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Home No. 29: Can a research experiment go forward using an animal injured by staff member?

Nov 01

No. 29: Can a research experiment go forward using an animal injured by staff member?

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Can a research experiment go forward using an animal injured by staff member?

Reader Question: One of my staff members incorrectly handled a lab animal during an experiment, injuring the animal. (The staffer had received training on the correct handling procedures.) The injury can be treated, but the animal will remain in minimal pain unrelated to the research. If this subject must be removed from the experiment, months of work will be lost. Should I continue the project using the injured animal?

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Expert Comments: Your first step should be to report this to your attending veterinarian and the IACUC. Such unanticipated incidents occur in most labs occasionally; the important thing is that all member components of the animal care and use program are made aware of it.

After you've notified everyone, the attending veterinarian would then consult with you and make the decision as to whether the animal can remain in the study. It will likely depend on whether going forward with the study would involve additional pain and distress for the animal.

If the injury is repaired but the animal is in pain, are there analgesics you can use that are covered in your protocol? If so, you could administer them. If not, then the veterinarian would normally begin treatment. In either case, it is possible the animal could remain in your study. (But the veterinarian would probably tell you that you should have approved analgesics in your protocol to cover such unexpected events.)

Generally speaking, if the veterinarian provides you with analgesics so that you can have someone on your staff follow up with the animal's care and this is not an isolated incident, you definitely do need to amend your protocol. However, if it is an isolated incident and the veterinarian says he/she will handle it, then at most institutions a protocol change wouldn't be needed.

Expert comments by Wayne Barbee, PhD, IACUC Chair, Virginia Commonwealth University

Additional Comments:

Lab-animal injuries usually are handled on a case-by-case basis, and the final decision rests with the attending veterinarian. If this is a relatively minor injury that can be addressed with analgesia over the course of few days to a week, likely the animal can be treated and allowed to remain in the study. But if it is experiencing significant pain and distress that can't be relieved with analgesics, it should probably be euthanized humanely.

In one of our labs, an animal that was part of a long-term study suffered a minor degloving injury. Under anesthesia we amputated the injured part of the tail and closed the wound surgically, then administered analgesia over several days. The animal did not exhibit pain symptoms from the first day after the repair and therefore remained in the study. Generally, if you do not or cannot repair an injury without causing undue pain or distress, another animal should enter the study. It's in the spirit of one of the three R's — the reduction of animal numbers. But as veterinarian I'd have to be satisfied — and confirm by observation — that we truly can alleviate the animal's pain.

Expert comments by Ruth Blauwiekel, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACLAM, university veterinarian, University of Vermont.

Like this article? Get more in your FREE issue of Laboratory Animal Welfare Compliance.

Comments (7)
associate professor in NJ
written by Dr jml2, November 04, 2010
If the animal is suffering in any way so that you're not sure if analgesics are helping, it should not be put through more experimentation at this time, even if its injury is not serious enough to warrant euthanization. i would hope most vets would lean that way regardless of analgesics...perhaps the animal could be a subject in a future program...
Professor, Jackson Lab
written by David E. Harrison, November 04, 2010
Besides the possible poor morality of stressing the animal, there is the effect on your experiment. In all of my experiments we take pains to minimize stress in order to improve the reliability of our data in vivo. Responses to stress add an unnecessary variable to the study.
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