Can animals save lives?
Western facilities research diseases
By Maggie Wrobel
Every crusade for a cause needs a leader, and the area of animal research
is no different.
The debate about animal testing still rages on today, as many are adamant
that modern science should not stoop to using animals for any means, while
others claim animal research offers irreplaceable results that could not be
produced through any other means.
Geraldine Kent, Western’s director of Animal Care and Veterinary Services,
belongs to the latter group and has asserted her status as an activist in support
of animal research.
Kent was appointed to the position in August 2002. She received her doctorate
of veterinary medicine from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1966 and her
MSc in microbiology from the University of Guelph in 1968.
Her role at Western puts her in a position of leadership for all of Western’s
facilities, as well as its affiliated hospitals and research facilities.
“I work with three other veterinarians, and between the four of us,
we each take a subset of the 11 facilities in London. All the hospitals have
to be in accordance with the required regulations and all protocols must be
approved before any project can even get off the ground,” she says.
Among the committee’s jobs is helping facilities get ready for various
“It takes a year to get ready for a visit from the Council for Animal
Care,” Kent explains. “We check for things such a building problems,
including ventilation, heat and adequate humidity. The facilities at Western
are particularly nice for the animals because they get to in a quiet area away
from the big laboratories.”
Kent reveals that the provincial inspector in charge of animal research most
often strikes when researchers don’t expect him.
“He arrives without warning, or very little warning,” she affirms. “He
may call ahead, but sometimes when he’s actually already on campus. He
is allowed access to all animals and all the research records, and he makes
sure all the protocols are signed.”
And does Western make the grade?
“Western has always received very high marks,” Kent proclaims.
Researchers at Western investigate various diseases, some of which include
various cancers, cystic fibrosis and Alzheimer’s. “Diabetes has
the biggest population of researchers [at Western] working on it and cardiac
research has a big group that’s just received funding from the city as
Before taking over the position at Western, Kent was the director of Animal
Lab Services at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She explains that
her position in Toronto and her current work in London have merged as a result
of her research into cystic fibrosis, which she continues to do in Toronto
using mice who became partial to an unusual drink.
“They love grape Gatorade!” she laughs. “We were looking
desperately for something to feed them because they were weak and feeble and
weren’t eating anything and my husband, who runs marathons, suggested
Gatorade for hydration. So I bought various kinds and they were most partial
to that one.”
When asked to list the various kinds of animals used for research at Western,
Kent offers a limited list. “Mice are the animal used most often,” she
A follow-up phone call to Kent offers a complete list of animals used for
research in London. While ninety-five per cent of Western’s animal research
is done on mice and rats, other animals are also used for various research
endeavours both at Western and at hospitals in and around the city. These animals
include birds, frogs, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, fowl, ground squirrels, pigs,
sheep and non-human primates.
The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC)
The CCAC is a Canada-wide organization that provides guidelines for how research
animals are used. They visit all research facilities across Canada to ensure
all guidelines, from sanitation to treatment of the animals, are being adhered
The council also meets with administration, researchers and other committees
to ensure quality and propriety in animal research facilities.
The CCAC also provides facilities with compliance certificates, on either
a three-year or a five-year assessment cycle, depending on the history of their
previous assessments. Western is currently on a five-year cycle.
Western’s Animal Use Subcommittee (AUS)
This animal ethics committee has the power to reject or approve any and all
requests for animal research on campus. This committee features researchers
from all facilities (including both animal users and non-animal users), members
of Occupational Health and Safety and members of the community.
The AUS meets monthly to discuss all proposed research protocols using the
guidelines of the CCAC. Once a protocol is approved, everyone listed on the
proposal must go through various training sessions and pass a written exam
before they are allowed to deal with any animals.
Western’s University Council on Animal
The UCAC is the Senate committee that oversees the AUS. This committee meets
every four months and reviews all the activities of the AUS, including on-site
reports from facility visits and appeals from researchers.