March 4, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 80  

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Can animals save lives?
Western facilities research diseases

By Maggie Wrobel
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photos
RATS, MICE AND BIRDS — OH MY! Western’s animal research facilities use these small animals for a host of scientific purposes. From researching various diseases to cognitive processes, animal reseach on campus is a continuing endeavor. The question, of course, is whether or not these are ethical practices.

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 government inspections.

“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 well.”

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 says.

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 to.

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 Care (UCAC)
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.

—Maggie Wrobel



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