by Lydia Dyck
Animal work is a big part of cancer research. Many researchers are using animal models to figure out how cancer develops and how to cure it. But before doing any kind of animal work, you have to get through the approval marathon. The wild west days of lab work are over, and now ethics committees and national authorities need to evaluate and approve any experiments to be performed on animals (I would like to take this opportunity to thank the EU for the new directive 👍).
Let me talk you through the current application process.
At first, you have to write down every single animal experiment you want to do in the next 5 years. Super easy! Which scientist does not know 5 years in advance which exact experiments will be done, right? The secret is to keep your protocols vague enough to be able to adapt to new research questions.
Once you’ve done that, your protocols have to be approved by the university’s ethics committee. They’re the people who care about animals (and statistics for some reason). You will have to answer multiple rounds of important questions related to animal welfare, for example why you don’t want to give painkillers to a mouse before feeding it a fatty diet. Or why you need to do more than one experiment to answer all your research questions (although I wish I could). Once they’re happy, you’ve managed the second big hurdle.
The next and final hurdle:
Sounds scary, I know! These are the people who really care about animals but never actually worked with them. They ask even more important questions, for example which lubricant you are planning to use when measuring the temperature of a mouse by rectal probing (our answer was Vaseline by the way). On average, you get your licence after 6 months and you can finally start curing cancer! But wait a minute… only until you realise that you want to change your protocols (panic!) and you have to start all over again with an amendment application (repeat hurdles 1 to 3).
So, all this writing about animal welfare made me think about the other animal involved in animal work – the researcher. Why don’t we apply the three principles of working with animals – the 3Rs – to the application process?
My suggestion would be:
- Reduction – reduce the time to approve applications.
- Replacement – replace ambiguous criticism with clear praise.
- Refinement – minimise suffering and improve researcher welfare.
Now that’s what I would call a humane application procedure!
About the author
Lydia Dyck is a postdoctoral researcher at Trinity College Dublin. She is currently investigating the effects of obesity on immune cell function and the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy. She has been an EACR member since 2016.