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Former Students Allege Mistreatment of Lab Animals at Calgary 

The university is carrying out a review of animal handling in the now-closed lab of neuropsychologist Vedran Lovic.

Aug 9, 2018
Catherine Offord

Update (August 10): In an email to The Scientist, the University of Calgary disputes the claim published by CBC that concerns about animal treatment had been reported to the university’s animal care committee in mid-2017. “The University of Calgary’s Animal Care Committee never received a formal complaint in 2017 regarding the mistreatment of animals in the lab in question,” writes Philippe Reicher, associate vice president of strategic communications at the university.

An investigation is underway into the treatment of lab animals at the University of Calgary after several former students complained, CBC reported on Tuesday (August 7). Allegations center on the now-closed lab of neuropsychologist Vedran Lovic, and include reports of rodents regularly waking up mid-surgery in pain due to a lack of anesthetic.

“The University of Calgary is aware of concerns raised about operational procedures in a specific lab in the department of psychology,” Dru Marshall, provost and vice president of the university, says in a statement sent to CBC. “These concerns are being taken very seriously and are being reviewed.”

Former students speaking to CBC on condition of anonymity say that mistreatment of lab animals was reported to the university’s animal care committee as early as mid-2017, but continued for months after that. Lovic himself has not responded for comment, CBC reports, and is currently on leave from the university. His lab was shuttered in March.

One student who spoke to CBC says that she had not witnessed any such mistreatment during her time in the lab from November 2015 to the time it was closed. “[I] never witnessed any animals wake up because they weren’t given enough anesthetic,” the student says. “I am very familiar with animal surgeries and the nature of these completely false accusations.”

CBC also reported yesterday (August 8) that the Canadian Council of Animal Care (CCAC), a national group that sets standards for animal treatment in scientific research, is carrying out its own review of the claims. “The CCAC takes all allegations of animal mistreatment very seriously,” spokesperson Sandra Lea MacInnis tells CBC. “I can assure you that the CCAC will continue to work with the University of Calgary to ensure that all of the CCAC’s guidelines and policies are being observed and followed.” 

See “To Kill a Lab Rat

The news is one of several blows to the university’s psychology department this summer; just a few weeks ago, department head Chris Sears resigned suddenly, citing a lack of departmental unity, CBC reports. “My plans and aspirations are not realistic at this time,” he wrote in an email to students and faculty. “I have therefore decided to resign as department head, effective immediately.”

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