UBC Animal Research – Field Trip – pt. 1

So last week I had the opportunity to tour the UBC Animal Care Centre.Now, before you get excited warm fuzzies about baby raccoons in cribs or whatever comes to mind, I should note that “Animal Care” is really more of a euphemism. Located at the Centre for Comparative Medicine, tucked away in the South of campus, the facility is where the majority of animal testing takes place on campus.

The centre was built in 2012 for $40 M and specializes in larger species. There are about 75 animals currently in the facility not including 50 or so small rodents (i.e. mice, rats). The facility is also an emergency alternative to the general hospital during a disaster since the surgical equipment can also be used for humans.

During my visit I saw: white rabbits (for genetics research if I remember…?), pigs (for trauma simulations to do with helicoptor crashes- i.e. they would put the pigs in a simulator and break their backs), rhesus macaque monkeys (for parkinsons research), sheep, an alpaca (not for testing- leftover from when the facility wasn’t enclosed and the sheep needed protection), some crazy birds from the himalayas (researching their flight abilities in low oxygen environments), wild caught pregnant squirrels (researching how the fetus survives with little oxygen.)

Thats obviously a very crude depiction and of course my memory is incomplete but that’s what I recall.

UBC is currently the first university in Canada to release statistics about their use of animals. Transparency is not required for university institutions but information was released last year largely due to ongoing pressure from groups such as Stop UBC Animal Research. In 2011 UBC used 225,043 animals in research and claim the number is decreasing. For more info: http://www.animalresearch.ubc.ca/about-landing.html

Animal welfare was something discussed a lot during the tour and it is clear that efforts were taken when designing the facility to go above basic requirements. For example, all animals except for small rodents have outdoor access. Animals are always housed in groups rather than singley. SOME enrichment is provided, i.e. substrate such as hay or wood chips rather than bare concrete floor, maybe a ball or two. The monkeys had a climbing tree.

There are full time veterinarians at the facility not involved in the research whose job it is to observe the welfare/health of the animals and ensure they do not go past their “humane end point.” The humane end point is a predetermined point at which the animal MUST be euthenized. I.e. if a parkinsons monkey can no longer feed and take care of itself etc. Humane end points are decided upon when the researcher is applying for approval to do the project.

Researchers wanting to conduct research on animals must submit an Animal Care Protocol to the UBC Animal Care Comittee which is made up of various researchers, vets, UBC staff, students and two members of the public (often affiliated in some way.) http://www.ors.ubc.ca/ors/animal-protocol

I’ll leave it at that for now and save my rant for the next post. 🙂