If you live in the Oslo area, you can visit us. Ring us at 22 96 45 75 between 8:00am and 3:00pm. Small groups, of 2-4 people, can be given a tour at short notice, but for larger groups (10-15 people) an appointment should be made.
For those of you who live too far away to visit us, we can still offer you a tour - right here on the Internet!
If you are writing a school report about laboratory animals, please feel free to use the text or pictures you find here.
Modern laboratory animal science is based on a principle known as the three Rs:
The book where these principles were first described can be read here.
Animal welfare is therefore an integral part of modern laboratory animal practice: we have ethical and legal obligations towards the animals in our care, and if the animals thrive, the scientific results will be more accurate and reproducible.
This tour of the Unit will
hopefully give you some ideas of how we try to address the three Rs.
Click on the paws to wander around in the Unit!
You can start by clicking on this paw.
Most laboratory animal units look like this: locked doors, alarms, and a feeling of secrecy - what is it that really goes on in there? (We will be going in soon). Actually, there are several good reasons for the locked doors:
Click here to come into the Unit!
We usually start the tour here in our meeting room. Here you will be introduced to our employees, and also be reminded of the importance of not making too much noise in the Unit. We have to always remember the need for peace and quiet as we move through the Unit.
We will also ask if you have allergies. No matter what type of allergy you may have, whether it is hay-fever, asthma, or an allergy to animal hair, you should not go into the Unit. Rodents and rabbits are actually some of the animals most likely to give allergic reactions. So for those of you who are not able to actually enter the unit, we offer this electronic visit!
By the way, do you see the computer equipment in the background? We will be telling you more about that after the tour of the Unit.
Next you will be asked to take off unnecessary jackets and sweaters, as it can be quite warm and humid in the Unit (optimum conditions for the animals). We then move towards the animal holding area, but before actually going into where the animals are housed, we ask you to wash your hands, put on a white cover-all and change into white clogs. The reason? Again, to protect the animals from diseases that can affect them, thereby risking the need to repeat an experiment, and therefore using more animals than necessary. Because of this we prefer that you do not visit us if you have just had contact with other animals or have recently been into another animal unit.
Now we are ready to go in!
We are now on the main floor of the Unit. It is made up of a long corridor with many doors on either side. Here, we would like you to take notice of a couple of things: there is a coat hanging outside an animal room, and there are white boxes on the wall beside each door. The coat is to remind us to tell you about our strict rules for changing our coats between each room, again to help prevent spread of disease. As mentioned before, this is something we are very careful about. This is also the reason that most of the animals we have in the Unit are bought from registered commercial animal breeders in countries other than Norway (except for the farm animals we keep on the ground floor). The animals, mice and rats generally from England and rabbits from Sweden, come to us with health guarantees, and as a result, the animals in the unit are almost never sick. Because of their high quality health standard, they cost much more than animals sold in pet stores.
The white boxes beside each door are timers that turn the lights on and off every 12 hours. To achieve high quality results in an experiment, it is important to control the environment the animals live in. As well as controlling that the animals have the same amount of light and darkness daily, we also control the room temperature and humidity. The requirements for ventilation systems in laboratory animal units are much more strict than those for houses in Norway, with a total change of all the air in the room 15-20 times per hour!
Now it is time to show you the animals!
We have mainly rats and mice in the Unit. Here we see some young albino rats. They are intelligent, curious and social animals, so whenever possible we house them in groups. In fact, those who work in the Unit feel rats are the animals with most personality. They become very used to the people that work with them regularly. This is one of the reasons we believe in having the technicians, not the researcher do the technical work the experiment requires whenever possible. Some of the rats are white, others pigmented, brown or white and black. The kind of rat chosen depends on what kind of experiment will be done.
Here you see two different sizes of rat cages.
Actually, most of our rats are now housed in groups og about 10, in much larger cages.
Click on this paw to see a close-up of a mouse cage.
All the equipment used is especially made for research animals. The cages are Danish, the food comes from England, and the bedding material is Norwegian. Do you see anything else in the cage besides the animals?
Click here for a close-up picture.
Rodents like to have something to chew on, so we give them sterilized paper, which they tear up and use to make nests. All the mice have a plastic house with an exercise wheel on top, as you can see. The provision of extra equipment is called environmental enrichment, and is very important for animal welfare. All animals, whether they are laboratory animals, farm animals, pets or zoo animals, benefit from environmental enrichment - can you think of things that could make everyday life more interesting for them?
Almost all our rabbits are group-housed on the floor. Like the rats, they are also social and curious animals that like best to live in groups where they have lots of room. Occasionally, however, an experiment will require that we house them individually, in the cages you see hanging on the wall.
But we have another type of cage where 4 rabbits can be housed together. These new cages, called the enriched rabbit cage system, allow the rabbits to live in groups, yet they can also hide in the artificial rabbit hole you see in the picture:
So far, we have not shown you any pictures of the more unusual types of animals we have used in the Unit in the past. Since we always want to use the species best suited for the experiment, mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs are the most common animals in the Unit. We do however, occasionally use frogs, and even had small crocodiles once. Dogs and cats are not used.
