She Hurt Monkeys, Then Got Promoted: Michele Basso’s Cruel Career Timeline

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Michele Basso has magically turned one failure after another into promotion after promotion in her bloody and pockmarked career. She’s a case study in failing upward.

Basso is the director of the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC), a position she inexplicably reached despite a decades-long rap sheet at institutions across the country showing that she refuses to follow the rules, doesn’t get along with others, and does what she wants—and badly.

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But now she is in charge and oversees the people who may object to her methods.

PETA is calling on the Board of Regents at the University of Washington (UW), which runs the primate center, to wake up, shake off whatever spell Basso cast on them, and fire her—immediately.

Here’s Why

Basso’s depraved experiments involve invasive surgeries, including cutting holes in primates’ skulls to attach metal headposts, inserting electrodes into their brains, and implanting wire coils in their eyes. She forces monkeys to face a computer screen for hours and limits their fluids, keeping them thirsty to enforce their cooperation in pointless tests.

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Basso’s résumé includes stints at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA). Neither school had good things to say about her.

Basso was a professor at UW-Madison from 2000 to 2012. Her less-than-stellar time there included violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) for being unwilling or unable to meet even basic requirements for animal care. There was also this nugget from her boss, the then-chancellor of the school, which was sent to all university staff in 2010:

Basso … has been cited by university animal care committees for a range of problems over a five-and-a-half-year period. Despite repeated efforts and an unambiguous warning by the School of Medicine and Public Health’s … [animal care committee], problems recurred.

Basso’s primate laboratory was then shut down, an inglorious distinction attained by few, even in the bloody business of animal experimentation.

There was also this comment from the chief campus veterinarian, describing Basso’s inability to play nice with others: “There is a lengthy history of non-cooperation with veterinary staff, including failure to follow explicit instructions.”

The veterinarian also said that Basso’s medical records were “often incomplete or inaccessible” and that “despite training, [she] insists that it is unclear what needs to be recorded in a medical record.”

But perhaps more disturbingly, the veterinarian called out Basso’s shoddy surgical techniques. “Recently it was discovered that [Basso] has been inserting unsterilized materials into brain tissue,” which, the veterinarian said, could explain why so many of the animals in her laboratory developed abscesses and “chronic inflammation.”

(Still) Doesn’t Play Nice With Others

In 2012, Basso moved on to UCLA for the next decade. Her time there was peppered with more conflict with veterinarians. Documents from 2020 show that she was asking around for veterinary advice from anyone who wasn’t the university’s head veterinarian or her staff.

Perhaps that was because a veterinarian raised concerns about Basso’s poor surgical outcomes during a five-week period and her disagreement about the veterinary staff’s post-surgical pain management plan. A review committee forced Basso to bring in an experienced surgeon to train and assist her.

Fun fact: Basso was actually a member of the committee that sanctioned her.

In 2021, the committee called a meeting solely to address veterinary concerns about Basso’s experiments on monkeys. It resulted in a formal letter of instruction to her laying down the law about her treatment of veterinary staff. The staff would have “full and final authority” on animals, and the head veterinarian would have full involvement in managing primates in Basso’s laboratory.

Street art for national primate research center call to closure

But Basso’s response to the letter led the committee to believe that she was under the mistaken impression that there were no animal welfare concerns, which wasn’t the case at all. The committee sent her a second letter to clarify and reiterate this.

A few months later, just before moving to the University of Washington, Basso tried to get permission to perform another surgery and virus injection on a primate. The animal review committee wanted her to justify this. She didn’t bother.

But when veterinary staff found out she was leaving and taking the monkey and others with her, they called a meeting with UW staff to prevent her from getting the approval she wanted from her new employer. That’s how little they trusted her.

New Job, Same Problems

Basso became director of the WaNPRC in October 2021. Her problems followed her there.

One of the primates Basso brought with her from UCLA arrived with missing hair on his legs and immediately began losing weight. As with many of the primates in her labs, there was a device implanted in his skull. When Basso tried to replace it in March 2022, three screws cracked. She removed them with a drill.

Washington National Primate Research Center at the University of Washington

Basso—who, mind you, isn’t a surgeon—put in a new implant, grinding 11 ceramic screws into the monkey’s skull. A year later, the implant broke off while Basso was using it.

Rumblings of Discontent

Over the past two years, the university’s animal oversight committee has reported multiple animal welfare violations in the laboratories of WaNPRC neuroscientists. The committee’s chair has even publicly expressed frustration with an unnamed neuroscience experimenter who has had multiple problems with monkeys.

The committee hasn’t publicly named the problem experimenter, but we have a feeling we know who it is.

Help Get Basso Sacked

Basso has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, not a medical degree, and no veterinary license, but nonetheless, she’s at the top of the heap at the WaNPRC.

Her tenure at the primate center has been about as effective as her experiments. Under her leadership, critical positions have remained unfilled, with vacancies in primate technician, husbandry, and veterinary positions. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to cite UW for violations of the AWA for incidents involving primates.

PETA urges the UW Board of Regents to sack Basso. Right now.

You can help by taking action today to urge UW to shut down the WaNPRC.

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