This week marks the submission of my IACUC proposal which has been a much larger endeavor than I had originally supposed. For those of you who don't know, IACUC is an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and every research institution has one of these committees. The main purpose of the committee is to oversee research that deals with animals and ensure the animals' well-being by reviewing the protocols and making sure that the animals will be well cared far, that the research has a practical use in today's society, that animals will not be wasted needlessly in this research and that there isn't some crazy professor doing horrendous things to animals in the name of science.
What the IACUC committee is looking for is to see for starters that the researcher is and will be providing adequate daily care and alleviation of pain and illness for the duration of the project. Even if animals will die at the end of a project there is no justification for failing to provide adequate care to them before then. The IACUC committee is also checking to see if this research is applicable to mankind. How will the research benefit us as humans and what benefits does it have for animals? They also want to know if similar research has been done before. If similar research has been done before, how will this project be different? Science has a checkered past with unnecessary duplication of projects or projects that are duplicated in larger numbers just to find statistical significance so the committee wants to make sure that duplicate projects are limited and the first projects in new areas have statistical value.
All of these criteria have a specific goal of reducing research impact on animals and which focus on the 3 R's of research today: Replacement, Refinement and Reduction. Over time as we as a society have become more concerned about the experiences and plight of animals in research, the 3 R's evolved to have a central significance to responsible animal research. Each one has a specific focus and all 3 provide a cohesive body of work with which to judge the value of a research project and its impact on animal well-being. Ultimately we use the 3 R's to justify a project and its use of animals in combination with the project's assumed ultimate benefit to both animals and humans globally. Here's my understanding of the 3 R's in my own life and my obligation during research.
Replacement references the substitution of "lesser" animals, animal models or other laboratory analysis for life animals wherever possible. Refinement refers to procedures and using the best and least invasive procedures for data collection. Reduction is more of a statistical comment. It can refer to not repeating experiments needlessly as well as designing experiments in a way to use as few animals as possible so as to eliminate needless inclusion of animals in an experiment. This also helps the researchers themselves in many cases as it helps to reduce the budget for a project. Every animal fed and cared for through a project adds a cost to the project.
Animal research has provided many great benefits to humans over time, but it has also had great benefit for the animals studied as we gain a better understanding of them and can improve the care we provide to them. Ending animal research in today's society would be unreasonable and uncaring towards human patients who suffer worldwide today and even though this is something advocated by animal rights groups, we owe it to our fellow human beings to continue animal research to search for the cures to diseases from which they suffer. While I advocate caution among research projects towards the care of animals, the truth of the matter is that animal research benefits people everywhere in concerns such as increasing human food production, curing diseases, better understanding of biology and a greater appreciation to the diversity around us and I support this with all I am. As an animal scientist I am committed to providing appropriate care to the animals in my project and I am hopeful that my project can have a positive impact on our understanding of animal behavior and how we can provide good care to food producing animals while not sacrificing our ability to feed so many people with such few resources.