August 11, 2011

Animal care program achieves ‘gold standard’

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Animal care program achieves ‘gold standard’

Vanderbilt University’s Animal Care facilities have been awarded continued full accreditation by an international accreditation program that evaluates organizations and institutions that use animals in teaching, research or testing.

The accreditation, the “gold standard” for animal care facilities, is from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs. Programs undergo a site visit and evaluation and must demonstrate that they meet the standards required by law, and that they are also going the extra step to achieve excellence in animal care and use. Vanderbilt was first accredited in 1967.

Some of the 800 organizations in 34 countries that have received AAALAC accreditation are the National Institutes of Health, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the American Red Cross. Vanderbilt’s animal care facilities are also inspected annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The animal care program, housed in several buildings on campus, was commended for many aspects, including the “clear administrative support for the program, budgets for renovation, equipment and increased staffing.”

“Since 2000, Vanderbilt has become one of the fastest growing academic medical centers in the country,” said Jeanne Wallace, DVM, assistant vice chancellor for Research and director of the Division of Animal Care.

“Given the growth in the research enterprise, our leadership recognized the need for additional animal resources to keep up with evolving needs, so over the past five years there’s been a significant investment in improving physical facilities, equipment and in personnel.”

Extensive capital improvements have been made in support of the animal research programs at Vanderbilt since 2008.

The largest expansion, in terms of the facilities, has been the addition of three unique facilities, totaling 15,200 square feet — a rodent barrier facility, a rodent neurobehavioral testing facility and an animal imaging facility.

“Vanderbilt sustains a significant commitment to the integrity, safety and quality of our Division of Animal Care. In recent years, the University has made large investments for capital improvements and to recruit and retain the very highest caliber faculty and staff for this mission,” said John Manning Jr., Ph.D., MBA, associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and chief administrative officer for VUMC. “Jeanne and her team do a tremendous job ensuring the safety and well-being of our research animals while serving the needs of our faculty and staff.”

The Rodent Barrier Facility includes the Transgenic Mouse Embryonic Stem Cell Shared Resource and is built specifically to house rodents and keep pathogens out that could interfere with research data.

“Diseases can alter research results, and this facility is designed and operated in a manner that minimizes the risk that pathogens common in wild rodents might be introduced into our valuable laboratory colonies,” Wallace said.

The Mouse and Rat Neurobehavioral Laboratory is one of a handful in the world specifically designed for conducting behavioral research using rodent models. “It’s a unique resource that has positioned Vanderbilt to be competitive for grants in ways that other research facilities without a facility like this can’t be,” Wallace said.

The Imaging Animal Facility offers post-imaging quarters for animals that have been to another unique core facility, the Vanderbilt Institute for Imaging Sciences Center for Small Animal Imaging.

The small animal imaging center has in vivo and ex vivo imaging capabilities for small animals and tissue samples and has a comprehensive resource of state-of-the-art biomedical imaging instruments spanning a wide range of modalities, including MRI, X-ray, CT, PET, SPECT, ultrasound, bioluminescence and fluorescence.

The animal program’s growth in personnel and in staff certification was also mentioned in its accreditation. The program staff has grown to nearly 100, and there are now nine veterinarians, including Wallace and Ken Salleng, DVM, director of Vanderbilt’s Office of Animal Welfare Assurance (OAWA). Four of the veterinarians are board-certified in laboratory animal medicine.

In addition, the number of laboratory technicians who are certified by the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) has doubled.

“That speaks to the quality of our staff,” Wallace said, adding that the Division of Animal Care and Office of Animal Welfare Assurance (OAWA) staff is among the best in their field.

“Vanderbilt’s reputation as a premier institution for biomedical research is the result of the hard work of the dedicated and talented people working here, from the scientists at the bench, to the administrators processing the grants, to the technicians providing care to the animals,” she said. “As the recent re-accreditation process illustrated, success comes from the coordination of the entire research community. I feel very proud of the part we can play in that success.”

Vanderbilt has also added a full-service Research Histology and Comparative Pathology Laboratory, led by Kelli Boyd, DVM, Ph.D., a board-certified veterinary pathologist. While consulting and collaborating with the Vanderbilt research community, the laboratory offers histology, immunohistochemistry and baseline phenotyping of genetically engineered mice, as well as general support for the Division of Animal Care.

“Pathology can be very different between species. It’s important to have someone with expertise to assist investigators in the interpretation of their findings, and to expand our understanding of the animal models used here in research,” Wallace said.

A new residency program, recognized by the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, has also been established. Recruitment for the program’s first resident is currently under way.

“For a research program of our size, we have a very strong animal care and use program in place to support it,” Wallace said. “Maintaining compliance is difficult in a large academic research environment, but I believe we have one of the strongest programs out there.”