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OHSU statement on PETA public records lawsuit

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OHSU respects the ruling of Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Andrew M. Lavin issued on July 6, 2022, in the PETA v. Oregon Health & Science University public records lawsuit. As a public corporation of the state of Oregon, we take seriously our obligation to comply with Oregon Public Records Law and have a long history of transparently responding to public records requests in a timely manner. The lawsuit did not make any allegations regarding the care or treatment of research animals.

In its July 6, 2022 rulings, the court did not declare that OHSU violated Oregon Public Records Law; rather, it ruled that OHSU unreasonably delayed disclosing the videos and photographs responsive to PETA’s 2018 requests and, as a result, that PETA is entitled to $400 in statutory penalties ($200 on each public records claim) plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs on those two claims alone.

OHSU acknowledges and regrets the delay in disclosure. We have a comprehensive process in place for complying with our obligations under Oregon Public Records Law, and we are continually reviewing that process to identify opportunities for improvement.

With regard to PETA’s two claims that OHSU violated PETA’s free speech, equal protection and privileges and immunities rights, in OHSU’s processing of, and responding to, PETA’s 2018 public records requests, the court explicitly found for OHSU and denied any relief to PETA it had sought on those claims. OHSU does not discriminate amongst public records requestors.

Regarding PETA’s allegation that OHSU Public Safety unlawfully surveilled PETA through receipt of emails from organizations who advocate for animal research, the court declared OHSU Public Safety in violation of the relevant law (ORS 181A.250) and ordered OHSU Public Safety to delete all INA (Information Network Associates) and AMP (Americans for Medical Progress) emails from their electronic records if those emails do not relate to a criminal investigation.

Some members of the OHSU Public Safety team previously were included on an email distribution list for INA and AMP newsletters, which contain publicly available information about anti-animal research public protests and statements -- including statements about OHSU -- for the purpose of staying abreast of potential impacts to OHSU operations, and to help employees be aware of potential threats and disruptions.

OHSU Public Safety stopped subscribing to these or any similar distribution lists in early 2022.

Since OHSU’s processing of PETA’s 2018 public records request for research videos containing voles, PETA has continued to submit public records requests to OHSU with no additional complaints about OHSU’s processing of their requests.

The purpose of the research depicted in the requested videos and photos

Excessive alcohol can lead to serious health consequences and often is associated with devastating effects on social relationships. Specifically, heavy alcohol use is associated with increased rates of separation, divorce and intimate partner violence. Because evaluating what is the cause and what is the effect in this association (the heavy alcohol use or the problems in the social relationship) is practically impossible in humans, the laboratory of Andrey Ryabinin, Ph.D., works with prairie voles.  

Like humans, prairie voles form socially monogamous bonds between opposite-sex and same-sex mates, and both parents care for their offspring. Additionally, the mechanisms found to regulate such bonds in prairie voles have been shown to play a role in human relationships.* Consequently, research findings in prairie voles help identify mechanisms regulating social bonds in humans. Additionally, prairie voles happen to like alcohol solutions and prefer them over water when given access, and consumption of alcohol does not result in any visible health disturbances among the prairie voles.

In the study, “Alcohol’s Effects on Pair-Bond Maintenance in Male Prairie VolesFrontiers in Psychiatry (Nov. 17, 2017), Ryabinin and colleagues sought to determine whether alcohol’s effects on the brain can directly contribute to relationship breakdown. They observed that alcohol inhibits social bonds in male prairie voles, when they, but not their female partner, consume alcohol.

Over the course of the study, they identified two biological mechanisms in the brains of voles that may be responsible for heavy drinking and associated relationship problems. One of the mechanisms identified involving the peptide oxytocin currently is being investigated in human clinical trials as a promising treatment for alcohol use disorder. 

What do the research videos show?

To evaluate alcohol’s effects on social bonding in prairie voles, Dr. Ryabinin and colleagues collected data using two types of videos: the partner preference test and the resident intruder test.

The partner preference test videos (three hours per video) capture the interactions of each of 23 male vole with its female partner and an unfamiliar female vole over the course of three hours. The interactions occur in a three-chambered apparatus. The male is placed in the middle, while each female is located on opposite sides of the apparatus. The male is free to move around the apparatus and visit each of the females. The video captures three of the apparatuses simultaneously.  

