The Laboratory Animal Veterinarian: More Than Just a Mouse Doctor

Mar 11th, 2014 | By | Category: CMP in the News

by Cynthia G. Alvarado, DVM & Lonny M. Dixon, DVM

Laboratory animal veterinarians have become irreplaceable contributors to the advancement of medical and scientific knowledge through their involvement in collaborative and independent research that ultimately benefits both humans and animals.

Use of animals in research is strictly regulated by federal laws that define how the animals can be humanely housed, studied, and sold. Veterinary care for these animals is also required. Laboratory animal veterinarians serve as a unique bridge between the humane use of laboratory animals and the advancement
of scientific and medical knowledge.

It is not common knowledge that laboratory animal veterinarians and their support staff work every single day monitoring the health
and welfare of the animals used
in biomedical research. The role
of laboratory animal veterinarians
as multi-disciplinary contributors
to biomedical research has grown significantly over the past fifty
years. This article will give our colleagues and the general public a glimpse into the realm of laboratory animal medicine and the role that veterinarians play to ensure the welfare of animals used in research while also contributing to discoveries that benefit both humans and animals.

The History of Laboratory Animal Medicine
The history and development of the veterinary specialty of laboratory animal medicine began in 1915, when a veterinarian, Simon D. Brimhall, VMD, was employed by the
Mayo Clinic.(1) As the first veterinarian appointed to a research animal management position at an American medical research institution, Dr. Brimhall’s role at that time mirrored some of the same responsibilities
of present day laboratory animal veterinarians: providing veterinary care to research animals, overseeing animal husbandry, managing animal facilities and breeding colonies, studying animal diseases, and performing collaborative and independent research. However, until the 1940s Dr. Brimhall continued to be one of only a handful of veterinarians involved in laboratory animal medicine.

In 1944, Congress passed the Public Health Service Act, which resulted in the post-war expansion of biomedical research by increasing funding to the National Institutes
of Health (NIH). As the NIH
grew to become the largest federal funder of biomedical research, the demand for veterinarians in research also increased.2 Although veterinarians of that time
were well-versed in the care of common domestic and agricultural animals, their knowledge was minimal regarding proper husbandry, veterinary care, and diseases common in research animals, especially rodents. In an effort to formalize education, training, and research in laboratory animal medicine, a group of approximately 20 dedicated veterinarians sought approval from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for a new specialty board. In 1957, the American Board of Laboratory Animal Medicine became the third veterinary specialty to be recognized by the AVMA. The Board, now known as the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM), establishes standards for training and board certification in laboratory animal medicine, organizes continuing education opportunities, and promotes research in laboratory animal science and medicine.(2)

The History of Animal Welfare Regulations
Although biomedical research surged in the 1940s, federal laws regulating animal use were not passed until many years later. In 1965, Sports Illustrated featured the story of Pepper, a pet Dalmatian that was stolen from her family in Pennsylvania and was sold by her dognappers to a New York hospital where she died during an experimental surgery. Soon after, Life published an article exposing the neglectful treatment of animals by a Maryland dog dealer. These incidents prompted the public to lobby for legislation for the regulation of animal care, housing, sale, and use in research.(4)

In response, Congress passed the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966, which was renamed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1975. In its initial form, the AWA focused on the protection of pet dogs and cats. However, after numerous amendments, the AWA has evolved to become one of two
key laws governing research animal care and use. The AWA requires licensing of all facilities using animals for the purposes of research, testing, or teaching in higher education and is enforced regardless of the source of funding. The AWA provides specifications for virtually all aspects of animal care including feeding and watering, sanitation, identification, ventilation, space/housing requirements, handling, transportation, recordkeeping, and adequate veterinary
care. A special agency of the United States Department of Agriculture serves as the enforcement agency of the AWA and conducts unannounced yearly inspections at licensed facilities to monitor compliance.(4)

