The NIEHS animal care program received an exemplary rating for an unprecedented fourth straight period from AAALAC International, the body that certifies laboratory animal care at research institutions. Plus, for the second rating period in a row, the site visit team returned no suggestions for improvement (SFI) in the NIEHS program.
The care of laboratory animals at the institute is led by Kathy Laber, D.V.M., head of the Comparative Medicine Branch (CMB). “It is very rare for institutions to receive a single visit with no suggestions for improvement,” Laber said. “And even rarer to receive two consecutively.”
Excellence at all levels
“This outcome is truly rare — to have no SFIs,” confirmed Rear Admiral Terri Clark, D.V.M. , director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Animal Care and Use. Clark added that the site visit team leader made numerous glowing remarks about the quality and excellence of the program at all levels.
NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., emphasized that a whole team of individuals — approximately 85, according to Laber — contributes to the overall excellence of the program. “We have an exemplary animal program, and that is due to strong leadership and the dedicated, knowledgeable people who make up CMB and [who] support the effort as contractors,” he said.
Excellent care while searching for alternatives
AAALAC certification is a voluntary process that involves a rigorous review every three years. The group acknowledges that although animal research may be a controversial topic, AAALAC endorses the use of animals to advance medicine and science when there are no nonanimal alternatives. The review ensures that such research is done in an ethical and humane way.
NIEHS complements its excellent care of research animals — largely mice, along with a small number of rats — with efforts to find alternatives to animal use. One part of the interagency National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is housed at NIEHS, works specifically to find nonanimal alternatives in safety testing of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods , or NICEATM, developed a strategic roadmap to speed up development and adoption of alternative tests by regulatory agencies.
Thorough planning, state-of-the-art technology
Laber discussed a few of the procedures and techniques at NIEHS that contribute to high quality care. “We have a study meeting with the key people from CMB and the investigators prior to the initiation of animal studies,” she explained. “This ensures that everyone understands what is needed for the support of both the experiment and the animals.”
“We also provide critical on-the-spot information for animal husbandry technicians, supervisors, and the veterinary medical section to support optimal science and animal welfare,” Laber said. Use of state-of-the-art imaging systems allows researchers to conduct studies with fewer animals and to decrease the use of invasive procedures.