UAWC Functions & the Principles of Humane Care and Use of Animals

Although the details of humane animal care and use may differ among the different regulatory bodies, the principles are the same. Investigators are ultimately responsible for compliance with all applicable regulations, however, it is the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and the institutional veterinary staff that normally interpret the animal welfare regulations and establish guidelines for investigators to follow that will satisfy these principles. Here at NYU Washington Square Campus, the IACUC is named the University Animal Welfare Committee or UAWC. The principles and functions of the UAWC are as follows:

  • Committee Review

All animal use activities at an institution must undergo review by the UAWC. The committee must have diverse membership, including a scientist, a veterinarian and a member from outside the institution. This Federal and State mandated review process by the UAWC is to assure humane treatment and compliance with internationally accepted and Federal/State government mandated animal welfare standards. The UAWC is able to conduct its review by asking very specific questions pertaining to animal welfare. Since the answers to these animal welfare questions must be integrated into the research itself, but is not typically elucidated in a granting agency application, the UAWC provides Scientists with standardized forms to facilitate this process. Use only the latest version of the forms as they are regularly updated to reflect new policies and requirements of the regulatory agencies.

  • Minimize pain and distress

All procedures MUST be designed to minimize pain or distress to animals. Ensuring that this is an integral part of all research projects is one of the most crucial responsibilities of an IACUC. Both the Federal Animal Welfare Act (CFR, Title 9, Subchapter A, 1985) and PHS Policy (Public Health Service, 1986) are quite clear in charging the IACUC with the review of research studies (protocols) to justify and limit pain and distress in animal subjects.

Each institution and IACUC, depending upon its particular nature of research, teaching, and testing, will have different issues relative to pain and distress to consider: cancer chemotherapeutics, creation and testing of biomedical devices, infectious disease models, and arthritic models, to name a few. A common benchmark for evaluation of potentially distressful research methods is that if a procedure is deemed to be painful in humans, it should be assumed that it will be painful in animals. In some cases, decisions on what we anthropomorphically believe to be painful procedures are fairly clear cut. Intracranial surgery is considered to be markedly painful in humans, therefore, it should be assumed to be painful in animals. Other experimental manipulations are not as clear-cut. Should we consider laparotomies to be painful in animals even though many of them postoperatively appear to be active, ambulating, eat, and even breed as if "nothing had happened?" In the latter situation, it becomes more difficult for the IACUC to justify requirements for protocol refinement or inclusion of analgesic therapy, particularly when the PI is concerned that these design changes may compromise the scientific integrity of the studies. Every effort is made to provide pre-emptive treatment to ameliorate pain and distress and there may be times when an IACUC subcommittee will observe procedures to evaluate whether or not animals are in pain or distress during or following experimental manipulations. There are many mechanisms to recognize pain and distress in laboratory animals and all investigators are required to consult the veterinary staff should they need assistance.

Minimizing pain and distress does not end at the protocol review process, for animals are carefully observed following any painful/distressful procedures. If animals in pain or distress are clearly and unambiguously identified, clinical intervention is immediate and strategies will be presented to pharmacologically (by use of analgesic drugs) and/or nonpharmacologically (bandages, special husbandry, diets, and enrichment) control and limit their discomfort. If methods used to limit pain and/or distress fail, it is appropriate for the committee to be prepared with endpoints to terminate the experiment. The bottom line is that there is almost always something that an IACUC can do to refine protocols to minimize both the intensity and duration of pain and/or distress in animals.

  • Reduction, Refinement, Replacement

These are the three principles of the use of alternatives to live vertebrate animals which were introduced by Russell and Birch in 1956. It is required by animal welfare law that they must be considered when designing studies and teaching activities.

  • Training

All personnel using animals must be adequately trained to perform the procedures which is essential for minimizing pain or distress.

  • Veterinary Oversight

A veterinarian with experience or training in the care of research animals must be involved in the animal care program and have sufficient authority to respond to animal welfare issues. Veterinary care is required, including disease surveillance, preventative medicine, medical care and euthanasia.

  • Husbandry

All details of animal care are standardized and described in an institution's written "animal care and use program". Details of care include feeding, watering, sanitation, macro- and microenvironmental temperature, humidity and ventilation, and facility design.