USDA finds violations at UTMB animal research laboratory

Routine inspection shows problems with protocol and animal care

HOUSTON – The University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston National Laboratory is involved in some of the most dangerous medical research in the country.

The lab uses animals such as guinea pigs and macaque monkeys to study viruses like Zika, Marburg and Ebola.

Under federal law, any laboratory that uses animals for research purposes must be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

In a February report that was recently made public, APHIS inspectors detail the deaths of 25 guinea pigs. The animals were found dead in a cage during the study, and those deaths were not reported to the attending veterinarian in a timely manner.

According to a source, the researcher involved in the study who made this mistake is no longer working at the Galveston National Laboratory, but is still employed with UTMB.

The attending veterinarian actually reported this misstep to the USDA at the time of the inspection, according to the source.

The report also describes an incident with a sheep that was injured during transport. The injury required that the animal be euthanized.

At another part of the lab doing work with non-human primate macaque monkeys, the animals were being kept in individual enclosures without the ability to hear or see each other. According to the inspection report, non-human primates must be housed in a way that they can hear and see each other.

This problem was corrected immediately.

The USDA also expressed concern over observation protocols. 

How well data is being collected and observed at the Galveston National Laboratory has come under fire in the past in an audit by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The findings of that audit are still part of an ongoing review by the NIAID.

In a statement UTMB said, “We take pride in our research endeavors and work diligently to promote scientific integrity and ethical decision making through transparency.”