Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Regulations for Animal Research

Yesterday, we started talking about animal-based research, and the importance of healthy, non-stressed animals for all concerned. Today, I want to focus on the regulations that address humane care.

Even if researchers didn’t have a vested interest in keeping their animals healthy, there are federal laws in place to protect the animals, as well as personnel at every research institution to enforce these laws. If researchers break the rules, their funding gets pulled and their lab gets shut down. Not exactly a career-maker.

A researcher can’t just start experimenting. The research process is set up in a way that requires researchers to receive approval before using animals for research. There are a number of steps in place to make sure that the proposed research is:
  1. useful to public health, and
  2. has the proper steps to ensure that the animals are used humanely, and only as necessary.
Before researchers can begin an experiment, they propose their research project to obtain funding. This is where reviewers will assess the validity of the project. Then, they must also receive permission to carry out the experiments on their chosen subjects. For basic researchers using animal models, this permission is granted by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). They make sure that the animal use is appropriate, the protocols are humane, and that, once approved, the protocols are followed.

Having applied for IACUC permission myself, I can tell you they are extremely thorough and beyond simply approving protocol, may also propose alternate protocols that improve the experimental design and the welfare of the experimental animals. Once the protocols are approved, the research can begin.

There are a few other things to keep in mind throughout this whole process:
  1. The term animal model doesn’t refer only to the whole animal. Researchers can also use tissues or cells from an animal rather than the whole animal. I promise you, when researchers can do that, they do. This is easier, cheaper, and many researchers prefer to not use live animals. But in some instances, they need the whole animal. This is especially important when you’re considering how a treatment might affect the entire system (i.e. the cardiovascular system), and not just an organ (i.e. the heart).

  2. I also want to point out that these experiments are not just for human health, but also for animals. Many developed therapies are used to keep pets and farm animals healthy as well. Just recently I read about an experimental cancer treatment that is being tested in dogs that have cancer. These dogs have no other options for treatment, and so they have been enrolled in the study to test this treatment. If successful, researchers will have developed a cancer therapy for dogs - saving some dogs’ lives in the process - and gotten one step closer to treating cancer in humans as well.
Speaking of humans, it's probably about time we started talking about how all of this basic research and animal research applies to human health. The series will be back next Tuesday, when we'll discuss the next step in the process - clinical research trials.

This is Part 5 of 13 in our From Ideas to Treatments series.
Part 1 - From Ideas to Treatments
Part 2 - Basic Research: It Starts with an Idea
Part 3 - You're an Animal!
Part 4 - Can I care about animals and do research too?
Part 5 - Regulations for Animal Research
Part 6 - Clinical Research Trials
Part 7 - Patient Safety in Clinical Trials: IRB Approval
Part 8 - Recruitment
Part 9 - Health Disparities in Clinical Research
Part 10 - A Brief History of Inclusion Policies
Part 11 - Breaking News: Women and Men are Different
Part 12 - Including Minorities in Clinical Trial Research
Part 13 - Bringing From Ideas to Treatments Home

1 comment:

  1. We need animals for testing, and long as they are treated humanely, animal testing is a great thing.