NIH-Funded Animal Research Without Ethical Compliance in Columbia
(Thursday, May 4, 2023)
The recent allegations of a NIH-funded researcher in Columbia conducting primate studies without proper ethics approval and conduct non-compliant with good laboratory practices (GLP) for non-clinical research have sparked outrage in the scientific community and raised important questions about the ethical standards that must be upheld in scientific research, in general, and US government funded research, in particular. This comes a few weeks after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that “NIH does not take steps, such as conducting site visits or requiring third-party verification, to ascertain the reliability of this information. As a result, NIH may be missing opportunities to identify and respond to possible instances of noncompliance with animal care and use standards at foreign research facilities.” An inspection by a local agency in Columbia found that the lab conducting malaria research had “dozens of monkeys in dirty cages in poorly ventilated, over-lit enclosures. Several animals were smeared with feces. Some looked sick, and one was missing an eye. A fetid smell hung in the air. On the floor of a cage, a baby monkey lay dead.” This was not the first time that this site was found to handle animals in an inhumane manner. An inspection in 2021 found signs of animal abuse, lack of proper veterinary care, lack of permits, and other violations. The laboratory run by Colombian husband-and-wife team Myriam Arévalo-Herrera and Sócrates Herrera, has received more than $17 million from the NIH along with other international funding. According to reports, NIH has opened an investigation of the lab, but it may take some time till the findings of the NIH investigations are available. Meanwhile, Columbian authorities have essentially shut down the facility since January of this year and rescued 108 monkeys and 180 mice from the facility. It seems NIH was made aware of these findings earlier, but it did not take any action against the facility and the data from research at this facility has been included in multiple peer-reviewed publications. The use of animals in research is a highly contentious issue, and many argue that it is inherently unethical to subject living beings to such conditions. However, when animal research is deemed necessary, it is essential that strict ethical guidelines are followed to ensure that the welfare of the animals involved is protected. Under US laws, all animal research must be compliant with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) which outlines the basic requirements for the humane care and treatment of animals used in research, including the need for proper housing, feeding, and veterinary care. With the increased expense and reduced availability of animal research facilities in the US, particularly for large animal studies, most of such studies have moved out of the US where supervision by appropriate authorities is minimal. Regardless of one's views on animal research, it is clear that strict ethical guidelines must be followed to ensure that the welfare of the animals involved is protected. This includes obtaining proper ethical approval, providing appropriate housing and care for the animals, and minimizing the pain and distress that they may experience during the course of the research. The allegations against the US-funded researcher in Columbia are a reminder of the importance of upholding these ethical standards in scientific research and verifying via on-site audits. Any violation of these standards represents a serious breach of trust between the scientific community and the public, and undermines the integrity of scientific research as a whole.
Dr. Mukesh Kumar
Founder & CEO, FDAMap
Linkedin: Mukesh Kumar, PhD, RAC