Connecting the dots between animal care and biosafety

by Amanda Plante, PRIM&R Blog Squad member

PRIM&R is pleased to bring you more blog posts from the PRIM&R Blog Squad. The Blog Squad is composed of members who are devoted to blogging prior to, live from and after the PRIM&R’s conferences.

When registering for the 2011 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference, it was a challenge to select workshops to attend; there are simply so many topics of interest to animal care committee members! I am particularly looking forward to participating in the Friday morning workshop titled, Select Agents and Biohazard Research in Animals: Integration of Animal Research Programs with Lab/Biosafety and Occupational Health Programs from the “Hot Topics, Trends, and Special Issues” track. The session emphasizes the intersection of animal research and biohazardous agents – a topic that has been particularly salient in my own career as an animal care committee coordinator.

At the University of Saskatchewan, the animal research ethics board (AREB) reviews all proposed uses of animals for research, testing, and teaching for potential ethical considerations. Meanwhile, the biosafety protocol approval committee (BPAC) reviews applications for the use of biohazardous materials or notifiable biological substances. All animal use protocols, where applicable, must have an up-to-date biosafety permit for the protocol before the AREB will approve it.

Before all AREB meetings, as the animal care committee coordinator, I meet with the BPAC chair and the biosafety manager—who serves on the AREB as a non-voting member to clarify biosafety requirements—to review all animal use protocols with respect to biosafety. We confirm that all biological agents listed on the animal use protocol are, in fact, on the principal investigator’s biosafety permit. In addition, we confirm that the related biosafety permit lists all animal users as authorized workers.

The AREB, in consultation with workplace safety and environmental protection (WSEP), recently developed a new appendix that is now included with our animal use protocols. This appendix is required whenever a hazardous material or agent is used in an animal experiment. The form must be completed and signed by the appropriate personnel from WSEP, the principal investigator, and the manager of the facility where the animals will be housed. The intent of this form is to provide information about hazardous materials that will be used in order to minimize occupational exposure.

As a condition of the AREB’s approval, after the AREB meeting, a memo is sent to the principal investigator that outlines any biosafety updates that need to be addressed. Until the principle investigator meets outstanding biosafety requirements a certificate of approval for the animal use protocol is not issued.

We strive to ensure efficient communication between our animal care and biosafety committees. By participating in the Select Agents and Biohazard Research in Animals: Integration of Animal Research Programs with Lab/Biosafety and Occupational Health Programs workshop I hope to gain valuable insight to apply at my own institution. I am very keen to learn from other people’s experiences and to discover new ideas and ways in which we can work on improving our processes. By attending this upcoming session at the 2011 IACUC Conference, I am confident that I will come away with some great ideas that I will be able to share with my colleagues in Saskatchewan.