Frequently asked questions about animals at WSU

Why are animals used in research and teaching at WSU?

To understand how the complex natural and disease states work in any biological system, including humans, WSU researchers sometimes conduct biomedical research with the appropriate species. Research with live animals is also required to improve the health and quality of food. Live animals are used when alternatives cannot be identified.

All WSU animal research is conducted only when necessary, with an aim to preserve, improve, or advance the well-being and lives of humans, animals, and the environments we share. For example, how might one develop an effective vaccine for cattle if at some point vaccines are not verified on cows in real-world conditions? Similarly, there are few effective models in human or animal medicine that impart the same level of learning anatomy as do living model systems.

WSU researchers expect that appropriate alternatives to the use of animals will continue to be developed, and the university looks forward to reviewing those on a case-by-case basis to reduce animal use.

What examples are there of active benefit to humans and the environment arising from the use of animals in teaching and research?

Many animals are strongly similar to human beings in multiple areas. Some animals have similar physiology like humans. Other species share similar anatomy with humans. Studying animals helps scientists understand how environmental factors might impact their health and informs scientists to policymakers how to take effective action to improve overall ecosystem health.

  • Animals used to study circadian rhythms show the relationship between sleep and health problems such as heart disease, higher incidents of certain types of cancer, disrupted immune responses, and major depressive syndrome.
  • Animal models advance in the development of treatment of dementia, cancer and deficits in wound healing.
  • Animal models help researchers understand the implications of environmental stressors and nutrition effect on the early developmental processes in vertebrates.

Studies that help animals:

  • Dogs are required to study a novel therapy to treat canine brain tumors.
  • Radiation therapy is being studied as an option for treating dogs with arthritis.
  • Cats with heart disease help to identify a new treatment for blood clotting.

What are the elements of the animal care program?

WSU’s animal care and use program is comprehensive and complex. Several colleges participate in this program. The program is overseen by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the Office of the Campus Veterinarian (OCV), and the Office of Research.

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, the impact of the proposed procedures on the welfare of the animals, and the proposed gain from performing the procedures. They must also determine that animals must be used – that is, there are not suitable alternative methods to accomplish the experimental goals. All personnel performing procedures receive extensive training by WSU IACUC and the OCV. The selection of the species, justification for the number of animals, and the proposed procedures are all reviewed by experts in the field.

Protocols are often revised many times until the reviewers are satisfied that the use and welfare of the animals has been appropriately addressed. Some protocols may never be approved by IACUC. After approval, an approved protocol continues to be monitored. The animal care program at WSU is well regulated and multi-tiered.

What responsibilities and measures of accountability are in place for instructors and researchers regarding the study and use of animals in their courses and research?

All animal study and use at WSU is regulated by federal laws such as the Animal Welfare Act and PHS policy, state laws including the Revised Code of Washington and the Washington Administrative Codes, as well as university policies. The program is overseen by IACUC and reports to the Vice President for Research. The welfare of the animals is ascertained by the Office of the Campus Veterinarian. Researchers also comply with USDA federal codes as spelled out by the Animal Welfare Act. Researchers may also be responsible to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services or federal granting agencies like the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation. WSU’s animal care and use programs also receive the highest level of voluntary external review and accreditation by AAALAC.

Additionally, all researchers and instructors are trained to use animals judiciously and to the highest levels of care. They are expected to seek out the latest alternatives and use these to replace live animal use whenever possible. All animal research and teaching activities are required to utilize only the least number of animals necessary to achieve the desired outcome so as to reduce overall use of live animals. All researchers and educators using animals must also seek and consider refinements that may improve the care and welfare of any live animals used in teaching or research activity.

What kinds of animals does WSU use in research and teaching?

As a state Land Grant institution, WSU may study and use any species that is appropriate for a given project. Most commonly, projects and teaching use many different species including rodents, birds, fish, dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, grizzly bears, deer, and wild or domestic rabbits. The only species WSU does not use and does not have facilities for currently are primates. There is no plan to begin primate research in the future.

What’s the difference between a teaching animal and a research animal?

WSU standards for housing and care does not distinguish between animals used in research or teaching. All species are provided the highest levels of care as appropriate for them. In addition, the IACUC reviews every protocol for appropriateness of proposed animal use in relation to desired outcome, whether teaching or research.

Teaching animals are often used in providing a rich learning experience; that’s why teachers select such projects. For example, a dog cadaver is utilized just like a human cadaver to teach surgical anatomy to veterinary medical students. As another example, veterinary students learn safe handling practices and physical exams skills with live horses so they are prepared to provide medical care later to client-owned horses as veterinarians.

Researchers study and use specific species in their research when they are the best model for the problem they are studying. Many research problems can be studied by alternative methods that do not rely on the use of live animals; however, research animals are used in studies for which the researcher may have a general understanding of what the outcome may be in an integrated, whole body system of many interacting parts, but must do the research in order to make that determination conclusively.

Does WSU do product testing for things like cosmetics and household chemicals?

