Agony and Death at Washington University: A Whistleblower Case

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Update: December 13, 2018

PETA has just obtained federal reports that back up whistleblower allegations of rampant neglect and incompetence in Washington University in St. Louis' (WashU) animal laboratories. They document 24 violations of federal animal-welfare guidelines and regulations in the school's laboratories during the 14-month period from February 2017 to April 2018.

In multiple incidents, WashU experimenters gave expired or inadequate pain medication or none at all to animals who'd been subjected to painful or invasive experimental surgeries. For example, inadequate analgesics were given to rats whose abdomens were cut open as well as to mice whose intestines were punctured. In another case, 15 mice were subjected to bile duct ligation surgeries—in which a vertical incision was cut along the length of the body, the organs were pulled out to help locate the bile duct, and the duct was closed off. But the experimenters failed to provide the animals with adequate pain relief, causing them unremitted pain and suffering. In another example of incompetence or willful negligence, WashU experimenters failed to administer pain medication in the manner specified in the approved experiment protocol to eight mice who'd been stitched together along the length of their bodies.

Other violations include the following:

  • Unapproved—and, in some cases, incompetent—personnel performed surgeries on animals, including in one case in which portions of the skulls of up to 10 mice were removed.
  • All the mice held in one cage died of dehydration after an employee placed the wrong type of water bottle in it and the animals couldn't access water.
  • An experimenter amputated the rear leg of a mouse after observing inflammation in it. However, this wasn't an approved procedure, and it was later discovered that the experimenter had been "attempting to preserve the data from the animal rather than remove the animal from the study for treatment." A necropsy of this mouse revealed signs of dehydration, indicating that the injured animal had difficulty reaching a water bottle.

In light of these egregious violations, along with the whistleblower's disturbing allegations (see below), we've sent a letter to WashU's board of trustees asking that it intervene to rectify the chronic issues of neglect and incompetence in the school's laboratories.

You can add your voice to ours by taking action below.

A courageous insider at Washington University in St. Louis (Wash U) alleges neglect, incompetence, and indifference toward animals in the school's laboratories.

The whistleblower reported the following:

  • A dog who had been used in an experimental surgery howled in pain and/or distress as he lay on his side, wrapped in bandages. An experimenter who was responsible for caring for the dogs after the surgery played on his phone while the dog cried out.
  • Some employees stuff gas chambers with more mice than are permitted by Wash U's own guidelines, causing them to die slowly and painfully.
  • Pigs' stomachs were deliberately injured then repaired before the pigs were finally killed.

  • Mice were denied adequate pain relief after experimental surgeries.
  • In some experiments, two mice were stitched together along the lengths of their bodies in pointless so-called "parabiotic" studies. Viruses were then injected into one mouse, and the experimenters observed whether the other mouse developed antibodies to the viruses over time. In other experiments, the tops of mice's skulls were removed and brain caps surgically implanted.
  • Mice were deliberately stressed by being stuffed into test tubes so small that they couldn't move and left on a tray overnight. In the morning, the mice were covered with their own urine and soaked in soggy brown matter—either feces or vomit.
  • In its mouse cages, Wash U uses cheap plastic water bottles with rubber stoppers that easily and frequently break, causing flooding in the cages. Mice have been left to sit for hours in drenched bedding or drenched themselves. In these conditions, the small animals have difficulty maintaining their body temperature and can become hypothermic. Those younger than 4 weeks old typically die in these conditions. And in cases of extreme flooding, mice even drown.
  • According to the whistleblower, Wash U operates laboratories in which potentially deadly and highly contagious pathogens, including drug-resistant tuberculosis, norovirus, West Nile virus, H1N1 influenza, and chikungunya, are handled, but employees frequently violate safety protocols in order to save time.
  • Workers cut the tips off mice's tails, causing them to bleed so much that blood ends up smeared across the cage walls.

animals left in flooded cage

The whistleblower informed PETA that in the laboratories of experimenters Emil Unanue and Juliane Bubeck Wardenburg, there were "more than a dozen occurrences" in which "rodents were hunched in posture, lethargic, moving slowly, and exhibiting a head tilt or rectal prolapse—indicators of infection, tumor growth, or other illness and/or injury."

Bubeck Wardenburg induces painful sepsis in mice—by forcibly administering harmful bacteria through their mouths or nostrils or intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously via injection. As infection spreads throughout their bodies, they experience excruciating symptoms before finally dying or being killed. Bubeck Wardenburg received more than $1 million in NIH funding in 2018 alone to carry out these experiments—even though using mice to study sepsis in humans has long been discredited, including in a 2013 landmark study that determined that the genetic responses to sepsis in the two species are completely different.

Experimenters at Wash U induce sepsis in mice just as laboratory workers at the University of Pittsburgh have done, as seen in this video.

Federal reports confirm the whistleblower's allegations that corners have been cut in Wash U's laboratories, resulting in harm to animals. In June 2018, a dog suffered and died in a laboratory there after staff failed to notify a veterinarian when the animal experienced complications following experimental surgery. In March 2017, a rabbit died when her body temperature plummeted during an experimental surgery and workers failed to seek veterinary care. In August 2017, a male macaque monkey "experienced ongoing complications such as hypothermia, hypotension, wet lung sounds and fluid in the endotracheal tube" during an anesthetic procedure. In 2013, PETA exposed the school's use of kittens in outdated training exercises for nurses—and stopped that practice.

Every year, Wash U uses hundreds of thousands of animals, including dogs, monkeys, mice, rats, rabbits, pigs, and other species, in cruel and deadly experiments. Much of this experimentation is paid for with our tax dollars: In 2017, the school received more than $435 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and an estimated 47 percent of that money funded experiments on animals.

Please tell Wash U to investigate the alleged appalling failures in its laboratories and pull the plug on cruel and pointless experiments.

Putting your subject line and letter into your own words will help draw attention to your e-mail.

Mark S.
Washington University in St. Louis

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