KU Medical Center changes policies, adds staff, improves facilities to address USDA complaints about animal handling

KU Medical Center undertakes measures to program after USDA findings

Kansas University Medical Center will make changes to its animal research program after a government oversight agency found violations in inspection reports.

KUMC has already addressed many of the recommendations, and is undertaking steps to ensure that they don’t reoccur, said Marcia Nielsen, KUMC’s vice chancellor for public policy and planning.

“We’re quite proud of our animal research facility,” Nielsen said. “These kinds of inspection reports are uncharacteristic and unacceptable.”

The reports include violations for improper treatment for sick animals, aging facilities and for failing to provide appropriate enrichment opportunities for animals who appear to be under psychological stress.

If KUMC had failed to address the issues raised in the reports, Nielsen said it could have risked losing a voluntary accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

The medical center conducts research more than 1,000 animals ranging from mice to primates, Nielsen said, as part of its research into diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. She said the research was similar to animal research done in many other medical centers across the country.

“The research that we do is specifically to find cures for humans,” Nielsen said.

While the medical center is appealing some of the violations cited in the reports, it has undertaken measures to address the issues:

• The medical center has spent more than $700,000 in federal stimulus dollars for upgrades to the Lab Animal Research facilities.

• Vilma Zolynas, a veterinary scientist, will become the first executive director for the Lab Animal Research facility, overseeing the operational and business aspects of the facility.

• David Pinson, a veterinary pathologist, will serve in a newly created role of executive director for veterinary services, and will oversee clinical care for the animals.

• Five new staff members have been added to improve the staff-to-animal ratio, bringing the total to 48 workers.

• A new electronic medical record for animals will help keep better track of the care animals are receiving.

Nielsen said that the changes will cost more than $1.1 million. The changes are being funded through a variety of sources, including stimulus dollars, federal grants and state funds.

Efforts to contact U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors late Monday afternoon were unsuccessful.