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Group claims Mayo researchers mistreated lab animals

A national activist group released government documents this week citing several incidents of mistreatment of laboratory animals at Mayo Clinic from 2016 to 2019 and called for an independent investigation. Mayo Clinic responded that the issues have been resolved.

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Image by Nature_Blossom from Pixabay.
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A national activist group released government documents this week citing several incidents of mistreatment of laboratory animals at Mayo Clinic from 2016 to 2019 and called for an independent investigation.

Michael Budkie, executive director of the Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now, wrote a letter to Mayo Clinic CEO Gianrico Farrugia asking for the release of animal treatment records and for an investigation into the clinic’s research procedures.

“The documented failures by the unqualified staff of the Mayo Clinic include failure to provide over 80 animals with food/water leading to death; failure to use sterile technique in surgical procedures, failure to adhere to humane endpoints even though they had been ordered to perform euthanasia by Mayo Clinic veterinary staff; performance of unapproved procedures, failure to use adequate pain relief; failure to perform euthanasia properly, etc.,” Budkie wrote in his letter to Farrugia. “The credibility of the Mayo Clinic has been seriously damaged. The institution cannot move forward without making programmatic changes to prevent the repeated occurrence of these incidents of negligence in the future.

SAEN released documents from the National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care that noted problems with Mayo Clinic’s treatment of animals in government-funded research.

The research projects cited received a total of almost $8 million in federal funding.

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The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that researchers had allowed mice to die from dehydration and starvation as well as allowed them to suffer even when a veterinarian called for an animal to be euthanized.

Mayo Clinic officials say that past problems with animal treatment identified by the federal government have been addressed.

“Mayo Clinic has responded successfully to all of the questions raised by AAALAC and has taken steps through education, training and facilities modification to ensure animals are safe and managed humanely in all respects,” responded Mayo Clinic Spokesman Bob Nellis.

NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare did have Mayo Clinic on an "enhanced reporting schedule" to monitor animal treatment from 2018 to 2020. However, that office has since loosened that monitoring, and Mayo Clinic is no longer on that schedule.

“The event concerning the welfare of animals at the Mayo Clinic shared with the media by the organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) has been managed appropriately by the institution as required by the U.S. Public Health Service policy. The NIH OLAW reviewed the incident and found the proposed corrective and preventive actions to be acceptable,” according to a statement released by the agency. “The Mayo Clinic is in good standing with OLAW and in keeping with the requirement for self-reporting, will report to OLAW any noncompliance with the relevant policies and regulations involving research animals, should they arise.”

Budkie said he is concerned that Mayo Clinic is still mistreating animals, since its documented incidents took place over years and represent a pattern of behavior.

When asked why people should be concerned about Mayo Clinic’s treatment of laboratory animals, he responded that the issues extend beyond the humane treatment of animals. The documents also show Mayo researchers being found to be using unsterile techniques and not following the established protocols of their experiments.

“This is bad science, and everyone should be concerned about bad science, because we are paying for it,” Budkie wrote.

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For privacy reasons, the National Institutes of Health would not say if any other problems had been found in the monitoring of Mayo Clinic’s government funded research projects. However, NIH officials did stress that their office does monitor the treatment of research animals closely.

“NIH takes very seriously all allegations of non-compliance and investigates every allegation,” they wrote. “NIH-supported institutions have a legal obligation to ensure the welfare of and minimize risks for all who participate in NIH-funded research. This includes both humans and animals. All animals used in NIH-funded research are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare.”

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