Written by Laura Klekar – Research Scientist and ACTS Consultant
Working with animals in research can be both rewarding and challenging. There are many different methods utilized in Biomedical Research to obtain scientific data. Collecting data from conscious animals can be one of the most challenging. Not only is there consideration for the animal’s well-being and for collecting accurate data, but a relationship of cooperation also needs to be developed.
To properly and effectively gather data from a conscious animal, the Research Scientist must create an atmosphere of trust and active engagement with the laboratory animals. One of the main methods of creating this atmosphere is through a positively reinforced training and enrichment program. Without an effective training program in place that utilizes positive reinforcement, collecting data on a conscious animal can become time-consuming, difficult, result in needless repetition and may require the use of more animals. All of these go against the three R’s- Refinement, Reduce and Reuse.
There is always a need on Biomedical Research for high quality data while still maintaining high standards and adhering to regulations. Developing thought out procedures that include well-planned training programs leads to better data and adherence to regulations while maintaining the spirit of the 3R’s. Training programs that involve working with conscious animals need to consider many factors including– human and animal’s safety, the animal’s natural behaviors, time, research requirements and government regulations and policy. The type of animal involved in the study will also determine the nature of the training program. Some lab animals such as rabbits, rats and guinea pigs may require only a few training periods before data collection. Lab animals such as dogs, primates, pigs and cats require more training sessions before they are ready for data collection.
During my years as a Research Scientist I have conducted conscious animal studies on rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, cats and NHP. All have their own unique challenges and methods. However, with all species, there is a designated time period in which the animal needs to acclimate to transport, handing, restraint and the data collection procedures. A guinea pig or rabbit may just take a couple of days, where a cat or NHP can take years before quality data is obtained, depending on the data collection methods. Developing trust and cooperation require patience, time, and understanding of the specie’s behaviors. Before any animal is taken to the next step in the training and acclimation process, the animal should accept the previous step with minimal stress. This is truly a step-by-step process.
While preparing animals for conscious experiments may take additional time, it also helps eliminate certain factors that can possibly interfere with data results. The Research Scientist is able to gather data that may otherwise be compromised by sedatives, anesthesia or undue stress. Those who go through the process of acclimating and training their research animals to conscious study procedures may find that they are able to reduce stress in the animals while creating a more pleasant experience for all involved.