By Mike Kluzik, Director of Office of Research Assurances, and Alan Ekstrand, Animal Welfare Program Assistant Director

Washington State University makes discoveries that save and improve the lives of animals and humans alike. To understand complex problems such as how both natural and disease states of biological systems in animals and humans function, some WSU investigators conduct research using animals. WSU conducts animal research only when necessary and with an aim to preserve, improve, or advance the well-being and lives of humans, animals, and the environments we share.

Animal-based research and teaching comes with the responsibility to provide animals with the highest level of ethical and humane care, something the University is strongly committed to. To ensure this happens, Office of Research oversees and manages the animal program.

Animal Care and Use Program administers research and teaching animal care

The Animal Care and Use Program encompasses all components of our research and teaching activities that involve the use of live animals. The responsibility for the program is shared with the Institutional Official (IO) Vice President for Research Chris Keane, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the Office of the Campus Veterinarian (OCV), Office of Research Assurances (ORA) – Animal Welfare Program, the animal care technicians, and all of the researchers and instructors who work with animals.

The IO bears ultimate responsibility for the Animal Care and Use Program. The IO also is responsible for appointing the IACUC members and ensuring appropriate resources are provided for the program to be successful. The OCV is responsible for ensuring the appropriate veterinary care and husbandry for our research and teaching animals. The IACUC is responsible for the oversight of the program and for reviewing and approving research and teaching activities involving animals. The Animal Welfare Program administered by ORA provides the support staff for the IACUC. The Animal Welfare Program staff coordinate inspections, protocol review, prepare reports, and provide training related to the rules and regulations governing animal research and teaching. All of these activities and oversight make up the Animal Care and Use Program.

Oversight of the Animal Care and Use Program

 The WSU Animal Care and Use Program is evaluated every six months by the IACUC and regulated by federal inspectors from USDA-APHIS to verify that compliance is met and policies and procedures are followed.

 WSU standards for housing and care are very high and our Animal Care and Use Program is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. WSU receives a site visit every three years to ensure our program is meeting the highest standards. Oversight of the program is provided by the IACUC, OCV, and the Office of Research.

The OCV is responsible for the health and well-being of all laboratory and teaching animals used at WSU. From feeding and maintaining the health and welfare of the animals and the management of veterinary medicine to managing facility operations ensuring the safety of animal housing, OCV administers the day-to-day care animals receive.

IACUC oversees compliance and regulations of WSU animal care

 Animal research and teaching activities at WSU are regulated by federal laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, related state laws, as well as University policies regarding animal welfare.

IACUC is a self-regulating oversight committee required by institutions and research laboratories that use animals for teaching, research or testing and receive federal funding. IACUC oversees the compliance of WSU’s Animal Care and Use Program and verifies that federal, state, and local regulations are followed, along with University policies and protocols.

There are two important tasks that IACUC carries out. First, it is to review research and teaching related activities involving animals for compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations. Secondly, it oversees and evaluates all aspects of WSU’s Animal Care and Use Program, a check and balance for how the program is operated. There is a similar overseeing body for research involving humans called the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

IACUC reviews WSU research and teaching protocols that involve live vertebrate animals and requires IACUC’s approval before activities begin. The committee has the authority to amend, disapprove, suspend, and terminate studies or protocols that fail to meet the rigorous standards set forth by University policies and must comply with federal, state, and local regulations.

By law, the IACUC must scrutinize a number of factors such as the source of animals, housing of animals, food, water and care for the animals, impact of the proposed procedures on the welfare of the animals, and the proposed scientific gain from performing the procedures. They must also determine if animal use is well justified and if there are no suitable alternative methods to accomplish the experimental goals.

Recommended changes made to animal care program

 WSU is committed to continuous improvement of its Animal Care and Use Program. Accordingly, in 2016, the Office of Research commissioned two external reviews of the program. The goal of these reviews was to evaluate the current program status and identify needed improvements.

One review focused on the technical assessment of the Animal Care and Use Program, and was conducted by an external technical team. The second review analyzed the administrative processes of the Animal Care and Use Program, and was conducted by the National Council of University Research Administrators. The two reviews evaluated the program’s status and developed specific recommendations to enhance the program’s effectiveness. Conducting external reviews reflect best practices. WSU is incorporating the recommendations from these reviews, as well as best practices and techniques developed by other universities to strengthen its animal care program.

Several significant changes were made to the program as a result of these reviews, including enhanced support for the OCV and IACUC, transition of IACUC protocol submission and review process from paper to a digital format, and updates to the IACUC non-compliance policy. Current ongoing improvements include the distribution of a newsletter that provide updates on policy changes and news within the Animal Care and Use Program and the creation of an Animal Advisory Committee, which advises on implementation of the review recommendations and develops metrics for evaluating its effectiveness.

Additionally, recommendations were made for additional staffing and support for the OCV, IACUC, and ORA, as well as creating a distinct program within ORA with sufficient staff to support various functions and responsibilities of the IACUC.

These recommendations are critical. To support the Drive to 25, we need to grow our research enterprise, including the infrastructure that supports our faculty and staff engaged in research. By ensuring that we have the sufficient and well-trained staff in place to support the various functions and responsibilities of the IACUC, we will be able to provide better oversight of standards of care and service to our researchers.

New Assistant Director joins newly developed Animal Welfare Program

 As recommended, WSU has established a “distinct animal use support” program within ORA, named the Animal Welfare Program. This program was designed to provide appropriate support for the IACUC and to relieve OCV of their compliance-related work so that they can focus on veterinary care and husbandry. The Animal Welfare Program also acts as subject matter experts for researchers in order to help navigate them through the approval process. Additionally, the Animal Welfare Program implements new technology that can streamline the process for use of animals.

The Office of Research is pleased to announce that we recently hired Alan Ekstrand, assistant director for the Animal Welfare Program, to support the IACUC and guide further improvements in the WSU Animal Care and Use Program.

Alan brings extensive qualifications and experience to the new position. He spent the last 14 years with the University of California, Davis IACUC office overseeing a very large and complex Animal Care and Use program.

He has obtained both the Certified Professional IACUCU Administrator and American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) and Laboratory Animal Technologist certifications. In 2008, he became the IACUC Administrator at UC Davis, managing the IACUC Office and providing guidance to the IACUC and senior leadership on issues pertaining to the Animal Care and Use Program.

As the assistant director, Alan and the Animal Welfare Program staff will fully support the IACUC needs and serve as a resource for all faculty and staff involved with the program.

Commitment to animal care

We are dedicated to ensuring animals in WSU’s care are provided with the highest level of care. This is our top priority. By improving our infrastructure, our focus is on excellence in animal care and our support of our research faculty. This excellence will help grow our research enterprise and conduct research that solves complex societal issues. It also will help us obtain and retain outstanding researchers.