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Committee Advises on Alternative Toxicological Methods

By Robin Mackar
July 2010

Bucher, left, and Birnbaum
Bucher and Birnbaum listened and responded to discussions at the two-day SACATM meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Warren Casey, Ph.D.
Warren Casey, Ph.D., the new deputy director for NICEATM, listened carefully to discussions. Casey presented on the validation of endocrine disruptor test methods the first afternoon of the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Diggs, left, and Ehrich
SACATM members Diggs, left, and Ehrich engaged in discussions about creating more awareness about alternative toxicological methods. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Brown, left, and Corcoran
Brown, left, and Corcoran had much to offer on a wide variety of topics at the recent SACATM meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Bucher, left, and James Freeman, Ph.D.
SACATM Chair, James Freeman, Ph.D., center, led discussion by SACATM members. Seated to his right is Bucher. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Soon Young Han. Ph.D., left, Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., center, and Chae-Hyung Lim, D.V.M., right,
International guests from Korea spend some quality time with Birnbaum, center, during the SACATM meeting. Soon Young Han. Ph.D., left, and Chae-Hyung Lim, D.V.M., right, joined Birnbaum during a break in the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Maximizing animal care and welfare, increasing awareness about alternative toxicological methods, vaccine potency testing, validation issues, and hearing updates on federal and international acceptance of alternative methods were just a few of the topics covered at the June 17-18 meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Alternative Toxicological Methods Meeting (SACATM) ( held on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., provided a warm welcome to all, especially to the international partners in attendance, including Joachim Kreysa, Ph.D., of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), Soon Young Han, Ph.D., director of the newly established Korean Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods (KoCVAM) and David Blakely, Ph.D., of Health Canada, who joined the meeting by teleconference. Birnbaum praised the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) and the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) ( for their progress, highlighting the endorsement or adoption of 33 new alternative methods. She also mentioned that she just forwarded two of the first "green technology" ICCVAM test method recommendations to federal agencies for their approval.

Updates and discussion

William Stokes, D.V.M., provided an update on activities. He drew attention to a new publication The Biennial Progress Report 2008-2009: Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods ( which describes ICCVAM activities, test method recommendations, and other progress made during the reporting period. He highlighted some key accomplishments and spoke about upcoming workshops of interest, including the ''International Workshop on Alternative Methods to Reduce, Refine, and Replace the Use of Animals in Vaccine Potency and Safety Testing: State of the Science and Future Directions'' to be held in Bethesda, Md. September 14-16.

Stokes queried SACATM on the topics of outreach, industry participation, and how to address some regulatory responses to methods. The group had many ideas to share about how to create more awareness for study directors and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) ( Exit NIEHS to make sure they consider alternative methods.

SACATM member Karen Brown, Ph.D., began the discussion by saying outreach efforts need to be expanded beyond the toxicology community to other groups, including industry. "Regulatory agencies and industry have to work together," said Brown. She suggested inviting industry representatives to workshops and presentations to hear about the savings in time, money, and labor that alternative testing methods can often provide. 

Marion F. Ehrich, Ph.D., Sharon Meyer, Ph.D., Linda A. Toth, D.V.M., Ph.D., and others suggested more be done to reach out to laboratory animal veterinarians and personnel. They suggested placing articles in publications that lab technicians read such as Nature's "Lab Animal" as a way to increase awareness about alternative testing methods, as well as getting more concise, yet comprehensive articles into the peer-reviewed literature.

Participants also offered ideas for expanding training grants and other NIH grant mechanisms.  George Corcoran, Ph.D., suggested providing travel funds for IACUC members to attend more meetings and workshops.

Helen Diggs, D.V.M., proposed using new media to help create awareness and training for study directors and IACUC members. "I suggest developing Web-based or other training programs that people can access at their leisure," Diggs said. "These are very busy people who don't have time or money to travel to hear about the newest methods."

Members also offered ideas for encouraging industry to submit testing data to NICEATM and providing data for proprietary products from companies without revealing the product identity.

(Robin Mackar is the news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

Shown, left  to right, are Soon Young Han, Birnbaum, Stokes, Joachim Kreysa, and Jodie Kulpa-Eddy, D.V.M.
Some of the international collaborators took time from their busy schedule to pose for a picture during their June visit to RTP. Shown, left to right, are Soon Young Han, Birnbaum, Stokes, Joachim Kreysa, and ICCVAM Vice-Chair Jodie Kulpa-Eddy, D.V.M., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture look cool in the hot summer sun.  (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Assessment of Acute and Chronic Pain in Animals

A thoughtful and engaging talk, filled with real life practical guidance by veterinary anesthesiologist Alicia Karas, D.V.M., from Tufts University on the first morning of the meeting, set the stage for discussions throughout the meeting. Her talk "Assessment of Acute and Chronic Pain in Animals" was a follow-up to a presentation made at last year's SACATM meeting by the chair of the National Research Council Report ( Exit NIEHS on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals. Karas is one of a handful of experts actively pursuing research in this area.

Karas explained that you have to know something about what an animal's normal behaviors are, such as their eating, sleeping, nest-building, drinking, fighting and grooming habits.  She showed short video clips of mice and rats behaving normally. She also talked about how to use behavioral cues such as changes in movement, nesting, food and water consumption, lack of grooming, posture, and things like weight loss to determine if an animal could be experiencing pain.

"Any large scale, robust measure to assess pain and distress must be simple and involve short observation periods," was one of the take home messages Karas left with the group.

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