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Harvard faces federal ethics complaints for decapitating mice

Research called ‘inhumane’ and ‘barbaric’

Multiple federal complaints have been filed against Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for allegedly violating the federal animal welfare law and publishing a falsified article.

The complaints have been filed by Stop Animal Exploitation Now, a national animal abuse watchdog group.

The Department of Health and Human Services would not tell The College Fix if investigations have been opened yet.

“[The Office of Research Integrity] is not able to confirm or deny the existence of any potential pending cases,” a spokesperson told The Fix via email. “If there is a case finding of misconduct, it will be posted to ORI’s case summaries page.”

ORI “responded with a read receipt only,” Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN, told The Fix via email on March 5.

The complaints allege Harvard’s cancer research center is decapitating mice and violating “federal animal care regulations.” The institute has known about this since receiving a whistleblower report in October 2023, the first complaint, filed at the end of January stated.

The researchers stopped the study due to unexpected animal deaths because a vial was not “adequately prepared,” according to the complaint, which quoted another report.

The second complaint concerns a retracted article. “Not only was this project so badly botched as to result in retraction, but mice suffered with artificially induced cancerous tumors,” SAEN wrote in its second complaint. “The validity of this study is highly questionable because studying cancer in mice simply doesn’t work.”

“The Editors retracted this article because of concerns regarding a number of figures presented in this work,” a note stated. “These concerns call into question the integrity of the data and the article’s overall scientific soundness.”

The second article received nearly $2.7 million in federal funding.

The institute is currently facing numerous research misconduct allegations. The cancer center “will be requesting medical journals to retract six papers and correct 31 others,” as The Fix previously reported.

The Dana-Farber Institute did not respond to a request for comment sent on Wednesday morning about the allegations.

Budkie, with SAEN, said there are a few steps Harvard can take to prevent these problems in the future.

“Animal experiments need to be replaced with more cutting edge technology such as organ-on-a-chip technology, 3D bioprinting, etc,” Budkie told The Fix.

“Laboratories must have a no-tolerance policy for violations of federal violations. In other words, serious protocol violations, protocol suspensions, etc. should result in a permanent ban from animal use,” Budkie said.

A third complaint alleges misconduct by another Harvard research center.

SAEN filed a fourth internal complaint with Harvard’s research ethics office.

It alleges a Harvard study “gouged out” the eyes of mice and “cut” their nerves.

Kristin Bittinger, Harvard medical school’s dean for faculty research & integrity, did not respond to a request for comment on these two allegations Wednesday morning.

Budkie called the mutilation of the mice “simply barbaric” and “inhumane.”

MORE: Pitt named top violator of animal welfare law

IMAGE: Mirko Sobotta/Shutterstock

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Rachel Lalgie is a student at the University of Florida, studying accounting and economics. She is a member of UF's Phi Eta Sigma and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.