Socially bonded males choose to spend much of the three hours sitting next to their female partners. The researchers measure how much time the male vole spends with its partner and how much time it spends with the unfamiliar female. The ratio between these times serves as a measurement of the preference of the male vole for its partner. Previous research has shown this measure is a strong predictor of the strength of the social bond between vole partners. The partner preference test is a unique test for prairie voles, because mice and rats don’t demonstrate partner preference. 

In the Nov. 17, 20201, Frontiers in Psychiatry study, the partner preference ratio was decreased if the male voles consumed alcohol, but the females did not, indicating that alcohol inhibited the social bond in the males. This observation indicated that such “discordant” drinking can decrease bonding between a male and a female vole. This observation is similar to what has been observed in human epidemiological studies, but did not assess whether the discordant drinking led to decreased bonding or whether decreased bonding led to discordant drinking. 

The resident-intruder test videos -- 27 in total -- depict interactions of a male vole with an unfamiliar male vole. A home cage of the tested male vole is filmed. An unfamiliar male vole is then placed into this cage for 10 minutes. Voles that have formed a social bond with a female display aggression toward other male voles. The researchers measure the number of aggressive behaviors (offensive postures, lunges, attempts to bite) during the test. Because the test lasts 10 minutes, no injuries to the animals occur. Such aggressive behavior serves as an additional measure of the strength of the bond between the male vole and its female partner. The resident-intruder test is a standard test that is used across many species of rodents to assess aggressive behavior. 

In this study, the number of aggressive behaviors was not different between males that were drinking alcohol and those that were drinking water. Thus, the level of aggression in these animals was not higher than what is typically observed in vole studies and was not affected by drinking alcohol. This finding suggested that alcohol’s effects on social bonding was not due to an increase in aggressive behaviors. 

OHSU’s commitment to animal welfare, biomedical research 

OHSU understands and embraces the responsibility to provide compassionate and state-of-the-art health/veterinary care that comes with the privilege of working with animals, and our dedicated staff are committed to providing humane, respectful treatment for every animal in our care.

OHSU supports and adheres to the appropriately stringent Health Research Extension Act and Public Health Service Policy, the Animal Welfare Act, and Animal Welfare Regulations, with regular reviews (at least once yearly) and significant oversight provided by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) of the National Institutes of Health.

OHSU posts all USDA inspection reports on our public website as soon as they are available: West Campus; Marquam Hill and South Waterfront campuses

To further ensure our programs are taking extra steps to achieve excellence in animal care and use, OHSU voluntarily participates in AAALAC International, a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs. OHSU has a long history of successful AAALAC reviews and accreditation, dating back to 1974.

USDA inspectors visit OHSU at least once yearly to review the animals, facilities, food supply, medications and records, and their reports, once finalized, are publicly available, including on the OHSU website, for anyone interested in viewing them.

OHSU only allows animal studies when other nonanimal research methods, such as laboratory-based cell culture, simulation, gene chips or computer modeling are scientifically inadequate and/or when experimental designs are too dangerous for human participants. 

Before OHSU conducts any research with animals, the research must be approved for scientific value and justification of need for animals and species by peer review. Only after a study is deemed to be of scientific value is it possible to request approval from the OHSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).  

This rigorous review process evaluates factors such as details of the study design, steps taken in the study design to minimize pain and distress, and documentation of appropriate training of all study staff. Scientists also must demonstrate that the proposed study does not unnecessarily duplicate research previously conducted and must describe in detail the sources used to reach that conclusion. 

OHSU believes that knowledge gained through biomedical research in relevant animal models is essential to developing new ways to identify, prevent, treat or eradicate disease and to improve human and animal health. Our views on this topic reflect those of other academic health centers, universities, physicians and scientists throughout the world. 

Research in animals has led to vaccines for COVID-19, polio, smallpox, mumps, and measles; a vaccine platform for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and West Nile virus; new treatments for infertility, heart disease and diabetes; breakthroughs in Parkinson’s disease, blindness, stroke and depression. Through stem cell research, we have gained new insights that should transform our understanding of human health and biotechnology.

OHSU looks forward to a time when nonanimal research methods are capable of faithfully modeling the complexity of a living system; however, we are many years away from realizing that goal. The global scientific community doesn’t completely understand how a single cell works, and nonanimal research methods currently are incapable of interpreting it in any detail. 

*Peer-reviewed articles that show the mechanisms that regulate bonds between opposite-sex and same-sex mates, and both parents caring for their offspring, in prairie voles have been shown to play a role in human relationships include: 

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