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Animal rights group wants UAB fined for ferret deaths in lab

Ohio-based activists advocate for cutting-edge technologies that use cultivated or 3D-printed cells to replace the use of live animals.


An organization that opposes experimentation on animals is hoping that a federal complaint it filed will result in an investigation into the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s research that involves animal testing.

The Ohio-based group Stop Animal Exploitation Now cited the suffocation of three ferrets during routine research into the effects of exposure to cigarette smoke. The incident was initially reported by the university in September.

A tube that was supposed to add fresh air to the smoke loosened over time and became disconnected, leaving the ferrets exposed to a higher concentration of smoke than intended, according to UAB. Three of the smallest ferrets in a study cohort of 10 succumbed to the smoke.

SAEN filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the deaths as well as another incident in which it alleges test records were falsified in a study that involved “non-human primates.” 

That incident was reported by an internal whistleblower and investigated by the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The school took corrective action, revoking animal use privileges of the two researchers involved for one year and adjusting its protocol for sedating the animals. 

Michael Budkie, SAEN’s executive director, said he hopes the university will receive the maximum fine of $10,000 per animal per infraction. He said the allegation of falsified records merits a wider investigation of the university’s animal testing practices.

“Falsifying records draws all UAB research into question,” Budkie said.

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He added that he hopes the university will shift from animal testing toward new research methods that use technology like organs-on-chips, which are small, clear devices lined with living human cells that can serve as pieces of whole organs, or 3D bioprinting.

Tyler Greer, a spokesman for UAB, said the university self-reported the incident to the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, which determined that appropriate action was taken to avoid similar problems in the future.

Greer said nothing has changed since local news stations reported on the ferret deaths in January and defended UAB’s research practices.

“Virtually all medical knowledge and treatment — certainly every medical breakthrough of the last century, including for COVID-19 — has involved research with animals,” Greer said.

Micah Danney is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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