Another key law is the Health Research Extension Act of 1985. This act provides the legislative mandate for the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (PHS Policy), which is enforced at all institutions that receive funding from any of the eight Public Health Service agencies, which include the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. In accordance with PHS Policy, institutions must also comply with the guidelines set forth by the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (the Guide). The 220-page, 8th edition of the Guide was published in 2011 and provides specific guidelines for the care and use of all vertebrates. Though the AWA and PHS Policy share many similarities, the AWA does not cover agricultural mammals used in agricultural research, birds, or mice and rats bred for research, while the PHS Policy includes specifications for the care and use of all live vertebrates.(4)

Ensuring Animal Health and Welfare
To ensure that animals receive adequate veterinary
care, both the AWA and PHS Policy require that all
research facilities employ an attending veterinarian (AV)
with experience in laboratory animal medicine.5 Adequate veterinary care is defined as “what is currently the accepted professional practice or treatment for that particular circumstance or condition.”4 In addition to ensuring the well-being of research animals, the duty of the AV is to ensure that the animal care and use program at the institution has the appropriate equipment, facilities, and trained personnel necessary to provide adequate veterinary care. The AV also has the responsibility to provide guidance to researchers
and their staff regarding any aspect of animal use including humane handling, anesthesia, analgesia, and euthanasia.5 The regulations also require that all research animals are observed daily for general health and that emergency veterinary care be available at all times.(4)

In addition to the AV, most large institutions find it necessary to employ additional clinical laboratory animal veterinarians to work under the AV to provide for the daily care of their research animals. These veterinarians serve as the designee of the AV, who has the authority within the institution to suspend or terminate animal use at any time if it is not operating within the standards of the AWA or PHS Policy.(4)

Both the AWA and PHS Policy also require that the AV be a voting member of the Institutional Animal Care and
Use Committee (IACUC). Required at all institutions using animals covered by the AWA or PHS Policy, the responsibility of the IACUC is to ensure compliance with federal regulations by overseeing the care and use of animals at the research institution.(4) To meet this responsibility, the IACUC reviews and approves animal use protocols, which outline in detail how a researcher intends to use animals in a study. As experts in animal care and medicine, laboratory animal veterinarians are frequently consulted by IACUCs to ensure that animal use protocols are in compliance with animal welfare regulations and current standards of animal care.

Training and Certification
in Laboratory Animal Medicine
The first residency training program providing veterinary care to research animals for veterinarians was funded by the NIH at Wake Forest University’s Bowman Gray School of Medicine in 1959.(3) The first formal training program in the uniformed services began in 1960 at the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.3 Currently, there are over 45 ACLAM recognized training programs, which range from two to four years in length. Some programs offer residency training in conjunction
with additional coursework or extensive research training, resulting in a Master of Science or PhD degree. ACLAM- recognized residency training programs are designed to prepare veterinarians for ACLAM-board certification by providing an environment for didactic and clinical training in laboratory animal biology, pathology, medicine and surgery as well as animal husbandry, resource management and responsible animal use. These residency programs allow trainees to become familiar with the numerous regulations and policies relating to the welfare of animals used in research. Trainees are also encouraged to be involved in collaborative or independent research.

Currently, licensed veterinarians interested in board- certification in laboratory animal medicine must have completed either an ACLAM-recognized residency training program or have six years of relevant, full-time experience
in laboratory animal medicine. In order to ensure that candidates have a working knowledge of the scientific method, they must serve as first author on a hypothesis-based research paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. In addition, admission into the College requires passing the ACLAM board certification examination.(3)

The ACLAM board examination tests knowledge regarding the biology, husbandry, and clinical medicine of species commonly used in research. Currently, 60-70% of animal-related questions are based on species used most commonly in research, which include mice, rats, rabbits, non- human primates, dogs, and pigs. Other species, such as cats, frogs, ferrets, guinea pigs, zebrafish, and invertebrates make up the remainder of animal-related questions. Candidates must also have a solid knowledge base regarding the research uses for these animals and possess proficiency in research facility design and management, animal welfare regulations, and research methods and equipment. A contemporary knowledge of advancements in the biomedical research field and laboratory animal medicine is also required to pass the exam, which may include questions based on recent articles from selected peer-reviewed journals. Once candidates havepassed the board examination they are awarded the title of “Diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine” (DACLAM).(3)

Careers in Laboratory Animal Medicine
After completion of residency training, many veterinarians trained in laboratory animal medicine may chose to remain
in a clinically-oriented career, working as an institutional
AV or clinical veterinarian in academia or industry. These veterinarians enjoy practicing veterinary medicine in a field with a wide range of animal species, including transgenic animals or those with other genetic mutations. For example, on a typical day a laboratory animal veterinarian’s patients may include a genetically engineered mouse, a 500-lb transgenic pig, or a herd of sheep used for antibody production.

