40 Years of Research Ethics: Charting a Course with the Guide

by Meryn Robinson, education and membership services, and Avery Avrakotos, education and policy manager

Since its founding in 1974, PRIM&R’s highest priority has been to provide those charged with ensuring research protections, as well as those involved in the design and implementation of research protocols, with the education, practical tools, and cutting-edge strategies needed for their work protecting subjects. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, we are reflecting upon four decades of connecting and protecting and recounting some of the events that have shaped the field’s rich history in our 40 Years of Research Ethics series.

The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, commonly referred to as the Guide, is a familiar framework for anyone involved in animal research. The Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals requires institutions to use the Guide “as a basis for developing and implementing an institutional program for activities involving animals.” The Guide also serves as one of the Three Primary Standards used by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International to assess and evaluate an institution’s animal care and use program.

The Guide is an influential piece of work that blends scientific and ethical principles to help ensure the safety and well-being of animals used in research laboratories. But it has not always existed, nor has it remained static over the years.

Prior to the publication of the first edition of the Guide, individual investigators were responsible for setting their own standards for the care and use of animals in their laboratories. As a result, different research laboratories would have vastly different policies. In 1961, a group of veterinarians in the Chicago area formed the Animal Care Panel and drafted the first edition of the Guide, which was published in 1963. Subsequent editions of the Guide have been developed by the National Academies’ Institute for Laboratory Animal Research and supported by the National Institutes of Health. The eighth, and most recent, edition of the Guide was published in January 2011.

Taylor Bennett, a management consultant and senior scientific advisor for the National Association for Biomedical Research, reflected on the evolution of the Guide in an interview for People & Perspectives, PRIM&R’s new oral history project. Dr. Bennett also discussed his path to becoming a laboratory animal veterinarian and how the field and the regulations that govern it have transformed since he began his work in 1969.