New documents released by an animal rights group reveal that a University of Texas Medical Branch veterinarian technician accidentally killed four lab animals by placing them in a cage washing machine.
The group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, on Thursday released two letters it obtained from the National Institutes of Health through a public information request.
The letters describe two “adverse events” that occurred at the medical branch involving mice.
The first event occurred on April 18.
A husbandry technician cleaning cages placed a cage that contained four mice into an autoclave, a pressure cleaner used to sterilize lab equipment.
Michael Budkie, the executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said the mice’s deaths were inhumane.
“When you find mice inside the autoclave, that basically means those mice were boiled alive,” Budkie said.
In a letter sent to the National Institutes of Health’s Animal Welfare Program, Toni D’Agostino, the medical branch’s associate vice president of research administration, said the technician who cleans the cages was retrained and assigned a working partner, but did not receive further discipline.
“The technician took full responsibility for their actions,” D’Agostino wrote.
Another event occurred on May 12, when 24 mice being used by researchers died during an experiment. The medical branch reported the deaths because researchers failed to observe the animals during time intervals set forth by the medical branch’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
“By not performing the observations as stated, the committee believes it led to an animal welfare issues and prevented information from being collected that would address the true effectiveness of the investigator’s assessment criteria and observation time frames,” D’Agostino wrote.
The medical branch has been cited for not following its observation protocols before. In February 2015, a federal audit found that a group of macaques, a species of primate, at the medical branch died during a time when they were unattended. The monkeys had been infected with the Ebola virus.
Other reports concerning animal treatment have followed the audit.
In February 2016, the medical branch reported that 19 guinea pigs died in their cages instead of being euthanized.
In September, a research monkey escaped its cage and was euthanized after it was captured. The animal broke its leg while it was free.
On Nov. 21, the medical branch agreed to pay a $33,000 fine to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and institute an improvement plan.
Medical branch officials have said they’ve changed procedures to address concerns noted in the audit and subsequent inspections.
“The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston reported these incidents internally and externally in an appropriate and timely manner to the proper regulatory agencies,” spokesman Raul Reyes said in an emailed statement. “UTMB remains firmly committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of research animals, a commitment that will advance UTMB’s contributions as a world leader in biomedical research and clinical care.”
Budkie’s group said the new reports reveal the changes have not curbed incidents at the medical branch, and called for the officials in charge of animal care, including D’Agostino, to be removed.
“UTMB is saying all of these things have been rectified, but if all of the same things are happening, what’s really changed?” he said.
“The point we’re trying to make is that despite the fact they’ve paid a fine and modified the program, it’s business as usual.”