COLUMBUS , Ohio – An Ohio State University spinal cord injury training program that has been targeted by animal rights groups nationally has received a clean bill of health from the National Institutes of Health.
The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), an arm of the NIH charged with insuring animal welfare in research, notified the university this month that it was satisfied with the institution's activities on this project.
OLAW had contacted Ohio State officials in January raising a series of questions about the program it had received from the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a national animal rights group. PCRM has been conducting a grassroots campaign for at least two years to halt the program.
At PCRM's urgings, OLAW had asked Ohio State specific questions about the program's design, its methodology and whether the institution had adequately searched for alternatives to using animals in the project.
Through a series of letters between the university and OLAW over four months, officials outlined the safeguards and procedures followed by the Institutional Laboratory Animal Care and Use Committee (ILACUC), the internal regulatory group at Ohio State responsible for safeguarding animals used in research.
"Based on its assessment of this explanation, OLAW finds the ILACUC review and the described performance of the spinal cord injury study to be consistent with the provisions of the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals," wrote Axel Wolff, OLAW's acting director of the Division of Compliance Oversight.
"We appreciate the efforts of the ILACUC . . . in providing the requested information and find no cause for further action by this office."
Tom Rosol, senior associate vice president for research at Ohio State , said, "We consider this an absolute vindication of our efforts to responsibly care for the animals we use in research.
"The scientists who designed and conducted this program have been unfairly accused and maligned in recent years, and this shows that their work meets the exacting standards required by federal regulators, as well as our own internal safeguards.
"They deserve our admiration and thanks for enduring these attacks and continuing their efforts at improving our understanding of spinal cord injuries," Rosol said.
The program in question is a federally supported project intended to teach researchers how to effectively use a specific animal model in studying the microscopic damage spinal cord injuries can cause, and to better assess potential treatments for such injuries.
"We are teaching other spinal cord injury researchers from around the world how to correctly use an animal model developed in our laboratory," explained Jacqueline Bresnahan, professor of neuroscience and head of the project.
"The end result will be a dramatic reduction in the numbers of animals required worldwide for this kind of research." Other research programs may lose as many as 60 to 70 percent of their animals during research. The rate of loss for Ohio State projects using this animal model never exceeds 2 percent, she said.
"By sharing our techniques with other researchers around the globe, we can reduce the number of animals required and, at the same time, enhance the quality of our discoveries, including those that lead to improved treatment for spinal cord injury."
Last month, the federal Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies of Sciences, released a massive report calling for a national strategy to help physicians and scientists improve recovery from spinal cord injury.
The report, "Spinal Cord Injury: Progress, Promise, and Priorities," cited the Ohio State program as a model to be emulated:
"These courses provide researchers with the opportunity to be trained to use the same standards for animal research. By training multiple researchers to use standard techniques, consistent animal injury models can be implemented.
"These models will increase the extent to which research results can be compared and improve the extent to which animal models can be used to predict clinical outcomes in humans."