On March 19, I was able to view the final plenary session of the 2013 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference in real time, by attending the conference’s Virtual Meeting; this session was an interactive simulation of an IACUC meeting, complete with fictional scenarios the audience could to respond to via a text-message voting process. Overall, the panel was dynamic and thought-provoking; the four chosen scenarios that were reviewed by the panel of “IACUC members” allowed for an inside look at some of the more nuanced issues these committees face, as well as some of the most effective methods for confronting common challenges.

I found the first scenario particularly interesting. In this case study, an investigator proposed a study to test the ability of a new immunomodulator to inhibit/reduce infection in rats. The puncture group had a 90% predicted mortality rate at four to five days out. The investigator aimed to decrease death or increase survival times. The work had undergone successful peer review through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

The IACUC’s primary concern was death as an endpoint. The investigator claimed that while other endpoints could predict death, they would not be able to accurately and precisely predict when mortality would occur. As a result, the data may be significantly skewed if alternatives were used. She also claimed that in her previous work at another institution, some animals that appeared moribund actually recovered.

After the protocol was summarized, the panelists examined potential issues in front of the audience, without shying away from the complications that can arise when member attitudes and personalities come into play during deliberations.

In the discussion among the virtual IACUC members, death as an endpoint was explored from several different angles. Since the use of death as an endpoint is extremely controversial, some members suggested the use, instead, of more humane and reliable endpoints, such as inability to feed or decreased body temperature. It was noted that humane endpoints should have been enumerated in her protocol, per the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

The virtual IACUC members were particularly interested in the length of time between the cecal ligation and morbidity. The fact that this was, on average, four to five days, prompted objections to the protocol on the basis that it might be inhumane. One panelist suggested that this protocol might appear more scientifically acceptable if the investigator had arranged a more aggressive sepsis, which may have made the protocol more humane. Additionally, the role of pain and use of analgesics or anti-inflammatory agents should have at least been addressed in the protocol. The panelists also questioned whether the fact that the protocol had been subject to NIH peer review was relevant to their own considerations. After this discussion, the virtual IACUC members voted not to approve the protocol. 85% of the audience agreed.

When the audience was called upon to participate in the discussion of the protocol, several interesting points were raised. One participant called for an emphasis on cost/benefit analysis in determining the legitimacy of using death as an endpoint. Another individual expressed interest in having the investigator include statistics to provide a more robust justification for the research.

The next three scenarios followed a similar format, yet focused on different IACUC dilemmas.

As someone relatively new to this field, I found this panel to be very informative. I was able to get a firm sense of the way an IACUC works and how it confronts the daily challenges that are faced when approving protocols, looking at continuing review, dealing with noncompliance, and more. And, to top it off, the panelists kept it light and made quite a few great jokes!

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