It has been more than two months since the 2011 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference, and yet, I still find myself thinking about one of the sessions I attended on the last day of the conference in March: Strategies for Ensuring your IACUC is a Customer Service-Oriented Organization.
Within the realm of research ethics and animal care and use, it is important to recognize who your customers are and what their needs are. There are a number of customers who should be considered, including the principal investigator (PI), the general public, the institution as a whole, the animal care staff, and the animals that are used for teaching and research purposes.
The key to the success of an animal care and use program is an effective IACUC, and this is largely dependent on good communication and teamwork. In The Care and Feeding of an IACUC, M. Lawrence Podolsky and Victor Kukas say, “IACUC members should be able to freely express opinions while listening to the opinions of others…critically and logically evaluate issues without bias…not monopolize discussion; [and] be polite and respectful of other members and researchers.”
The session emphasized the importance of communication about regulations, their relevance to the research, institutional policies, as well as the IACUC review process, timelines, and deadlines. One example presented explored protocol review deadlines, which should be clear and well-communicated to the PI. If a protocol is received after a deadline then it is recommended that the PI provide justification for the protocol to be considered at the upcoming IACUC meeting, and that the IACUC chair provide approval for such an exception.
Education for PIs, another area underscored in this session, can include external online programs, as well as in-house training. Workshops can also be held to further educate PIs as to the review process and their responsibilities. Consider including a “How to Write an Animal Use Protocol” workshop, a “New PI Training Session,” or “lunch–and-learn” workshops to your program. The University of California San Diego (UCSD) maintains a webpage, which could serve as a useful template, to provide new researchers with information about the review process.
It is critical for everyone—researchers and institutional officials especially—to know their responsibilities and the consequences of not fulfilling them. While the IACUC may strive to serve researchers as much as possible, it is not an obligation to meet every single request. Sometimes the greater good of the institution may overrule the wishes of an individual PI, so that compliance for the institution is maintained, thereby protecting all the other researchers and ensuring that funding continues to flow to the institution.
Communication is so important when it comes to ethics administration. Joining a listserv is a great way to share ideas and converse with colleagues around the country who are confronting the same issues. If you are an IACUC coordinator and you would like to join a listserv dedicated to IACUC administrations, Michigan State University manages a particularly useful one. To subscribe, send an e-mail with “subscribe” as the subject.
As this is my final official post as a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad, I would like to thank PRIM&R for this great opportunity to attend Essentials of IACUC Administration and the 2011 IACUC Conference, and for the chance to blog about my experiences before, during, and after the meeting.
Thank you for reading!