Sunday, February 25, 2007

University of Washington on Probation

Earlier this month the UW made the news when they were put on
probation by AAALAC (Association for Assessment and Accreditation
of Laboratory Animal Care) for not maintaining their animal research
facilities and not exercising proper oversight over animal research
experiments. Though extensive review of UW documents is ongoing,
here are some highlights from the nine page report that was released
to select local media in mid February 2007.

The report focused on the IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use
Committee), the oversight group for animal research at the University
of Washington. Basically they are the “police” for animal research.
Their two primary tasks are to review protocols (research
experiments) and to inspect animal research facilities at the UW. As
such, items in the report focused on UW facilities and areas where
the IACUC failed to do its job.

Under the category of facilities and what should have been identified
during regular IACUC inspections, the report states;

“Serious deficiencies that had the potential to negatively impact the
well-being, and safety of animals and humans were not being
identified during
the facility evaluations.” (p. 2)

“Deficiencies that were identified were not classified as significant or
and no time frame for corrections were detailed.” (p. 2)

“none of the laboratories where animals were housed had emergency
or environmental alarms.” (p. 3)

“The primate center had no mechanism in place for alerting key staff
and eliciting a response if there was an HVAC failure.” (p. 7)

“There was no after hours mechanism for monitoring heating,
and air conditioning system performance in Guthrie,
Hitchcock, Kincaid,
Fish Teaching Research Facilities (as well as
the campus based WaNPRC
mentioned above) and alerting
personnel to malfunctions.” (p. 7)

Questionable procedures within the labs were also cited;

“In a number of laboratories, personnel areas (e.g., refrigerator for
employee workstations) were immediately adjacent to and/or
with animal housing and procedural areas and personal
vehicles were used
to transport mice.” (p. 5)

“At the Western Primate Facility, one hallway located outside of Room
(office), 125 (break room), and 115 (dirty cage wash) was divided
by a taped
line. One side of the line was considered a Biosafety Level
(BSL) 2 nonhuman
primate area requiring full personal protective
equipment (PPE). The other side
of the taped line was used by
personnel to enter offices and a shared break room.
No PPE was
required on this side of the taped line. Personnel that were passing

through the hallway to the break room without the benefit of PPE
were exposed
to SHIV-infected nonhuman primates and dirty
nonhuman primate cages that
were transported in the same hallway.
Other than a taped line on the floor
demarking entrance to a BSL-2
area, there was no physical separation between
monkeys and personnel carrying their lunches to the break area.”

(p. 4)
(Authors note - This is the same facility that was going to be
upgraded for work on the 1918 influenza virus (currently being
worked on at other facilities). Due to numerous problems Western
has yet to begin work on the upgrade that began in 2003).

“At the time of the site visit, there was no pre-employment medical
or ongoing evaluations, for those employees who were
subject to substantial
risk in the animal care and use program, such
as employees of the Department
of Comparative Medicine who would
be routinely exposed to allergens in
ergonomic inquiries.”(p. 5)

Finally, the UW IACUC itself was cited for numerous problems with it’s
lack of process, objectivity and transparency;

“Out of approximately 250 new/renewed protocols submitted each
approximately 1 - 3% of the protocols were brought up for full
review.” (p. 8)

“The vast majority of protocols were reviewed by four permanent
reviewers. Of these individuals, 3.5 were funded through
the Office of Animal
Welfare with three of those members having
performance evaluations made by
the Director of the University’s
Office of Animal Welfare. Given their salary
source, these reviewers
could be perceived as having a conflict of interest
impeding their
ability to perform unbiased protocol reviews.” (p. 8)

“The participation of the nonaffiliated member of the IACUC in protocol
programmatic review process was not readily apparent and/or
recorded for many of the protocols or semiannual facility
reviews evaluated
by the site team. Chronic nonattendance by IACUC
members, especially
those explicitly required by Public Health Service
(PHS) Policy or U.S.
Department of Agriculture Animal Welfare
Regulations (AWRs), implies
a lack of participation in the oversight
responsibilities of the IACUC.” (p. 4)

“Minutes of the IACUC meetings did not reflect actual content of
discussions regarding full Committee reviews of protocols or
deficiencies.” (p. 8)

At this point in time, the UW has until May 1, 2007 to demonstrate to
AAALAC how it proposes to fix the problems cited in the report. It
should be noted that the UW received the report on November 1, 2006
and only choose to release the information to the public in February
2007 in anticipation of FOIA document releases to PETA and Labwatch.
Had citizen organizations not made those requests, it is reasonable to
assume the University of Washington would never had informed the