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UW-Madison researchers dealing with human or animal test subjects will have a new tool for navigating ethical uncertainties.

The university announced last week the creation of the Research Ethics Consultation Service, which will provide assistance to researchers on campus and at affiliated research centers.

The announcement comes roughly seven weeks after the National Institutes of Health cleared a UW-Madison laboratory of cat abuse allegations made by the animal rights group PETA. While there had been a recurring problem of infections related to the placement of head caps, eye coils and ear coils, the NIH found that cats generally were treated according to industry standards.

The consultation service is co-directed by Norman Fost, professor of pediatrics and bioethics in the School of Medicine and Public Health; and Pilar Ossorio, professor of law and bioethics and ethics scholar-in-residence at the university’s Morgridge Institute for Research. The idea is to provide varying levels of consultation based on the challenges of each case. For more complex situations, the consultation service will bring together a panel of university experts in topics such as human subjects, animal welfare, intellectual property or conflict of interest.

Ossorio estimates the service will get 20 to 30 inquiries a year based on consultation programs at other universities.

Researcher working on Nile dam data

With water politics in Africa becoming an increasingly contentious, a UW-Madison professor is seeking to add to the debate objective data about the impact of a new dam on the Nile River.

Paul Block, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is working with a team of students to develop a computer model that would predict outcomes of different methods of filling the reservoir to be held by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is under construction.

The dam has raised concerns from Sudan and Egypt about its impact on their water supply — particularly the impact on future water levels in Egypt’s Lake Nasser. The dam’s reservoir would hold an estimated 63 to 74 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile and the speed at which it is filled could have major implications.

Block has studied water management in Ethiopia for about a decade and said a lack of monitoring of precipitation is a challenge, but he aims to create a model that accounts for variables like climate change, evaporation and rainfall.


Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal