Watchdog group calls for investigation after at least 116 animal deaths at IU School of Medicine

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– A national watchdog group says at least 116 animals were killed and others were injured at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

The group says the animals were found starved, dehydrated, drowned or suffocated because of staff negligence.  One report states three dead rats were found in dirty, wet or flooded cages, despite a room checklist that had been signed off on.  Another report indicates nearly 30 rats drowned in flooded cages due to water valve malfunctions.  Another report describes an incident where 40 mice drowned in flooded cages due to water bottle malfunctions.

“They indicate very serious, ongoing problems at the I.U. School of Medicine,” said SAEN Executive Director, Michael Budkie.  “And that’s why we’re calling for an independent audit and the termination of all staff connected to these incidents.

The nonprofit group SAEN monitors research facilities for violations and animal abuse. The group is pushing for an investigation into the program and says the school sent federal funding agencies at least 17 letters admitting to wrongdoing.

“Simply the fact that these documents even exist indicate that there are very serious problems at this facility,” Budkie said.  “Because these reports are only generated when there are serious non-compliance issues.”

The findings in the letters include the following incidents from April 2016 to October 2017:

  • Surgery was performed on 20 mice, and 10 died three days later from anesthetic overdose;
  • Mice were not given enough anesthetic during surgery due to concerns from previous anesthetic overdoses;
  • Failure to report animal health issues, resulting in 9 dead mice;
  • Two mice starved, missed “low-to-no food” warnings on cages;
  • Hypoxia chamber housing rats malfunctioned, killing 6 rats by asphyxiation;
  • Fifteen mice endured unnecessary suffering, then died after a procedure due to not enough pain medicine. The people who did the work were not approved to do it;
  • Giving mice a drug not approved by protocol;
  • Room checklist signed, but cages found to be dirty, wet or flooded. Three rats dead, no food, low or no water, cages not changed;
  • Pain medicine not given at proper times, despite records saying it was;
  • Three mice being weaned found dead in cage without food;
  • Fifteen mice visibly dehydrated with empty water bottles that weren’t noticed;
  • Twenty mice dead in 12 flooded cages due to water valve malfunction, then 8 more mice died in flooded cages due to more valve problems;
  • Six mice had no pain medications for tail biopsies. Mice were over 21 days old, which is not approved;
  • Forty mice dead in flooded cages due to faulty water bottles;
  • Other protocol violations

“This is shocking. And the reality is that Indiana University School of Medicine considers these animals to be disposable,” said Budkie.  “Otherwise they wouldn’t have allowed these animals to die of starvation, dehydration, suffocation and drowning.”

Indiana University issued the following statement saying all of the incidents were self-reported.

"Indiana University and Indiana University School of Medicine maintain the highest professional standards in the care and treatment of animals. The university is in full compliance with the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and received clean reports during two recent external site reviews conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and AAALAC International, a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science.

"All cited incidents, which involved mice and rats, were self-reported, demonstrating that the university is diligent in monitoring and taking corrective action when necessary. In each case, the filings were approved and accepted by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.

"Medical research taking place at IU School of Medicine is vital to advancing new therapies related to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and to improving the health of patients in Indiana and beyond. The university and school strive to have no incidents involving laboratory research and continuously assess protocols and procedures to make improvements when possible."

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