Animal facility to open

A 20,000-square-foot care facility for research animals will open as early as June on Northwestern’s Evanston Campus, a senior NU scientist said.

The new facility will house as many as 10,000 mice cages and will employ about a dozen staff members when it opens in the Arthur and Gladys Pancoe-Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Life Sciences Pavilion, according to Thomas Welsh, director of NU’s Center for Comparative Medicine, which plays a large role in research involving animals.

Plans for the facility have been in place since construction began on the building, which opened Fall Quarter, Welsh said.

He added that the care center should help address problems surrounding treatment and management of research animals that have nagged NU researchers during the past several years.

“The main emphasis behind the construction was related to the increase in the research that goes on at Northwestern University,” Welsh said. Sponsored research at NU reached more than $325 million in 2003.

“The institution has been trying to improve its animal research facilities,” Welsh said. “But none of this was directly related to any issues we’ve had.”

On the Chicago Campus, the 12-story Robert H. Lurie Medical Center also will include a two-story, 68,000-square-foot facility for research-animal care that will open in mid-2005. The Lurie Center is scheduled to be completed in January.

The two new facilities are part of a larger NU initiative to improve the facilities and support for NU’s booming research volume, said Vice President for Research C. Bradley Moore.

University financial officers have asked for more than $6 million in new research support in the 2004-05 budget.

The new money will fund a number of areas, Moore said, ranging from new research staff to more powerful computers for keeping track of grants, animals and research activities.

“The problems that you’ve been hearing about — reading about in the newspaper — are primarily related to the bookkeeping, the accounting, the managing,” Moore said.

One of the largest new initiatives to augment research administration involves an online Web portal for researchers that will compile financial research data — such as expenditures and grant information — in a more accessible format.

Moore said the portal will allow researchers to manage their projects better.

NU paid the federal government $5.5 million in February 2003 to settle allegations that the university mismanaged the amount of time researchers spent working on federally-sponsored research projects between 1995 and 2001.

The portal has been in development for several months and will be unveiled to research staff and faculty in stages during the next three years, Moore said.

In the area of research on human subjects, Moore said the university will boost the staffing of research review panels.

The size and number of these panels — which examine projects to ensure their compliance with government regulations — have not kept up with the increasing amount of research at NU, he said.

The university has seen an increase in the volume of its research in recent years, administrators said. While the new research has brought NU prestige and notoriety, university officials have been slow in matching the new research volume with required structural support.

Such shortcomings have contributed to the poor accounting and management practices that have sparked several federal investigations into university research practices during the past several years.

“A lot of it is simply accounting — doing better in the way you account for what you’ve done,” said University President Henry Bienen. “Investigators do different projects, they deal with a lot of money, and the regulations are incredibly detailed and change all the time. It’s not easy to do this.”