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Home No. 19: If analgesics will interfere with results, can we do anything else to reduce animal pain?

Aug 16

No. 19: If analgesics will interfere with results, can we do anything else to reduce animal pain?

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If analgesics will interfere with results, can we do anything else to reduce animal pain?

Reader Question: We plan some experiments that will cause pain to some animals, and we’re concerned that analgesics will interfere with the results. The ethicist who serves on our Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) asked whether there was any way we could use an analgesic or anesthesia. Any suggestions?

Expert Comments: You do have a couple of options:

1. Search the literature to find out if there are any analgesics or anesthetics that track predictability with the results of your particular experiments.

2. Include the discovery of such an analgesic or anesthetic as part of your experiment, so you can reduce pain the next time around — and help others in the same boat.

Here at Colorado State University, our IACUC has a small budget to piggyback animal-welfare projects onto experiments. It’s a win-win because it helps the animals and may allow the principal investigator to publish two papers instead of one.

For example, we had a PI studying the impact of fractionated snake venom. The extracted venom is injected into animal tissues and then the research team watches to see if it rots the tissue, how quickly, etc. The IACUC asked if it were possible to conduct the experiments with the animal unconscious or given an anesthetic that didn’t interfere. The PI said he didn’t know of any.

The IACUC said, “If we can give you an extra $1,500 to conduct additional experiments, do you think you can find an anesthetic that does work?” He agreed, and his research team found an anesthetic that behaved in a predictable way. He ended up publishing his initial paper and another one on the anesthetic.

The key: Find something that tracks in a predictable way – you may have to adjust your results, multiply by half or two, but if it’s predictable, you can use it. And then you’ll reduce the animal pain related to your experiment.

Expert comments by Dr. Bernard Rollin, bioethicist and University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University. He was an external reviewer on the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare's (OLAW) original IACUC guide and federal animal-welfare laws, has published numerous books on animal welfare, and has assisted universities in several countries develop their animal-welfare programs.

Dr. Rollin is a member of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Compliance Editorial Advisory Board. If you'd like a sample issue of Lab Animal Welfare Compliance, click here.

Comments (2)
Professor (and former IACUC Chair)
written by Bill Yates, August 19, 2010
This viewpoint misses the fact that a number of nonpharmacological treatments can also serve to reduce pain and distress. We should not be stuck on analgesics as the only method to do this!
Professor, Anesthesiology and Pain Management
written by Christine Egger, September 17, 2010
CSU's solution to this problem by adding on animal welfare studies is brilliant and forward thinking. I agree with Dr. Yates, however, there are numerous non-pharmacological interventions that could be considered, including TENS, warm or cold compresses, E-Stim, acupuncture, physical therapy, etc., etc. This list of modalities expands constantly. In addition, investigators often consider only more traditional analgesics, such as opioids and NSAIDs, and consideration could be given to the use of local and regional anesthetic blocks, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, gabapentin, and pre-gabalin. Effective use of multi-modal and preemptive analgesics can reduce post-procedure pain without affecting data acquisition.

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