What Happens When Things Go Wrong?

A front-page story in Sunday’s Sacramento Bee, “UC Davis researcher suspended over animal care allegations,” is depressing reading for those of us who care about the importance of animal research. When animals are used in research, it has to be done the right way: humanely, thoughtfully, and following all the appropriate regulations.

The hopeful side of this story is that the regulatory system worked. Problems were found and reported internally to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which took action against the lab. UC Davis self-reported the issues to the NIH — as Kathleen Conlee from the Humane Society notes, it must have been tempting not to do that.

Dr Ebenezer Yamoah is carrying out research on the inner ear. In a statement to the Bee, he said, “We will remain focused in restoring hearing in the deaf in the next few decades…” A worthy goal. He held — until his access was suspended — multiple NIH grants totalling nearly two million dollars.

Because Dr Yamoah’s research was funded by the NIH, it had to meet NIH standards for animal research, and the use of animals would have had to be properly explained and justified in his grants. The local UC Davis IACUC would also have reviewed his proposed experiments.

The problem, then, is that Dr Yamoah was either unable or unwilling to follow the rules and regulations. Fortunately, UC Davis staffers and administrators were on the case. There seems to have been a series of attempts by university administrators to get his lab on the right path: the Bee article quotes a letter from the UC Davis Provost and the Vice Chancellor of Research citing “multiple occasions” of training, retraining and warnings.

The last straw seems to have been when Yamoah imported mice from another lab without the proper clearances. Anyone who works in mouse research will be astonished by that — at a minimum, you could be bringing new diseases and parasites into your mouse colony and ruining the work of other scientists. It might not matter to the mice themselves, but it’s appallingly sloppy lab management.

Clearly, Dr Yamoah’s peers and the NIH found his research was highly promising, to be awarded substantial grant funding when the success rate for grants is very low. Hopefully, UC Davis can now transfer the funds to other scientists who will pursue it while following all the rules.

2 responses to “What Happens When Things Go Wrong?

  1. Vincent Ferrera

    1. NIH grants are non-transferrable.
    2. Transfer of rodents is carefully monitored but mistakes are made. It is sloppy. It is not “appallingly” sloppy.
    3. Training requirements have increased roughly 10-fold in the past decade. Here in NY, the Fire Department requires a C-14 certificate holder to be present in each lab at all times when experiments are in progress

  2. NIH grants are transferrable.
    “Change in Status, Including Absence, of Principal Investigator and Other Key Personnel. The grantee is required to notify the GMO in writing if the PI or key personnel specifically named in the NGA will withdraw from the project entirely, be absent from the project during any continuous period of 3 months or more, or reduce time devoted to the project by 25 percent or more from the level that was approved at the time of award (for example, a proposed change from 40 percent effort to 30 percent or less effort). NIH must approve any alternate arrangement proposed by the grantee, including any replacement of the PI or key personnel named in the NGA.

    The request for approval of a substitute PI/key person should include a justification for the change, the biographical sketch of the individual proposed, other sources of support, and any budget changes resulting from the proposed change. If the arrangements proposed by the grantee, including the qualifications of any proposed replacement, are not acceptable to the NIH awarding office, the grant may be suspended or terminated. If the grantee wishes to terminate the project because it cannot make suitable alternate arrangements, it must notify the GMO, in writing, of its wish to terminate, and NIH will forward closeout instructions.

    The requirement to obtain NIH prior approval for a change in status pertains only to the PI and those key personnel NIH names in the NGA regardless of whether the applicant organization designates others as key personnel for its own purposes.”