What do we use the animals for? Mainly we are a Service Unit for the Veterinary School and the research centers in the surrounding Oslo area. Because of this, we get involved with a variety of projects within the biomedical fields. Usually the experiments are for veterinary or medical purposes, and do not involve surgery. In many cases the animals are not used at all while they are alive. They are euthanised humanely and the research is done on the organs or cells from the dead animal. Most of the rabbits are used as blood donors for antiserum production. They are vaccinated under the skin, not in the muscle, and we then take blood samples which can be used in a range of laboratory tests.
Here we see an example of an exciting project that uses living rats. This is called a Skinner Box. The boxes contain lights that blink over pedals that the rats can press. If they press the correct pedal, they are rewarded - but no punishment is given if they respond incorrectly!
In this picture we see a rat using the box. Rats are intelligent, and they quickly learn to press the pedal under the lamp that is lit. Once they have learned this, we can give them very small doses of the test material, not enough to do them any harm, and then see if they remember what they had learned. We can also use the boxes to test rats born to mothers who were exposed to test material during pregnancy. By comparing them to rats born to untreated mothers, we can see if they have learning problems. These boxes are a good alternative to other test methods where larger, harmful doses of the test material must be used. The Skinner Boxes are sponsored by an animal-rights organization.
Here we see another way to house laboratory animals. This is called an isolator, a ventilated, plastic bubble. Inside the isolator, the animals live in normal plastic cages. We house animals of uncertain health quality in the isolators. These mice are imported from abroad, and it is possible that they have some hidden diseases that we do not want to spread into the rest of the Unit. Therefore, the animals are housed in the isolators until we can check that they are free from these diseases. Isolators may also be used to protect animals that must live in a sterile area, i.e. animals that do not tolerate the everyday germs that other animals can.
We use a lot of our time washing cages and equipment (just ask the staff who work here!). This is of course very important in reducing the risk of the spread of infection which may cause the animals to become ill and therefore affect the experimental results. Here you see our old, but still effective, washing machine. We know that the washing machine is still working properly because of routine checks. Check lists, called SOPs (Standard Operating Proceedures) are available for most of the work in the Unit. They help to have structured control over the many procedures that we carry out, and they contribute to reliable research results.
Shall we go
down to the ground floor now? First, we have to wash our hands, change into a
clean cover-all and put on ankle boots. Here we can house ordinary farm animals,
but in conditions that are of higher standards than one would find on most farms.
The ventilation system is, for example, the same as we have up on the first
These sheep are blood donors. Blood samples from them are used in the laboratory to help the researchers find out more about diseases of sheep.
We have also had several projects where pigs are used. Some of these have been part of a collaborative project between the Veterinary School and doctors interested in an hereditary kidney disease in humans. The project has attracted international interest. A lot of time is spent giving the pigs care and attention:
The result is that they are very friendly, always welcoming attention from humans.
Just as on the first floor, we use the animal species that is best suited for each experiment.
Here you see a mink, which is also being used in a joint project between veterinarians and doctors. This is a normal mink cage, like those used on fur farms. We have, however, made life more interesting for the mink by adding a plastic container with water, as mink enjoy a swim now and then. This is yet another example of environmental enrichment.
At this time we do not have any other kinds of animals in the farm area, but we have had goats and cows in the Unit.
Do you remember that we promised to tell you more about the computer equipment in this picture?
What you see here are alternatives to the use of animals in teaching. The Unit has collected information on audiovisual aids that can be used instead of animals in teaching. We now have details of over 3500 of these alternatives (computer programs, videofilms, CD-ROMs etc.). All this information has been put into an English language database called NORINA (A Norwegian Inventory of Alternatives). NORINA can be accessed free of charge on the Internet, so that anyone looking for alternatives can perform a search. You can find more information on NORINA here.
If you want more information about all types of alternatives/supplements to the use of animals in research click here, where we have made a collection of the most important sources worldwide.
Finally, we return to the meeting room, where we can take time to think about what we have seen in the Unit and answer any questions that may have come to mind. We usually talk a little bit about the number of animals used each year, and the number of laboratory animal units in Norway. We have also made a set of information on laboratory animals that we hand out to visitors, or send in the mail to those who cannot visit us personally.
We have also made a video film (in Norwegian!) about the Unit. It is 13 minutes long, and you, or your school, can either borrow a copy, or purchase one for 99 NKr. plus postage.
If you would like to have an information packet or video film sent to you call us at +47 22 96 45 75. Feel free to call if you have any questions we can help with.
You can also contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For those who are interested in the technical aspects of this presentation:
The photographs were taken with Kodak 200 ASA color film
and developed on a Kodak Photo-CD.
The files in 384 x 256 pixel format on the CD were converted to jpeg files using
the program GIFConverter.
The icons are from The Icon Bank.