A look at the University Animal Care Program with Dr. Laura Stone

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Laura Stone
Dr. Laura Stone’s work with the University goes well beyond the lab. As part of her service to the University community, she is Chair of the University Animal Care Committee (UACC). It’s a huge time and energy commitment that helps to guarantee that the use of animals for research and teaching purposes on campus is validated for scientific and ethical merit as well as following institutional and governmental policies and guidelines.

“It is important to me as medical researcher to contribute to the responsible use of animals in medical research,” says Stone. “Their usage has played a key role in virtually all major medical advances in the last century including the discovery of antibiotics and insulin, the development of organ transplants and joint replacements, and immunization against many diseases including polio, measles and hepatitis.”

Dr. Stone isn’t new to animal ethics and care in science. The subject sparked her interest while she was still a graduate student and using animals in her own research. She joined a student group to raise awareness around the benefits that come from animal use in research and the rigorous rules and regulations controlling it. Upon her arrival at McGill in 2007 she continued to volunteer with the animal care program, joining a Faculty Animal Care Committee (FACC) as a member. “I sent a tentative email to the Chair of the FACC asking if they had any openings and within minutes I was on the phone with him being thanked for volunteering. They are always looking for qualified and interested people to sit on these committees,” says Stone. There are nine FACC at McGill, each one in charge of approving research and teaching protocols for a different jurisdiction in the University’s animal care program. There are two committees for the downtown campus, one for Macdonald campus and six for the affiliated research institutes such as the MUHC, Glen site or the Montreal Neurological Institute. Each committee is composed of researchers, veterinarians, animal facility staff and members of the community.

After a few years she was promoted to serve as Vice-Chair of her FACC, writing and editing individual responses to protocols submitted by Principle Investigators. When the position of Chair for the UACC opened up in 2012, Dr. Stone jumped at the opportunity. “It is a great honour to be part of the wonderful team that we have here at McGill. The faculty and staff involved in animal care and oversight at McGill are outstanding and make the job easy.”

The UACC supports the Animal Care Program for McGill University as well as its affiliated hospital research institutes. As Chair, Dr. Stone is responsible for ensuring that the strict standards set forth by the Canadian Council on Animal Care are respected throughout the entire program. In total, there are 111 Standard Operating Procedures that the University has put into place, not including the special operating procedures for Macdonald farm. The nine FACCs report to the UACC. The Committee also oversees the proper implementation of animal care including training for everyone handling animals, veterinary care, ethics, quality assistance and occupational health to name a few.

As a neuroscientist researching ways to improve diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain, Dr. Stone believes that animals have played a significant role in her research. In her lab she uses various mice models and different methods to test her hypotheses on chronic pain treatment and diagnosis. Her experiences make her an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to animal well-being in research, a subject that is very important to her. Anyone spending even just a few moments chatting with Dr. Stone will be significantly better versed in animal care by the end of the conversation.

Photo credits: Polarqueen

Photo credits: Polarqueen

Enthusiastically, she explains how animal use is limited to the strict necessity, how researchers are constantly asked to justify the use of animals in research and the long and time consuming research protocols that each Principle Investigator is obliged to submit to their FACC for approval. “Now all the protocols are submitted and read online using Darwin (the Animal Care and Use software). When I started on the FACC it was all paper, and I used to receive a huge, heavy envelope of protocols on my desk a week before each meeting.” Researchers are not allowed to begin their projects until they get the go ahead from their FACC which can sometimes take months.

She goes on about the 3 R’s (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) and how with each passing year, scientists have to revisit these principles to explore whether they should be replacing animals in their lab with computer models for example, if they can reduce the number of animals being tested or if they can refine care and procedures to minimize pain and distress.

Dr. Stone continues with the best practices of the animal care facilities around campus and how support staff and veterinarians tend closely to the animals. The animals are rarely taken out from these facilities (animals don’t live in the labs, rather researchers go the animal care facilities to handle the animals according to their research protocols) and much care and consideration is taken to make sure that the animals are healthy and content. Every small detail is taken into consideration to guarantee comfort for the animals such as housing mice together so that they have social contact and providing the proper nesting materials and shelters.

Thanks to the time and dedication of Dr. Stone and her colleagues McGill is a model institution when it comes to Animal Care Programs. Their work ensures that animal-based science at the University takes place only when necessary and that the animals in the studies receive optimal care according to high quality, research-informed standards.

For more information on this subject you can visit the following pages:

McGill University – Animals in Research and Teaching

Canadian Council on Animal Care

The 3 R’s of Animal Practice in Science

Foundation for Biomedical Research

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