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A full study is in progress, but who pays after the pilot?

In the beginning, everything about Dr. Tonya Abraham’s protocol was unremarkable. She was requesting 130 rats for a study to explore the feasibility of using an antibody to interrupt a metabolic pathway associated with chemically induced colon cancer. The study was internally funded by Great Eastern University’s Department of Oncology and the department chairman had signed off on the protocol, indicating that he had reviewed and approved it. The protocol stated that a full study with 120 rats would only be performed if an initial pilot study with 10 rats showed promise. The study with 130 rats was approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and after the pilot study was completed, and following the standard procedure of the IACUC, the committee reviewed the results of the pilot study and agreed with Abraham that the full study with 120 rats could proceed as per the protocol.

A few weeks later, with the full study already in progress, the department chairman was routinely reviewing his department’s monthly research expenses when he saw the charge for the 120 rats and associated per diem charges. He asked Abraham for an explanation, which she provided, but much to her surprise the chairman criticized her for spending money he had not approved. It soon became clear that there was a serious misunderstanding. The chairman thought he was approving the pilot study and the full study would be performed only if Abraham could attract a research grant to support it. Abraham thought the chairman was approving both the pilot and the full study, and she would submit a grant for funding future research based on the results of the current study. The immediate problem was that there were insufficient departmental funds to support the expensive ongoing study. This information was transmitted to the IACUC office and the vivarium. The department chairman wanted the study to stop before additional expenses were incurred. Abraham asked the Institutional Official to help fund the study, but he washed his hands of the matter, saying that it was the department’s problem. The attending veterinarian felt that stopping the study would waste the lives of all 120 animals, and Tonya Abraham, who was a new assistant professor and principal investigator, was too afraid and upset to even voice an opinion. How would you suggest resolving this problem?

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Correspondence to Jerald Silverman.

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Silverman, J. A full study is in progress, but who pays after the pilot?. Lab Anim 48, 129 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41684-019-0284-z

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