In addition to providing veterinary care to research animals, another duty of a clinical laboratory animal veterinarian includes researcher support. Veterinarians are frequently involved with
training and assisting researchers and their staff
in specialized techniques and procedures and providing assistance with experimental design and protocol writing. Clinical veterinarians may have additional responsibilities, such as serving on the IACUC, teaching in higher education or training residents in an ACLAM-training program.

Other veterinarians trained in laboratory animal medicine may opt to pursue a career in research. Due to their training, these veterinarians are attractive as research collaborators due to their extensive knowledge of veterinary medicine and animal models of disease.

Laboratory Animal Medicine at the University of Missouri
Established in 1968, the Comparative Medicine Program (CMP) is the NIH-sponsored and ACLAM- recognized laboratory animal medicine residency training program at the University of Missouri (MU). In addition to providing training in laboratory animal medicine, the MU CMP also focuses on exploring the comparison of pathology and diseases in research animals to those of other species, including humans. Since the program began, more than 100 veterinarians have completed the program, of which 74 have become ACLAM diplomates. Of the 800 active ACLAM diplomates, the MU CMP has trained 62, which is approximately 8% of all active diplomates. The MU CMP allows veterinarians to combine their laboratory animal medicine training with a research program. Upon completion of the residency training program, relevant coursework, and research, a MS or PhD degree is conferred. As of 2012, there are 10 trainees in the MU CMP.

Unique components of the MU CMP include access
to the NIH-funded Rat Resource and Research Center and the National Swine Resource and Research Center, the only centers of their kind in the country. The Mutant Mouse Regional Resource Center at MU is one of four in the US. These centers serve as repositories for cryopreservation, production, and characterization of genetically-engineered rodent strains and swine to ensure the continued availability of valuable genetically engineered animals to the biomedical research community. MU is also home to an animal biosafety level-3 research facility where select agents, such as Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) and Yersinia pestis (plague), are studied. In addition, MU is one of only six public universities in the countr y that have schools of medicine, veterinar y medicine, engineering, law, and agriculture on one campus. This provides MU CMP trainees with extensive opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaboration.

Although rodents continue to be the predominant animals used in research, laboratory animal veterinarians are considered to be more than just “mouse doctors.” They are recognized as valuable members of the research team
as sources of extensive knowledge regarding laboratory animal medicine and the humane use of animals as research models.. Laboratory animal veterinarians have also become irreplaceable contributors to the advancement of medical and scientific knowledge through their involvement in collaborative and independent research that ultimately benefits both humans and animals.

1. Cohen BJ, Loew FM. Laboratory Animal Medicine: Historical Perspectives. In: Fox JG, Cohen BJ, Loew FM, eds. Laboratory Animal Medicine. 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.; 2002:1-17.
2. Middleton CC. The History of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine. In: McPherson CW, Mattingly SF, eds. 50 Years of Laboratory Animal Science. Memphis: American Association for Laboratory Animal Science; 1999:30-34.
3. Moreland AF. Development of training programs in laboratory animal medicine. In: McPherson CW, Mattingly SF, eds. 50 Years of Laboratory Animal Science. Memphis: American Association for Laboratory Animal Science; 1999:87-91.
4. Schwindaman DF. The History of the Animal Welfare Act. In: McPherson CW, Mattingly SF, eds. 50 Years of Laboratory Animal Science. Memphis: American Association for Laboratory Animal Science; 1999:147-151.
5. Anderson LC. Laws, Regulations, and Policies Affecting the Use of Laboratory Animals. In: Fox JG, Cohen BJ, Loew FM, eds. Laboratory Animal Medicine. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.; 2002:19-33.

None reported.

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