TLC pays off for Lab’s animal care and use program
ORNL’s animal care and use program recently received a favorable evaluation from the Association for the Accreditation and Assessment of Laboratory Animal Care, International, or AAALAC, an organization that rates laboratories on their care and treatment of animals used for scientific purposes.
The visitors were complimentary of the strong team activity evident in ORNL’s animal care and use program.
“The site visitors’ recommendation to the AAALAC council will be for continued full accreditation,” says Charmaine Foltz of the Life Sciences Division.
One of ORNL’s most famous institutions is its mammalian genetics research program. The success of that research depends largely on the health and well-being of some 70,000 little mutant rodents that live in the Mouse House located at Y-12.
Similar to the way a 24-hour bug can rip through a crowded office building, the little critters housed so closely together can be subject to infectious maladies.
“The Mouse House is a hospital condition, so you can get outbreaks of, for instance, diahrreal diseases, which, unchecked, can spread very rapidly,” Foltz says.
To keep the mice healthy, the Life Sciences Division has a staff of caregivers who keep tabs on the condition of the mutant multitude. In fact, Foltz, the Laboratory Animal Resources section head, is a veterinarian.
Although accreditation by AAALAC is voluntary, it adds credibility to the conduct of an institution’s animal care and use program. Foltz points out that AAALAC’s approval is very important for the Lab’s programs that involve animals.
“AAALAC visits can have four outcomes: full accreditation, deferred full accreditation, probation or revocation,” she explains. “If we lose accreditation, we could eventually lose National Institutes of Health funding, which could threaten our DOE funding. It could jeopardize our entire funding.
“While noting areas that could be improved, AAALAC said that our program is headed in the right direction. ORNL has worked to meet AAALAC’s standards since 1982, and we’re realizing that standard.”
ORNL’s animal care and use program is guided by the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and the NIH’s Guide for Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Although the Mouse House makes up most of the patients, some research mice are located elsewhere at ORNL. Fish studied in the Environmental Sciences Division also come under animal care and use purview.
“We’ve taken major steps to maintain and improve the health status of our animals,” Foltz says. “We can’t possibly examine all 70,000 mice individually, so we depend on the research and animal resources staff to bring any problems to our attention.”
At the Mouse House, that system includes filling out room activity sheets, which are reports of the health situation in each room filled with mouse cages. Foltz and her staff check the sheets daily and take measures to stem any maladies that may arise.
Foltz, a native of Wyoming, says that managing animal care in a research institution is a specialty field of veterinary medicine—and attractive in that it’s a little more nine-to-five. “I wanted to be a cow doctor. I did it for a while, but after a few C-sections in subzero weather in the middle of the night—and being a single mom—I chose this field instead.”
Foltz and her group intend to stay on top of the animal care and use program at ORNL, especially if plans for a new Mouse House come to fruition. The new facility, which is planned for the west end of ORNL, will be home to a “clean” colony of mice free of pathogens.
Foltz credits teamwork by Life Sciences’ Barbara Beatty; Environmental Sciences Division consultant Dorcas Shaeffer; and the Lab’s administrative support, Animal Care and Use Committee, animal care personnel and investigative and occupational health staff with the success of ORNL’s animal care and use program.
“By seeking AAALAC accreditation, we subjected ourselves to a rigorous on-site evaluation of our program,” Foltz says. “With the recommendation for accreditation, we received the best possible outcome from their visit.”—B.C.