No. All medical teaching institutions, including WSU, conduct clinical trials.  Clinical trials can be similar to product testing but clinical trials differ in that they are part of the approval process for new drugs or to expand the label for already approved drugs under the Food and Drug Administration. Only the smallest number of animals required for a statistically valid study are approved for research under WSU’s animal use protocol.

What is IACUC?

The acronym IACUC stands for Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.  It is a self-regulating oversight committee that every institution that uses animals for teaching, breeding, or display or federally funded laboratory research must establish.

The IACUC is mandated by federal law, through both the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) administered by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Public Health Service Act administered by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  As mandated by these laws, WSU’s IACUC carries out two important tasks: 1) to review all activities involving animals for compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations, and 2) to oversee and evaluate all aspects of WSU’s animal care and use program. There is a similar overseeing body for research involving humans called an Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Who serves on the IACUC?

By law, the IACUC has a minimum of three members. At WSU, the IACUC routinely has 10-15 members serve on the committee, one of whom is the institution’s appointed Chair.

The appointed members are charged with regulating animal care at that institution. The IACUC must also include a veterinarian with training or experience with experimental animals and a member that has no affiliation with the institution except for serving on the IACUC.

At WSU, the role of the chair is filled by a faculty member. The Director of the Office of the Campus Veterinarian (OCV) serves the role of the veterinarian.  Although WSU has a veterinary college, it is the OCV who is responsible for the care and welfare of all animals used in teaching and research. Non-affiliated IACUC members are volunteers from the surrounding community. WSU’s IACUC members come from many colleges and departments that utilize animals in their research and teaching programs.

WSU’s IACUC membership also includes a nonscientist and an ethics specialist. A member may cover more than one of these roles. If there are more than three members then no more than three may be affiliated with the same department at the institution.

Do all proposed studies receive approval by the IACUC?

The IACUC reviews all proposed studies involving animals, but not all such studies are approved. In particular, the IACUC scrutinizes protocols and returns back proposed studies to prospective investigators with suggestions, questions, and comments for clarifications or further justification. Perhaps the applicants have not reviewed the literature for alternatives or they propose to use too many animals when a careful statistical analysis indicates that fewer animals would be needed. Often the IACUC suggests refinements to recommend more effective use of animals and to ensure humane treatment and care, and to reduce discomfort or stress.

The IACUC has the power to reject a proposed study protocol due to several reasons. IACUC acts independently in this regard, and no official may overturn such a decision.

But if a proposed study already has grant money, doesn’t the IACUC have to allow it to move forward?

No. WSU IACUC must approve all uses of animals irrespective of the source of funding or the species used. The presence or absence of funding for a research does not guarantee IACUC approval for a proposed project. Should researchers or their teams of graduate students, laboratory and animal personnel, and even undergraduates drift from what is approved on a protocol, the study activities can be halted immediately.

Does the IACUC accept complaints if someone feels they are witnessing something being done incorrectly with animals?

Yes. WSU considers its animal research and teaching as an extraordinary privilege and responsibility, and a direct measure of public trust. WSU has a robust whistle-blower policy. Reports can be filed both anonymously or with a request for follow up to be provided. A chain of departments responding to whistle blower request or report of concern may include the IACUC, the OCV, the college administration, the Office of Research and many others as appropriate.  We hold our duty to animals in the highest regard, including how they may be euthanized. Our overriding goal is the health and welfare of each animal in our care, with safeguards in place to prevent exploitation.

Animal welfare is the primary concern of IACUC. For any given protocol, whether an approved research plan or an approved classroom exercise, concerns about animal welfare or care can be reported at many levels. IACUC website provides details for reporting the whistle-blower complaints.

All complaints or reports received will be investigated. Such reports can compel inspection at any time.

What happens if a researcher or instructor makes a mistake?

At WSU, all research and teaching animals receive IACUC oversight. All WSU research relating to animals is conducted only when necessary with an aim to preserve, improve, or advance the well-being and the lives of humans, animals, and the environments we share.

The WSU IACUC recognizes that in many cases, the trained teachers, researchers, and staff are the first to note and report any concerns affecting the welfare of the animals. When mistakes are made they are usually unintended or unanticipated. Every instance brought to the University’s attention is investigated, and they may result in a range of actions that can include personnel sanctions or more education on animal care and use.

What does the future hold for the use of animals in the classroom and in the laboratory?

WSU faculty, staff, and students are continually encouraged to discover or develop alternatives to the use of live animals in all research and teaching activities. The WSU IACUC continually monitors the use of live animals in research or teaching and suggest appropriate methods to replace, reduce, or refine the numbers of animals used or the procedures conducted. At WSU we have already seen drastic changes in animal care and use in the past three decades of close scrutiny, legal changes, and creative thinking. Alternatives that were once seen as impossible are today encouraged.

At WSU, we look forward to a day when we can eliminate as much animal use as possible without compromising learning, discovery, and support the advancement of the welfare for humans, animals, and the environment.