(Update Oct. 26): Jennifer O'Brien, spokeswoman for UCSF, issued a statement. Read after the jump.
(Original Story Oct. 24): PETA is asking the National Institutes of Health to demand that the University of California at San Francisco give back the $2.1 million in federal funds it spent experimenting on monkeys, which the group says violated animal welfare laws.
PETA claims UCSF was cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for continuing to subject an ailing monkey named Petra to "cruel brain experiments" despite her ill health and for failing to remove surgically implanted hardware from the monkey, as required by UCSF's own animal experimentation oversight committee. NIH policy specifically prohibits using grant money for experiments that violate the federal Animal Welfare Act and other animal protection guidelines, according to PETA.
We contacted both the NIH and UCSF for comment, but have not heard back yet.
PETA says it has records it obtained through a California Public Records Act request, which indicated that the adorable monkey suffered pain and psychological distress during her two years at UCSF, beginning with serious complications following invasive surgeries three years ago. During those procedures, PETA notes, holes were drilled into Petra's head and a device was "screwed to her skull so that experimenters could infuse chemicals directly into her brain," according to PETA.
PETA also claims the documents show that Petra was locked in a cage by herself and injected with a neurotoxic chemical that gave her tremors caused rapid weight loss. Soon after, her head wound became infected. and she suffered from chronic diarrhea and pulled out her own hair due to psychological trauma. In 2010, the USDA inspected UCSF and documented Petra's miserable condition; the staff finally euthanized Petra.
Soon after, the USDA cited UCSF for "violating federal law related to the school's abuse of Petra."
"UCSF pocketed a federal grant and then broke the law while tormenting this monkey," says PETA Senior Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Kathy Guillermo. "PETA is urging the government to take back the money that paid for Petra's misery -- taxpayers shouldn't have to fund the abuse of animals."
Update: UCSF issued the following statement:
In 2009, a rhesus monkey that was part of a UCSF study designed to test a strategy for treating Parkinson's disease and Niemann-Pick disease had complications following surgery. The operation involved implanting an apparatus onto the skull to allow the infusion of gene therapy directly into the brain cells damaged in these diseases. The strategy addressed the challenge of getting drugs past the blood-brain barrier, which prevents medicines from reaching the brain effectively.
The results of the study led to the development of a gene therapy clinical trial for Parkinson's disease in humans that is now underway at UCSF. The Food and Drug Administration explicitly requested that the scientists provide specific animal data before they issued approval for initiation of taclinical trial.. As with surgeries on patients, the animals in the study were under deep anesthesia for the operation and received the same consistent monitoring and treatment with painkillers following the procedure that humans would receive.
Once the researchers were sure the infusion had reached its target, the apparatus was removed by the surgeon. The incision initially healed, but subsequently the veterinary staff noted that the animal was picking at the site of the incision and that it was lethargic. They treated the incision site and treated the animal with antibiotics and analgesics. After an extended time of taking a conservative approach, the veterinarians and the principle investigator of the study decided to reopen the scalp incision to try to ascertain the cause of the irritation. During the procedure, they determined that a piece of the experimental apparatus had not been removed from the surgical site. The team documented the second surgery and the discovery of the material in the animal's medical records, which were reviewed by the USDA inspector on a routine inspection visit to UCSF in January 2011.
The inspector cited UCSF for having failed to completely remove the apparatus as stipulated in the approved protocol. The inspector also cited UCSF for having kept the animal on study for almost two years despite its multiple health issues following the surgical procedure. During this time, repeated surgical procedures and medical treatments for the complications were performed, keeping the condition largely under control without ever fully resolving it. The monkey ultimately was euthanized, which was the protocol of the study.
UCSF takes very seriously its responsibility for the humane treatment of the animals it studies. The UCSF Institutional Animal Use and Care Committee reviewed the citation, took action and has taken further steps to ensure this situation does not occur in the future. UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.