Objectives of the study
Scientists should take time to write a good lay summary, describing the objectives and underlying rationale of the study. This helps non-scientists, animal carers and technologists to understand the need for the study, and assists the ethical review process.
Collaboration with the animal facility and division of labour
Collaboration with animal care staff from the earliest stages of planning an animal study is crucial, to avoid problems and misunderstandings later:
- Animal care staff have often extensive experience in caring for, handling and conducting procedures on the species concerned, and in managing the equipment necessary to house and handle them. Even if they have no prior experience of the species to be used, they may have seen, or heard of, similar procedures conducted on other species, and they may be able to adapt those procedures to the species of interest. They will also be the best qualified to detect the earliest symptoms of pain, distress and suffering in the animals they care for.
- They know the strengths and limitations of the facility, its equipment and the competency of its staff. They are also less likely to gloss over any weaknesses, as they usually have less to gain from prestigious projects than more senior members of staff.
- The care staff know the animals best, and the animals know them best. It is therefore best practice to let experienced personnel conduct as much of the study as possible, particularly on non-anaesthetised animals.
- Involvement of animal care staff at an early stage will also increase their motivation, sense of ownership and understanding of the critical points in a study.
- Early involvement may also unearth concerns about health and safety, or animal welfare issues, which can then be addressed before they become insurmountable.
- It is good practice to invite animal care staff to the very first meeting between a research group and the facility, so that they quickly become familiar with the background for the planned research, can raise fundamental questions about the topic (including any concerns they may have), and be informed of its potential benefits. The meeting will also be a good opportunity for initial discussions about any changes or additions that have to be made to the facility's routines and contingency plans.
- Lack of involvement can seriously demotivate animal care staff, since they no longer understand the rationale behind procedures causing pain and suffering, or the need for killing animals. This will also lead to reduced creativity and motivation to refine ongoing procedures.
Many research studies are labour-intensive at specific times, for example during substance administration, sampling, surgery and necropsy. A clear division of labour between the facility staff and research group must be planned and appropriately timetabled before the study starts. This division of labour must include decisions on recording observations during the experiment and where these observations are to be stored, both during and after the experiment.
Pre-start, progress and wash-up meetings should be scheduled.
Division of labour and costs
Proper care for the animals must be provided throughout the animals’ lives. This may affect staffing levels during holidays and out-of-hours which may have to be compensated, and which will necessitate an analysis of the availability of suitably trained staff at these times.
Division of the costs involved will be an important part of this work. In order to avoid disagreement about covering unexpected costs and other economic problems, which may result in compromises of animal welfare or health and safety, the funding of all stages of a project should be disclosed and discussed, along with any conditions attached to the funding. A contingency budget for unexpected events should be included. It is essential that sufficient resources are available to ensure that the animals’ welfare needs are met not just for the duration of the project but also for their lives before and afterwards, Sufficient funds must be available to conduct the research at the required level of scientific rigour, to avoid animal wastage. An assessment of the overall funding requirements of the project is an essential part of planning animal research.
Details such as the disposal of carcases amd surplus animals, and decontamination of the rooms used during the study, must be discussed at an early stage.
Whilst it may be difficult for a research team to predict accurately when a project will be completed, an approximate timescale, with experimental procedures and the need for support indicated, should always be provided since this has practical, ethical and economic consequences.
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