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The HSUS Highlights Animal Research Violations at Northwestern University

Reports show that live animals were placed in freezer, other animals not given painkillers after surgery

The Humane Society of the United States has obtained government reports showing that the Northwestern University has violated federal standards of care for animals in laboratories. Violations included failing to provide pain-relieving drugs, failing to properly euthanize animals and failing to obtain proper approval for procedures that resulted in harm to animals. The improperly euthanized animals remained alive but were discarded as if they were dead.

The HSUS learned of the violations through documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.

"The public doesn't want animals to suffer in research laboratories," said Kathleen Conlee, director of program management for animal research issues for The HSUS. "Especially in light of these disturbing incidents, Northwestern University should publicly affirm its commitment to minimizing the suffering of animals in its research labs."

The HSUS renews its call for the Northwestern University to join other institutions in adopting a policy ensuring that no animals in its laboratories experience severe and unrelieved suffering. Advertisements urging Northwestern to adopt such a policy are appearing in the university's student newspaper beginning this week.

In a recent journal article, The HSUS explored broader trends in a sampling of reports of noncompliance with legal standards at federally funded research facilities. The reports show numerous instances of animal pain, suffering and death. Northwestern University was among the many universities submitting these noncompliance reports.


According to reports made by the university to NIH's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare

October 2005 - September 2006: Twelve separate incidents occurred where rodents were found alive in the carcass freezer—some after apparent failed attempts at euthanasia.

April 2006: Rodents were not given appropriate painkillers after surgery.

March 2006: Animals were not provided with appropriate painkillers after surgery, and lab personnel were unable to describe how pain was assessed.

September 2005: Rabbits underwent surgery but were not provided with post-operative painkillers and were not monitored properly as stated in the approved protocol.

September 2005: A protocol involving prolonged animal restraint did not describe how the discomfort of animals would be addressed. Justification for the procedure and a search for alternatives were also not provided.

December 2004: In a study involving surgery on chinchillas, anesthetic doses were not adhered to, adequate post-operative care was not provided, and the procedure was not approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

June 2004: Rodents were traumatized when untrained lab personnel performed blood draws on the animals' tails, and did so without Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approval.

December 2003: Several mice appeared blind and had corneal opacities related to bleeding in the eye when lab personnel performed eye blood draw procedures on the mice without Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approval.


  • In September 2009, The HSUS sent a letter to Northwestern University asking them to adopt a policy that the animals in their laboratories would not be subjected to research or conditions that would cause severe and unrelieved pain or distress. To date, the university has not responded to our requests.  
  • The USDA regulates research on some animal species under the Animal Welfare Act. The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare ensures that the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals is followed by institutions receiving federal funds for animal research. However, federal law does allow animal research involving severe and unrelieved pain and distress. Therefore, following federal law is not enough to prevent severe animal suffering.
  • Fifty-five U.S. colleges and universities have affirmed to us that they have policies preventing severe and unrelieved animal pain and distress. 


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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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