We received an email a few weeks ago from someone at the University of Wisconsin – Madison asking whether Eric Sandgren--currently the Director of the UW Research Animal Resource Center(RARC)--had made a statement regarding Michele Basso. Included with the enquiry was a copy of a Tuesday, August 16, 2005 article from the Capital Times titled Uw Monkey Deaths Raise Questions: Researcher Suspended After 2001-2002 Experiments. The email pointed to a claim made by Sandgren. Here it is in context:
Last summer, three monkeys died after being left in a cage at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center while it was being sanitized.The email we received made it seem as if this promise hasn't been kept.
Sandgren said that overall, two principal investigators, one lab technician, and two animal caretakers have been suspended from animal use at UW-Madison in the last two years.
“This is evidence of the process of oversight working,” Sandgren said of Terasawa's research. “We investigated, we determined a particular procedure was too risky and could no longer be performed at all.”
But Rick Bogle, a Madison representative of the Primate Freedom Project, said it's unclear why these problems are just coming to light now.
“It just looks like it's a mess,” Bogle said.
The university put out a press release after the cow deaths, but these problems were reported only to the federal government.
“It just did not come up in discussions,” Sandgren said of publicly announcing Terasawa's suspension at the time. “Now we've decided we will start announcing these things.”
Starting with the cow incident, the committee has begun making a public statement whenever a researcher is suspended from working with animals, Sandgren said. (my emphasis)
Following up on the email, we filed a public records request asking for:
… correspondence, notices and communications, electronic and otherwise, from July 20, 2008 to the present, between any of the University of Wisconsin Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees or the members of any of those committees, or the RARC or RARC staff, or the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) and Michele Basso regarding any and all unexpected animal deaths, adverse results to an animal’s health, possible or actual deviations from her approved protocols, possible or actual violations of federal or state policies or regulations concerning the use of animals conducted or proposed by her or members of her lab.We received a denial from the university citing Wis. Stat §19.36(10)(b) which allows a denial of records containing information relating to current investigation of possible misconduct connected with employment prior to disposition of the investigation.
Time will tell what’s up. In the mean time, it’s interesting to recall a germane part of Basso’s testimony at the May 23, 2006: House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on H.R.4239, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
Available via the World Wide Web.
From the TESTIMONY OF MICHELE BASSO, Ph.D., ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF PHYSIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN:It's hard to tell what the investigation will turn up, but if it's related to her use of animals, and apparently it is, then it will cast her comment in a somewhat questionable light. Maybe someone will forward this on to her and she or someone from her lab will shed some light on the matter.It is critical to point out that biomedical research is subject to very strict regulations and oversight. We have an animal care and use committee for each school at Madison and an all campus committee that oversees all schools. My research meets or exceeds all standards set by the USDA, Public Health Service Policy as well as local guidelines for the care and use of non human primates in research. We abide by the well-known 3R principle concerning the use of animals. Whenever we can, we reduce the numbers of animals used, we replace the animal model with some other or we refine the technique we use to ensure maximal well-being of the animals. When we already meet the 3R requirements, we are required to justify why we cannot reduce or refine more. Working on animals is a privilege that neither I, nor my colleagues take lightly.