Officials of the National Institutes of Health are conducting their own investigation of the Silver Spring research facility raided last week by Montgomery County police for possible violations of Maryland's animal cruelty law.
If the allegations against the facility are true, NIH officials say, they will consider cutting off all funds to the Institute for Behavioral Research. Last year the institute received $160,000 in grants from the NIH for its research projects.
"Suffice it to say, if it is shown that" the allegations are true "we would be faced with a serious violation" of NIH standards, said Dr. William Raub of NIH's Office for Extramural Research and Training, which has overall responsibility for grants and contracts.
When police entered the Brookeville Road facility they said they found "monkeys who were in such physical and mental stress that they appeared to have bitten off their fingers and arms, or whose cages were locked together so that they injured each other."
Montgomery County detectives and an assistant state attorney are currently reviewing documents and materials seized from IBR in the first raid ever conducted against a NIH-funded project.
No charges have been filed against anyone connected with the institute, said police spokeswoman Nancy Moses, who added that a "nationally renowned expert on primates" is being flown in to examine 17 crab-eating macaque and rhesus monkeys used in the facility's neurological research and seized by police last Friday.
But other charges may be pending against persons involved with the case who may have violated a Maryland law forbidding the disclosure of information in police search warrants, which are ordinarily sealed as "state secrets" until an indictment has been obtained. Sources said a closed hearing on that matter will be conducted today in Montgomery County circuit court.
Although NIH has strict criteria regarding laboratory conditions in research using animals, last week's raid was based on an 1890 Maryland law outlawing cruelty to animals. NIH officials said they were startled to hear of the allegations against the Institute for Behavioral Research.
"It was surprising. We had received no complaint as to the conditions of this facility from any source," said Bill Dommel, of NIH's Office for Protection from Research Risks.
Dommel added that all who request funds for laboratory research must either receive accreditation from the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care or establish an institutional committee to regularly review compliance with NIH guidelines regarding animal care.
"They established the committee and it found that they were in accordance with the guidelines in April of 1979," Dommel said. "In November 1980 the committee again conducted a review and found no problems."
Those guidelines, developed by the National Academy of Sciences, outline a wide array of rules dealing with housing, sanitation and health care for laboratory animals, he added.
In the area of sanitation for example, the guidelines stress that facilities should be kept "clean, neat and uncluttered" with regular schedules for sanitary maintenance and disinfectants to keep animals and the facility free from filth and contamination.