Campus News

Handled with care

Maintaining consistently high standards

Refinement, reduction, replacement drive ethical considerations for Office of Animal Care and Use

The Office of Animal Care and Use, in the Office of the Vice President for Research, oversees the university’s use of vertebrate animals for research and instruction. Dr. Christopher King, who joined the OACU as director and assistant vice president for research in 2004, spoke with Columns about the OACU.

Columns: What does OACU do?
The OACU has two key roles at UGA: research compliance and research facilitation. Compliance activities are executed through our support of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which oversees all research and instruction using animals at UGA. The University Research Animal Resources unit provides facilitation with hands-on management and care for animals used in biomedical research.

Columns: What are the biggest challenges you face?
We always want to maintain consistently high standards of animal care, even in times of fiscal constraints. We’ve got all kinds of animals here: from mice to zebrafish to horses and cows to amphibians to primates. Maintaining high quality care is a challenge and obligation that we take very seriously.

Columns: What do you take pride in?
The URAR is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditations of Laboratory ­Animal Care, International. Only 30 percent of land-grant universities have that accreditation. It sends a clear message to our stakeholders that we value high quality animal care and use. The staff of URAR does all the husbandry and routine care of laboratory animals and can provide technical support, too. This accreditation is largely due to their commitment and ­compassionate care, and I’m extremely proud of them.

The IACUC is also a huge point of pride. The people who serve on it do so voluntarily. The members we have right now are just awesome. They range from faculty researchers to members of the community. They spend a great deal of their time reviewing proposed research and inspecting facilities and programs-30 sites twice a year. They take their responsibilities very seriously and are critical to our mission.

Columns: How do you answer ­queries about animal care at UGA?
The best response is to show you have a very strong, high quality animal care and use program. ­Letting the three “Rs”-refinement, reduction and replacement-drive the ethical considerations in everything you do is vital.

Refinement refers to looking for and using techniques that expose the animals to less potential pain and distress.

Reduction means reducing the number of animals needed for research, and reducing the variables that cause increased animal use, such as maintaining even temperatures, lighting and noise. The better control, the better the science is going to be, and the fewer animals you’re going to need for statistical validity. Reusing animals where appropriate and within humane care guidelines is also important.

Replacement refers to replacing live animals with models, such as tissue and cell cultures, computer models and replacing higher phylogeny with lower phylogeny-like using fruit flies instead of mice-where practical.

Columns: What do you most want people to know about OACU?
Most folks don’t know the high level of institutional oversight and compliance, including rigorous self-policing, that’s involved in our care and use of animals. We’ve got a lot of people looking at us from the outside as well-the USDA gives us surprise inspections at least once a year and the National Institutes of Health can drop in, too. Researchers also should know that we’re here to help them. High quality research requires high quality animal care, and we want to make sure that both those things happen.