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Monday, Dec. 22, 2014

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Princeton investigation finds no evidence to back animal research allegations

An internal investigation by Princeton University has found no evidence to support allegations about noncompliance in animal care at the University that were made by an animal rights group last September.

The inquiry by a subcommittee of the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) was launched in response to the allegations, which were based on an anonymous statement. Each allegation was thoroughly investigated based on available records and information, and the IACUC concluded that there was no clear and convincing evidence of inhumane or noncompliant behavior.

The subcommittee's report has been approved and adopted by the full IACUC, which is chaired by a faculty member and whose membership includes a veterinarian, a practicing scientist, a nonscientist and a member of the local community who is not affiliated with the University.

The investigation found that some of the allegations had no factual basis, while others were either descriptions of events that made no reference to any noncompliant condition, or presented distorted or incomplete information. The investigation included examinations of research and medical records, as well as interviews with relevant research and animal care staff. University representatives also communicated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare to ensure that federal regulations were met.

As part of its report, the IACUC subcommittee recommended that Princeton continue to enhance its animal research and care program through regular assessments of issues such as operating procedures, veterinarian involvement, ethical obligations, regulatory requirements, recordkeeping and environmental enrichments. The subcommittee was chaired by Joan Girgus, professor of psychology and special assistant to the dean of the faculty.

In the past few years, the University has strengthened oversight of animal research by hiring additional regulatory compliance personnel, increasing training for IACUC members and investigators, and developing new guidelines, policies and procedures across several areas of the program, including facility sanitation, the use of pharmaceutical agents, the use of personal protective equipment, animal handling and animal health monitoring. The University also has established a new Office for Research Integrity and Assurance (RIA), which will oversee compliance as it relates to the IACUC, the Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects and the Institutional Biosafety Committee.

Last summer, the University announced the appointment of Laura Conour, a veterinarian with 15 years of laboratory animal expertise, as director of laboratory animal research and University attending veterinarian. Conour works closely with RIA in partnership with faculty and research staff to continue to foster a research community that focuses on responsibly meeting research goals while ensuring that the animals in the program receive the best possible care.

Princeton’s program has been continuously accredited since 2002 by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), which evaluates organizations that use animals in research, teaching or testing. A recent review by AAALAC affirmed this accreditation. The AAALAC accreditation process includes the review of a detailed animal care and use program description and a comprehensive on-site assessment. Accreditation is issued to organizations that meet or exceed AAALAC standards.

During the most recent unannounced inspection visit by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service last fall the University was found to meet all federal standards.

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