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Vivisection, UCSF-Style

Petra the monkey at a UCSF laboratory. Photo by USDA.

A rhesus monkey, named Petra, kept in a botched brain study with screws and a piece of acrylic waste buried in her head. Mice having their toes cut off without a drop of anesthesia. Others dying of thirst. Birds cut open without anesthesia. All of this, and much more, at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), which experimented its way through 800,000 animals last year.

This “chilling, even gruesome” story is told by the San Francisco Chronicle after studying inspection reports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which monitors all the vivisection labs in the country. (Inspectors are required to conduct just one unannounced inspection each year.)

UCSF is one of the biggest labs in the country. The vast majority of the animals in their experiments are mice and rats. But the Animal Welfare Act doesn’t apply to them since rodents are among the animals not considered to be “animals”.

Even so, UCSF paid out $92,500 in fines seven years ago after various incidents of abuse and neglect were uncovered. The SF Chronicle quotes a scientist at UC San Diego:

“You would think that UC would clean up its act and not have these deficiencies anymore. But $92,000 is chump change for them because these research grants bring in millions – it’s the cost of doing business,” said Lawrence Hansen, a neuropathologist at UC San Diego who sued UC in 2007, saying state money was being used to support animal cruelty. A Superior Court judge called it a federal issue and dismissed the case.

“I don’t disapprove of the use of all animals in research, as long as the animals don’t suffer,” said Hansen. “What they’re doing to these monkeys is so inherently cruel and painful that it’s impossible to do it without causing a great deal of pain and suffering.”

The newspaper focuses on the rhesus monkey in the botched brain study:

The female monkey that UCSF researchers named Petra arrived at the lab in March 2008. In December, researchers studying Parkinson’s disease implanted a device in the monkey’s skull so that gene therapy could be delivered directly to her brain.

The device remained in place for seven months and was removed in July 2009. As is common practice, said UCSF, the veterinarian left screws in the monkey’s skull.

Soon the monkey became lethargic and picked continually at the spot on her head. The veterinary staff treated her with antibiotics and painkillers. That didn’t work, so a month later veterinarians tried to repair the wound surgically. That didn’t work either, and in September they removed the screws.

It still didn’t help. Her wound still unhealed, the monkey remained in the study. A year later, in October 2010, the veterinarians and principal researcher tried again to figure out the cause of the monkey’s persistent wound. This time they found a piece of acrylic that had been left in her head from the 2008 implant.

A federal inspector arrived unannounced days later and snapped a photo of a miserable-looking monkey, a wide, red wound at the top of her head. Researchers euthanized Petra three weeks later, on Nov. 16, 2010.

The study in which Petra was involved received a $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

UCSF refused to be interviewed for the SF Chronicle’s report. Instead, spokeswoman Barbara French sent a “statement” saying:

“The university takes very seriously the care and use of the animals it studies, beginning with ensuring that as few animals as possible are used in research.”

We would tend to call that more or a mis-statement than a “statement.”

Then again, as George Bernard Shaw once wrote,

“Anyone who doesn’t hesitate to vivisect, wouldn’t hesitate to lie about it.”