of complaints.

Incidents at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, which is associated with Oregon’s largest hospital, include one in which two monkeys died after being placed in a burn cage washing system. Other animals perished due to neglect. The documents show that the morale of the workers is low, and some of them drink alcohol while working, and dozens complained of dysfunctional leadership.

The problems at the facility in suburban Portland, Oregon, have emerged amid a heated debate between animal rights activists who believe animal testing is unethical and researchers who say the experiments save and improve human lives.

The United States moved a small step away from animal testing when Congress passed a bill, signed into law by President Joe Biden in December, that removed the requirement that drugs in development undergo animal testing before being submitted in human trials. Advocates want to use computer modeling technology and slice organs instead, though the FDA still requires animal testing.

“Reasonable people can disagree about whether the use of animals in medical research is scientifically or ethically correct,” Oregon Rep. David Gomberg said in an interview. “But we have to agree that it’s not going well here in Oregon.”

After the fall, Gomberg filed a public records request to learn more about the think tank. He had to wait 17 months and pay a $1,000 fee to get thousands of pages of revised internal documents.

The documents revealed that dozens of the center’s employees warned that a leadership culture that cuts corners, avoids responsibility, and lacks accountability paves the way for other tragedies.

Gomberg is now behind a bill in the Oregon legislature calling for more transparency, accountability, and oversight for the center, which is run by Oregon Health & Science University.

Asked for comment on the issues raised by Gomberg, OHSU sent a statement from Peter Parr Gillespie, the university’s chief research officer and executive vice president, saying that the faculty and staff at the Primate Center “understand and embrace the responsibility to offer the compassion and cutting-edge veterinary care that comes with The privilege of working with animals.”

“While it is impossible to completely eliminate human error and unpredictable behavior of unmanned animals, we strive to do everything we can to use best practices in engineering, training and supervision to protect against them,” Bar Gillespie said.

The Oregon facility was cited for more violations between 2014 and 2022 — with 31 violations of the federal animal welfare law — than any of the other six primate research centers funded by the National Institutes of Health, according to a Jan. 19 report from InvestigateWest, a nonprofit foundation for investigative journalism. Based in Seattle.

Other NIH-funded centers are operated by the University of California-Davis, the University of Washington, Tulane University, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Emory University.

In their petition, the Oregon State employees — whose names have been redacted in the copy Gomberg obtained — said they were devastated by the death of the monkeys, named Earthquake & Wimsey, in August 2020. One of the monkeys died of scalding water after the cage he was in was placed in a penguin. Error in an industrial washing machine. The other survived but had to be euthanized due to his injuries.

“Many of us now grapple with doubts about our goals here and about our investments in our jobs. Our love for these animals leaves us torn between a deep sense of responsibility to care for the welfare of these animals and a deep uncertainty about (the leadership’s) willingness to enact meaningful reform.”

Oregon Health & Science University, or OHSU, has resisted outside scrutiny, Gomberg said.

“My focus with this legislation is simply on accountability and transparency and letting the public know exactly what’s going on at this facility,” said Gomberg.

When the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also sought public records, OHSU unreasonably withheld photos and videos, a Multnomah County Court judge ruled last July.

Moreover, the university police used a contractor – the Pennsylvania-based Information Network Partners, which was founded by a former FBI special agent – to provide information on the animal welfare group’s activities and political and social opinions. Judge Andrew Lavigne ordered the university to delete the information, saying the practice violated state law prohibiting police surveillance not related to criminal investigations.

In October, OHSU agreed to pay $37,900 to settle a federal fine for violations of the Animal Welfare Act between 2018 and 2021, including incidents in which a monkey was euthanized after its head got stuck between two PVC pipes; voles who died of thirst. a jerboa that died of starvation; And the fall incident.

Barr-Gillespie said appropriate measures are being taken to prevent recurrence of incidents and that animal studies are only conducted when other methods are inadequate or too dangerous for human participants.

Research at the Oregon center has contributed to creating a compound that promotes the rebuilding of the protective coating around neurons damaged in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and to identifying a gene that could lead to the development of a drug to prevent and treat alcoholism and improve understanding of alcoholism. Barr told Gillespie about brain injury and its repair, among many other developments.

However, Gomberg said, “There are systemic problems within the institution that need to be addressed.”

“I haven’t seen anything that indicates to me that there are no more problems on the horizon,” said the deputy.

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