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The research university vows more stringent protocols after nearly 20 citations in recent years from the USDA.

Oregon Health & Science University has come under fire once again for its experiments and tests on primates.

COURTESY PHOTO: STOP ANIMAL EXPLOITATION NOW! - A marmoset peers through a cage at Oregon Health & Science University's Marquam Hill/South Waterfront research lab. OHSU has received complaints and citations stemming from the death of two marmosets at its facility.According to national animal rights watchdog group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, OHSU was cited in December 2020 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the death of two marmosets at its Marquam Hill/South Waterfront facility in January and November 2020.

The citations followed complaints and alerts from the watchdog group about the alleged mistreatment of the animals. Marmosets are small monkeys that primarily inhabit South America. Two marmosets died at the research university's facility after developing cranial abscesses— bacterial infections in the brain.

USDA inspectors noted two separate marmosets were euthanized due to intracranial abscesses following two separate incidents 2020. In at least one case, veterinary care and treatment was delayed for 10 days.

"After the female marmoset died in January, the Department of Comparative Medicine (DCM) veterinarians worked closely with the group to improve training and technique," a USDA report reads. "However, the male was noted to have scarring and abnormal bone thickness at the craniotomy site on 10/5; DCM was not contacted to examine it until 10/9. Treatment for infection was started on 10/15 after culture results were positive for infection."

The USDA paused its on-site inspections early in 2020 due to coronavirus concerns. Instead, inspectors reviewed documents provided to them, according to OHSU.

The watchdog group wrote to federal regulators in October 2020 and again in January, saying OHSU's practices are a violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

In complaints filed, the organization's leaders told USDA's western region director, "abscesses do not develop instantaneously. Their development requires inadequate treatment for an extended period of time."

In response to questions about the citations and complaints, OHSU said researchers followed protocol and post-surgery testing.

"The unfortunate death of two marmosets were the result of clinical infections that were being treated but did not resolve," Tamara Hargens-Bradley, interim senior director of communications for OHSU told Pamplin Media Group. "Surgery introduces the risk of infection, even with rigorous sterile technique."

Hargens-Bradley said tests for bacterial infections conducted post-surgery came back negative for infection. Additional tests were conducted by veterinarians, according to OHSU, but getting test results takes several days.

"Abnormal bone thickness and the presence of granulation tissue — new connective tissue and microscopic blood vessels that form on the surfaces of a wound during the healing process — were observed in the surgical site, but that is expected in this research model and not indicative of infection," Hargens-Bradley said. "The first indication of potential infection occurred four days later."

The watchdog group and the USDA say the primates weren't given proper veterinary care.

"These incidents are quite serious not only because negligence allowed the abscesses to occur in the first place, but also because in at least one instance, OHSU veterinary staff was not contacted in a timely manner, allowing things to deteriorate even further," Michael Budkie, executive director of the watchdog group, told the USDA in a Jan. 20 official complaint.

The animal rights group noted OHSU has amassed 17 citations from the USDA in the past four years for its treatment or care of animals it performs research on.

Last August, the university acknowledged the death of two monkeys who were boiled alive when a lab technician mistakenly placed them in a high heat cage washer, not realizing the animals were still inside.

OHSU also has been the target of criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for its experiments that involved giving alcohol to prairie voles to study human fidelity, and then destroying video evidence of the experiments.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! and PETA are calling for federal inspectors to lobby maximum fines against OHSU — $10,000 per infraction, per animal — and to put an end to OHSU's animal research experiments.

"If OHSU is incapable of even providing adequate veterinary care, why should we believe that anything done with animals at this criminal lab has any relationship to science whatsoever?" Budkie said in a news release.

In light of the primate deaths, OHSU representatives said it now will have a veterinarian present for initial surgery on its primates, with a principal investigator or lab manager supervising surgical site recordings. OHSU also promised to implement more post-operation monitoring.

OHSU maintains the research is critical in understanding conditions that afflict humans.

"The purpose of the marmoset research is to further understand the neurological physiology of hearing and hearing loss," Hargens-Bradley said. "This information is critical for the development of clinical approaches in treating hearing losses in humans and in animals. Marmosets are the ideal model for this research because they have excellent hearing in a frequency range similar to that of humans -- they have well-defined auditory cortical areas that are similar to brain areas in humans. In addition, they can be trained to perform auditory discrimination tasks."

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