From a 30,000-Foot View to (Literally) Down on the Farm

In my previous blog entry, I talked about how reducing administrative burden for IACUC professionals was a common thread running through many of the 2017 IACUC Conference (IACUC17) sessions I attended last month. Because administrative burden permeates every aspect of what we do, we often consider it part of the “30,000-foot view”. It is easy to get wrapped up in this all-encompassing topic—particularly for those of us in smaller institutions where IACUC duties are only one aspect of our jobs—but we still have to be mindful of the details. Thankfully, IACUC17 provided ample opportunities to focus not just on the big picture, but also on specific components of animal care and use programs.

At Morehead State University (MSU) we have both a Veterinary Technology program and a university farm. Our faculty have numerous teaching protocols for a variety of animals, and a handful of research projects. As such, we’re beholden to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules, regulations, and annual inspections. So, when I saw an IACUC17 session titled “IACUC Challenges When Farm Animals Are Used in Research and Teaching,” I made sure to attend.

In this session, Robert M. Gibbens, Angela J. Phillips, and Wendy J. Underwood discussed the differences between using farm animals in biomedical versus agricultural animal research. While I realized the two were distinct, I hadn’t fully considered that each type of research has specific regulatory and process ramifications for IACUCs and administrators. Further, the presenters informed the audience that regardless of the type of animal research being conducted, institutions must provide assurance of occupational health and safety with respect to the individuals interacting with the research animals. MSU’s occupational health and safety assurance procedures are fairly new, so we are still looking for ways to both strengthen and streamline. One area mentioned by Ms. Underwood was farm equipment safety, which is an aspect our program does not include; thus, this information was much appreciated and can be used to our benefit down the line.

With my very first USDA inspection coming up (likely within the next month!), I also made it a point to attend “Managing the USDA Inspection Process.” Presenters B. Taylor Bennett and Robert M. Gibbens walked the audience through both historical and current data related to frequent findings. Surprisingly, their data revealed that institutions have made great strides toward compliance in the past decade, with an 80% decrease in Animal Welfare Act violations. Some of the most useful information the presenters provided was related to the self-reporting of adverse events; both recommended calling your cognizant Veterinary Medical Officer versus sending an e-mail, as anything in writing can be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws—a tip I plan to keep in mind.

From the big picture to the fine details, IACUC17 sessions had it covered. Being able to take home both broad concepts about administrative management and specific strategies for handling inspections and mitigating problems was truly invaluable. As I continue to acclimate myself to this new role, having guidance and support from PRIM&R and its community will continue to be an significant resource.

Scott Niles, PhD, CRA, is the Director of Research Integrity and Compliance at Morehead State University (MSU) in Morehead, KY. Dr. Niles has more than 12 years’ experience as a grant writer and research administrator. In his current role as compliance director, Dr. Niles oversees the daily and long-range compliance management of grants and contracts, including sub-award negotiation, sub-recipient monitoring and the Responsible Conduct of Research. As MSU’s Institutional Official, he also directs the IACUC, the IRB, and the Intellectual Property Committee.