Editor's Note: This story has been revised for objectivity regarding the allegations.
UPDATE: This story has also been updated to include the university's official responses from WSU Director of Communications Matt Lockwood and Provost Margaret Winters regarding animal research and Professor Woodyard's allegations and resignation. Both statements can be read below. The South End regrets this oversight.
Lockwood: "Wayne State University denies the (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) charges. The PCRM is dedicated to ending animal research of any kind, a viewpoint unsupported by many organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Wayne State is committed to the protection of animals, but also recognizes the benefits of research involving animals. Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century – for both human and animal health.
"From antibiotics to blood transfusions, from dialysis to chemotherapy, bypass surgery and joint replacement, practically every present-day protocol for the prevention, treatment, cure and control of disease, pain and suffering is based on knowledge attained through research with animals. Every winter we hear about someone having a heart attack while shoveling snow. Certain types of exercise trigger a type of feedback loop in people with high blood pressure or modest heart failure. How this feedback loop is triggered and why it escalates to a heart attack under certain conditions, like shoveling snow, is not well understood. Research at Wayne State is making progress uncovering the factors that contribute to this deadly cycle.
"The animal laboratories at Wayne State are subject to surprise inspections, veterinary oversight, and intense scrutiny by the United States Department of Agriculture; our record is exemplary.
"The USDA conducted inspection of Wayne State’s animal laboratories on Nov. 12 and 13, 2013, following PCRM allegations and the USDA found no problems whatsoever. The USDA also inspected WSU’s animal labs between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, 2011. No violations were found. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare also concurred on Jan. 27, 2012, with a Wayne State Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee investigation that found no evidence of noncompliance with the federal policy on humane care and use of laboratory animals.
"Wayne State University is committed to ensuring that all research and teaching protocols using live animals are designed and carried out in a humane manner that complies with all laws, policies, and guidelines. The university has the highest level of ethical standards in conducting biomedical research, as well as the highest level of care for animals used in research, and has been accredited by the Association of Assessment and Accreditation for Laboratory Animal Care International since its inception.
"The university strictly adheres to the policy of using only as many animals as reasonably necessary, minimizing pain and distress, and using alternatives whenever feasible."
"I really want to emphasize that Dean (Farshad) Fotouhi is doing a good job," Provost Margaret Winters said. "A great deal of what we see going on here is that some older, more established faculty frankly don’t want to see change."
Winters said the allegations were taken very seriously. After examining the allegations, the provost said that no lack of integrity could be found, but Fotouhi was asked to make some changes, which he has, or is, in the process of doing.
“We could find no basis at all for the lack of integrity allegations,” Winters said. “We had the accounts audited twice and found no misconduct.”
Allegations of integrity violations and animal abuse were raised during the Board of Governors meeting Feb. 7. The meeting, held in the Mazurek Education Commons of the School of Medicine, featured public comments that accuse university officials of participating in harmful, unproductive research and fund mismanagement, among other offenses.
James Woodyard, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, said Engineering Dean Farshad Fotouhi "lacks integrity” because of numerous instances of fund mismanagement, harassment and violation of university policy over the past two years.
“I regret very much that it is necessary to go public with this issue,” Woodyard said. “I met with President Wilson on Tuesday and urged him to do due diligence on the issue … I am a strong and proud member of this community and I in no way want to tarnish the image of Wayne State University to our community. (Wilson) indicated that I should do what I needed to do. Since I believe in integrity, which is the cornerstone of academia, I feel that I have to come before the board and express my position on this.”
Woodyard circulated a list of offenses he alleges were perpetuated by Fotouhi through the audience. According to his statement, in 2012 Fotouhi “consistently made derogatory and abusive statements” to a development officer that led to her transferring to another department. In another instance, Fotouhi approved the installation of more than $200,000 in outdated technology without informing the chair or faculty, and then later denied have any knowledge of the project.
Woodyard formally resigned from his position following his comments.
“I’m not negotiating this,” he said. “I’ve made a decision that I must leave Wayne State University.”
In response, Wilson said he had assessed the situation thoroughly.
“I completely recognize that you and other members of this committee feel very strongly about your issue,” he said. “I want to state for the record that after our meeting in November, that I went through every page of that document that you gave me, as well as the provost, and I interviewed other members of the school of engineering. I’m sorry that our final recommendation is not to your satisfaction, but I hope that we can continue to move on … for the betterment of the College of Engineering and the university, and I very much appreciate your service.”
Before Woodyard spoke, Kenneth Litwak, a veterinarian who serves as the associate director of laboratory medicine for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, asked the board to cease the practice of using dogs in cardiovascular research at the university. Litwak said the experiments are cruel and the results are not valid for use in human research.
“Young, healthy dogs are subjected to as many as four surgical procedures on their hearts and blood vessels over a six-to-eight week period,” Litwak said. “Up to twelve different devices are implanted in each dog … each device is prone to failure, causing harm to the dogs … wires and tubes are prone to infection, as seen from many dogs being treated for postoperative infections.”
Litwak said dogs who survive the surgeries have hypertension or heart failure artificially created for further study. Although the experiments are meant to help researchers understand limitations in humans with heart failure and high blood pressure, Litwak said the results create “redundant” and “erroneous and non-translatable findings.”
“A dog with hypertension created by occluding blood flow and heart failure created by tachycardia poorly represent humans with hypertension and heart failure,” Litwak said.
Beatrice Friedlander, a representative of the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan and a WSU alumnus, also spoke on the issue. She read a letter signed by Animal Law Section Chair Jennifer Pierce that questioned the ethicalness of using dogs in research at WSU.
“We are concerned with Wayne State’s practices related to these experiments, in which multiple surgeries are performed on dogs and animals are forced to run on treadmills,” the letter reads. “In addition, we are alarmed by the use and killing of dogs in experiments that are scientifically unsound and unnecessary to improving public health.”
According to the statement, WSU has violated the Animal Welfare Act, which requires that discomfort is minimized for animals used in research.
“In light of the above, and considering the ethical concerns related to using dogs in highly invasive and deadly experiments and the availability of human-based research methods for acquiring knowledge of cardiovascular disease, the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan urges Wayne State University’s Board of Governors to compel school leaders and faculty to halt the use of dogs in heart failure experiments,” the letter concluded.
Woodyard provided what he said documented the offenses leveled against Fotouhi to the governors. After resigning, he left the audience with an anecdote regarding the importance of integrity in a university setting.
“On the front of this packet is a photograph,” he said, referencing his documentation. “It has the seal of Wayne State University and it indicates integrity. The background shows a sculpture. That sculpture — I chaired the committee that led to that sculpture. It’s in memory of one of our faculty members who was murdered in the classroom. He was murdered over the issue of integrity. He had a student who was not capable of meeting the requirements for the Ph.D, and he declined to be that student’s advisor any longer, and the student murdered him.
“That professor is an international expert — had high standards, integrity … we expect the provost to hold that standard and defend it,” Woodyard said.