Following a spate of violence aimed at animal research facilities in the late 1990s, universities have worked to create greater transparency around scientific testing while maintaining stringent security to protect staff and animals.
A higher ed institution’s website can play a large role in demonstrating the value of this research and how animals are cared for, says Paula Clifford, executive director of Americans for Medical Progress, a national nonprofit advocating animal research.
Universities increasingly publish mission statements explaining their use of animals in research, and many provide detailed cases studies from individual projects.
CML 3145 (Common Law): Animals and the Law
Taught by Daphne Gilbert, associate professor of Common Law, University of Ottawa (Canada)
“Legal, historical and philosophical approaches to the treatment of non-human animals and the legal regimes regulating their treatment.”
Pictures have been particularly effective in showing where animals live and how they look before and after procedures, Clifford says. “This helps to put the work in context for viewers. All the animals used are protected.”
Releasing data on the number and kind of research animals on campus—as well as offering live tours of research facilities to the public and policymakers—can also improve perceptions of this type of science, she says.
At the same time, institutions have tightened security at research facilities, says Jeff Henegar, director of the Office of Animal Care and Quality Assurance at the University of Missouri. The school stations security personnel at all buildings where animal research is performed, even when there is no work taking place.
“The University of Wisconsin–Madison is committed to ethical and humane animal research [and] remains committed to providing the public with information about animal care and the research process on our campus. We will continue to make reports from USDA inspections of UW–Madison animals and facilities available on our own website.”
—University of Wisconsin–Madison statement on U.S. Department of Agriculture online records access, in response to the USDA having removed inspection and enforcement documents previously available on the agency’s website
Labs at research universities, like elsewhere, must follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for animal research established under the Animal Welfare Act.
This includes providing animals with adequate housing, sanitation, nutrition, water and veterinary care, says Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. They must also protect animals from extreme weather and temperatures.
At Missouri, there are about 400 open studies involving animals. On-staff veterinarans and vet techs help researchers daily with animal care. This type of environment keeps schools in compliance but also serves a critical scientific purpose, says Henegar. “Healthy, happy animals are the only research model that works.”
Missouri adopts out animals once their research purposes are complete, he adds. Many veterinary students take in cat and dogs, and other adoptable animals are locally advertised. In the past decade, the university has found homes for 394 dogs, 293 cats, 30 hamsters, 23 rats, 10 guinea pigs and eight gerbils.
The university continues to refine its research practices, says Henegar. For instance, veterinary students conduct simpler experiments that research scientists don’t have time for. In a recent project, students monitored room climate to determine the best temperature for housing research mice.
Missouri continues to search for alternatives to animal testing, Henegar says. University scientists will allow different cell cultures to interact in a matrix to identify harmful compounds, for example. In the past, animal trials were the most effective way to test these combinations.
“Right now, using animals is the only way we can do advanced research,” says Henegar. “We provide our best care for them, as we value their contribution to our mission.”