Upcoming OLAW meeting reviews history, glimpses future

By Catherine Rogers

This week, PRIM&R chatted with Susan Silk, director, Division of Policy and Education, at the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (NIH OLAW) about the upcoming symposium titled Animal Welfare and Scientific Research: 1985 to 2010. PRIM&R is proud to support this meeting, which will be held October 25-26, with pre-conference educational workshops on October 24, in Bethesda, MD. This symposium presents a unique learning opportunity for animal care and use professionals.

Thank you for agreeing to talk with us today, Susan. For those who are new to the field, or who just need a reminder, please explain OLAW’s mission. OLAW provides guidance and interpretation of the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, supports educational programs, and monitors compliance with the Policy by Assured institutions and PHS funding components to ensure the humane care and use of animals in PHS-supported research, testing, and training, thereby contributing to the quality of PHS-supported activities.

What does that mean? The office oversees the welfare of research animal subjects in activities, including research, training and testing, that are funded by the PHS. This includes training people, such as institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) members, institutional officials, veterinarians, and people who work with the animals.

How does OLAW carry out this mission?
We have a system of local oversight where institutional animal care and use committees (IACUCs) oversee animal programs at their Assured institutions, and they are the eyes, heads, and feet on the ground. In that regard, OLAW provides guidance and interpretation of PHS policy to IACUCs and support through educational programs. NIH and OLAW look at the relationship with Assured institutions as a partnership. Each organization shares the need to assure compliance, and along with that goes responsibilities for stewardship of public funds and self-governance

This is a system based on a long standing history of education and selfless work on the part of members of the IACUC. We think it’s a good system, and so we’re excited to be having this symposium on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the policies, laws and regulations that guide us in this animal welfare oversight.

That certainly is exciting—please tell me some more about the meeting.
The symposium will be preceded by pre-conference educational workshops, IACUC 101 and Meeting the Information Requirements of the Animal Welfare Act: AWIC Workshop.

From there, the meeting’s agenda highlights the past, present, and future in recognition of the original meeting, with the same title, which was held 25 years ago.

The meeting is sponsored by the NIH OLAW; United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Animal Care; and IACUC 101. The meeting is supported by a host of NIH institutes and centers; the Food and Drug Administration; Centers for Disease Control (CDC); the Department of Veterans Affairs; PRIM&R; and a growing group of for- and non-profit organizations.

What kind of content does the program feature?
On the first day, we’ll be discussing the past, present and future of the way we manage and care for our research animals. We’ll explore how we have improved the quality of care for these animals, and how we have, in turn, empowered more complex research and further refined the animal models.

That evening, Charles McCarthy, PhD, also a member of PRIM&R’s Board of Directors, will give a keynote address. He served as the director of the former Office for Protection from Research Risks, and will tell us about the early beginnings of animal welfare policy at NIH. He will be joined by Robert Whitney, DVM, and Thomas Wolfle DVM, PhD who will share their reflections on the development of the U.S. Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Testing, Research, and Training and the Inter-Agency Research Animal Committee who crafted the principles.

The second day of the symposium is about scientific research. We’ll start that morning with discussions about policy by the NIH, CDC, FDA and USDA. From there, attendees will hear from leading biomedical researchers, why they use animals, why they use the models they do, and how animals are essential to their work. We’ll also cover a range of animal models, including mice, fish, nonhuman primates, and some more exotic research animals, such as song birds and voles.

Which speakers are you most looking forward to hearing?
I’m looking forward to the gathering because it will allow us to discuss animal welfare and scientific research with the statesmen of our field who were responsible for crafting the guidance and policies that govern our research.

I’m also very eager to hear from the research scientists including Dr. Cendales (Emory) who will describe the use of animal models in transplant medicine; Dr. Kurilla (NIAID) who will discuss the importance of animal models in vaccine development; Dr. Zola (Yerkes) who will explain the use of nonhuman primates in exploring the challenges of the aging brain. We will learn about the use of fish models in cancer and aging from Dr. Hopkins (MIT); and about the use of voles in understanding depression, schizophrenia, and autism from Dr. Young (Emory); and Dr. Jarvis (Duke) will explain how he uses song bird models to explore brain development.

I’m also very excited about Dr. Susan Lederer, PhD, a science historian. She will talk about the increasing NIH support of animal models in biomedical research, from WWII to the present. She’ll be included in a session with professors Jentsch and Ringach from the University of California, Los Angeles, who are involved in the ProTest movement; they’ll describe how they explain to the public why animals are essential as scientists make advances that will lead to safe and useful drugs, therapies, and cures.

Of course I am also very excited to hear from the veterinarians, animal program operations people and the national level policy folks. But if you want to hear more details about the agenda, you can find a complete program on the OLAW website.

Why is it important to review the history of animal care and use? What does this accomplish?
As the care and use of animal research models has become increasingly sophisticated and advanced, better, more complex research has been empowered.

We’ve made a special effort to include laboratory animal medicine fellows and veterinary students by offering “Next Generation” travel awards to nine stellar candidates. We’re also encouraging other young professionals to attend so everyone can better understand how—and why—the field developed.

Any closing thoughts?
The whole idea of using animals in research is a hot-button issue right now. We’re a government in which everybody has the right to voice an opinion, especially about how the government spends its money. While we welcome all points of view, we’d like the opportunity to explain to the public that we’re a responsible community; that we have guidelines, rules, and regulations that were developed by thoughtful people; that we never use animals when it’s not imperative; and that the animals are handled with a concern for their welfare.

Thank you, Susan, for this insight. Best of luck with your meeting!