Research with humans and animals is a complex task, requiring scientists to go through an approval process to ensure humane treatment of their participants, no matter the species. This is an introduction to research ethics applications for those interested in doing research with humans and animals. Part 1 focused on research in humans. In this post, we’ll focus on animal research.
The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 was brought about by two major media publications. In Sports Illustrated, Pepper, the Dalmatian, had disappeared from her family’s front yard, only to have been found at an east coast hospital and after having been euthanized, following an experimental medical research study involving an early model of a pacemaker. Pepper had been snatched from her owner’s front yard, and then sold for use in medical research, all without their knowledge. Later, Life magazine published a horrifying piece titled Concentration Camps for Dogs. It focused on a farm in Maryland, where dogs had been kept under inhumane conditions before being sold to research laboratories. After the release of these stories, public outcries forced the US Congress into action, and spearheaded by Senator Bob Dole, the first version of the Animal Welfare Act was enacted.
Along with creating laws for animal welfare and ethical treatment, an amendment to this new Act led to the creation of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC). These committees are required to be a part of research institutions across the country, anywhere where animal research occurs. To this day, IACUC’s oversee and approve animal research for their given institutions, provide anonymous reporting for animal welfare issues, and ensure that research protocols follow the animal welfare laws and ethical guidelines through rigorous protocol oversight and twice yearly, scheduled inspections. Within animal research protocols, these committees focus on the potential distress, discomfort, and pain the animal(s) might experience in the process of the experiment, considering where alternatives may be used and where pain medication may be given. The committee also reviews appropriate care and enrichment for the research animals during their tenure with the institution, and in some cases, the committee approves the adoption of research animals after research has been completed. Since its inception, the Animal Welfare Act has been amended eight times, continually improving upon the rules and regulations researchers and institutions must follow in order to conduct research on animals.
At all U.S. research institutions, including IU, in order to conduct any sort of vertebrate animal research, including observational research in the wild, researchers must submit a study protocol for approval by IACUC. Within the study protocol, researchers are required to explain the overall study design and justify the use of animals in the research. They must also describe how the animals will be cared for, what measures are being taken to reduce distress, discomfort, and pain; they can list potential funding sources, and give proof that all collaborators have taken the required training courses through the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative program. If you are interested in doing animal research here at IU, please feel free to contact IUB’s IACUC at email@example.com to learn more.
I personally have worked with two different IACUCs, BIACUC here at IU, and IACUC at the Ape Initiative, in Des Moines, Iowa. As part of my graduate training, I am conducting research with the captive bonobo population in Des Moines, so my study protocols are reviewed by two committees. It took almost a year and a half to put together my first study protocol to submit to the Ape Initiative. Throughout that time, I was working with my collaborators in my lab, the research coordinator, and the director of Ape Initiative to make sure my study followed their rules, and adhered to all the federal and state animal welfare laws. I also had to follow up with my collaborators to ensure they had completed their training so that I could submit their certifications with my study protocol.
Institution committee meetings vary depending on the institution, and depending on the time of year and the semester, this can increase the time it takes for them to review protocols. This is all to say that once you have submitted a protocol, it could take months before you even hear back about whether it’s been approved. The best way to ensure your protocol is approved is to work closely with IACUC support teams (e.g., manager, director) if you have any questions about writing the study into specific forms, and with the animal caretakers and primary veterinarian for dietary and enrichment information. Once the Ape Initiative IACUC approved my study, I sent the approval letter and the protocol to BIACUC, where I received a letter stating support for the protocol. Both institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding — a document stating that each institution will keep the other in the loop of any changes to the protocol and animal welfare and health during the duration of the study.
Just like with humans, research with animals requires a lot of paperwork, but ensuring the safety and health of your participants makes it all worth it!
Thank you to Susan Glowacz, IU’s IACUC Manager, for her feedback and assistance with making sure this post reflects the most up-to-date and accurate information.