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The HSUS Examines Animal Research Violations at Wake Forest University

University should adopt policy prohibiting severe animal suffering

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.— In light of government reports showing that Wake Forest University has failed to follow minimal standards of care for animals in laboratories, The Humane Society of the United States urges the university to adopt a policy to prohibit animals in its care from experiencing severe pain and distress.

According to the reports, the university’s violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act resulted in distress and death of animals from improper monitoring of animals, inadequate training of personnel, failure to follow approved protocols, failure to obtain appropriate approval for conducting new procedures on animals, and failure to ensure procedures minimize or avoid animal pain and distress.  

“Seventy-five percent of the public opposes research that causes severe animal suffering,” said Kathleen Conlee, of The HSUS. She herself used to work in research lab and has made the move to work to end animal suffering in labs. “Especially in light of these disturbing incidents, Wake Forest University should publicly affirm its commitment to minimizing animal suffering in its research labs by prohibiting severe suffering altogether.”

The HSUS learned of the university’s violations through inspection reports posted online by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, as well as documents received from the National Institutes of Health via the Freedom of Information Act.

More than 60 colleges and universities have adopted policies ensuring that no animals in their laboratories experience severe suffering. Advertisements urging Wake Forest University to adopt such a policy are appearing in the college’s student newspaper beginning this week.

Timeline from reports filed by of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • June 2010- Three rabbits involved in an experiment assessing the implantation of artificial ear cartilage were each found with large blood filled pockets on one of their ears. The facility was cited by the USDA for altering the protocol without having it reviewed by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
  • June 2010- Twenty one rabbits died after being injected with a drug to induce diabetes. The facility was cited by the USDA for not following the IACUC approved protocol, not getting approval of changes to the protocol, and for the IACUC’s failure to make sure the protocol minimized animal distress.
  • June 2010- A researcher killed a distressed rabbit via an air embolus—a method banned by the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines on euthanasia—claiming he did not know how to access the appropriate euthanasia solution after hours. Another rabbit was given 10 times the appropriate dose of insulin because the same researcher did not know how to use an insulin syringe. The facility was cited by the USDA for not ensuring that personnel are appropriately qualified to perform their duties.
  • May 2009- Two monkeys showed signs of hair picking, hair loss, and abnormal behavior due to psychological distress. The facility was cited by the USDA for lack of a plan to provide environmental enhancement for nonhuman primates who require special attention.

 The following is a partial list taken from reports by the university to the National Institute of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare:

  •  June 2010- Three rabbits underwent surgery but were not given post-surgical care, contrary to what was stated in the approved protocol.
  • January 2010- A mouse died and several others needed emergency care when two cages of mice were left without food for an entire weekend.
  • December 2009- Non-human primates were housed alone even though the approved protocol said they would be socially housed. (Social isolation can cause considerable distress to non-human primates, as undercover footage  from a different laboratory shows.)
  • April 2009- A rat died and another was euthanized after they and three others had abdominal suture failure after suture protocol was not followed.
  • September 2008- Sixteen rats underwent a second major surgery without approval from the IACUC.
  • June and August 2008- In two separate cases, renal failure was induced in a number of rats without approval from the IACUC.
  • December 2007- Four rats were euthanized after their surgical wounds opened up post-operatively due to failure of the surgeon to adhere to the approved protocol.
  • December 2007- One mouse died and two others in poor health had to be euthanized following premature weaning from their mother. Two other mice died due to lack of food in their cage. The technician caring for these mice was not designated to care for the animals in this protocol and did not receive proper training.
  • August 2007- Two mice died and six others were euthanized after undergoing surgery and being returned to their cages without food and water.  
  • June 2007 and December 2007- In two separate cases, a rat was found alive in the carcass freezer after a failed euthanasia attempt.


  • In 2009, Wake Forest University reported to the USDA that they used 2,707 animals—including dogs, cats, rabbits, nonhuman primates, sheep, pigs, bats, ferrets and chinchillas—for research. Wake Forest also uses mice and rats, but these numbers are not reported since these animals are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act.
  • In July 2008, The HSUS contacted Wake Forest 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. They responded in August declining to adopt such a policy. The HSUS attempted to contact the university two additional times—in September 2009 and August 2010—asking that they reconsider their response, but has not received any response to those requests.
  • The USDA regulates animal research on some animal species under the Animal Welfare Act. The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare oversees compliance with the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals by institutions such as Wake Forest University that receive federal funds for animal research. Both laws allow animal research that causes severe and unrelieved pain and distress; therefore, simply following federal law is not enough to prevent severe animal suffering.
  • Wake Forest University has been awarded more than $95 million in federal research funds for FY2011. It is estimated that a large percentage of this money funds animal research.
  • Sixty-three U.S. colleges and universities have affirmed 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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