As the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, Oregon Health & Science University researchers euthanized at least 205 lab mice they deemed no longer essential to their National Institutes of Health-funded research activities, documents show.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals obtained public records showing the mice were killed from March through June 2020 as the university scaled back its operations to concentrate on the virus.
More than $1.6 million in taxpayer dollars went toward this research, PETA alleges—and was essentially lost with the mice.
In a letter to Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan on Feb. 17, PETA vice president Shalin Gala called for an audit of the university's use of resources, which PETA believes were wasted. PETA sent similar letters to OHSU- and NIH-funding agencies.
In the letter to Fagan, Gala wrote: "The fact that laboratories led by OHSU's employees had animals deemed unnecessary, extraneous, noncritical, non-essential or similar terminology in the first place should raise significant red flags, especially since their experiments are funded and/or supported by taxpayers who should not have to foot the bill for such waste."
In a response to WW's request for comment, OHSU spokeswoman Tamara Hargens-Bradley wrote that the decision to discontinue animal breeding and reduce the population was difficult but necessary.
"This decision was made to protect human health and ensure OHSU had sufficient resources for long-term animal care throughout the pandemic," Hargens-Bradley wrote. "As a result of this temporary research pause, some individual labs chose to humanely euthanize some research rodents according to their approved Institutional Animal Care and Use protocols."
The records obtained by PETA describe several animal-testing projects that were discontinued as the pandemic descended.
The first is titled "Characterizing Patient-Specific Tbr1 Mutations: Understanding a Master Regulator of Autism Risk," and was led by OHSU's Brian O'Roak, who received $499,244 in the 2020 fiscal year from the National Institute of Mental Health.
According to the letter and public documents, "mice are bred so that experimenters can induce genetic mutations causing brain developmental disorders, after which newly weened pups are subjected to stressful physical, motor and behavioral tasks."
The second experiment was led by OHSU's Stephen Lloyd, who received funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, including $357,057 in the 2021 fiscal year and $308,000 in 2017, and "these experiments involve injecting mice with liver cancer-causing toxins."
The final experiment mentioned was led by OHSU's Scott Landfear, who received $446,184 in 2021 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In this experiment, "mice are infected with varying loads of the Leishmania parasite and injected with different drugs."
A social media post collected by PETA suggests the euthanizing of lab mice occurred rapidly as OHSU reduced its operations last March.
In a tweet from March 19, 2020, Isabella Rauch, an OHSU professor, wrote: "We are currently at 2/3 euthanized, more to go tomorrow. I feel bad for my trooper of a lab manager, she cares so much for the animals and it was a lot of work to build the colony."
In total, $1.6 million in taxpayer funds were allotted to OHSU researchers whose lab mice were killed. PETA is urging officials to reimburse this money to the state and for the NIH grants to be revoked.
Gala tells WW it's unclear if animal research has continued but wonders if these animals were needed for the research to take place to begin with.
"This is not a harmless procedure—animals are being harmed and killed," Gala says. "If universities themselves are saying these animals don't need to be here, then why were they there in the first place? Taxpayer money should not have been spent on breeding and housing and experimenting on them. "
Gala fears that more mice will be bred if OHSU receives additional animal research funding as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, and then the pattern will repeat.
"To our view, if you're a state government with limited funds you shouldn't be spending it on purposes where these animals are being considered unnecessary and then euthanized," Gala says. "All we're seeking from Oregon officials is to do an audit of the whole situation, find out where the money has been going and for what purpose, and if there are instances that this money was misspent or wasted. Then they should recoup the funds, and that would be funding that the OHSU would reimburse to state government to reallocate as they see fit."