NAU continues to learn through animal research
For years, scientists and students worldwide have used animal research to further understanding and explore new solutions to problems. When conducted correctly within the university setting, this research can offer a unique hands-on experience and look into the biological world beyond the classroom. At NAU, animal research has been practiced for decades under strict regulation and has never been reprimanded for misconduct or mistreatment of animals.
Tom Greene, the animal care manager at NAU, regards animal research as a valuable tool because of the introspective glance it gives students studying careers in the scientific field.
“When it comes to students and the benefit they get out of doing research and seeing research that involve animals and the whole organism, the students might be pre-med or pre-vet or might want to go on and study something in the future that would involve the kinds of questions that are being answered with this kind of research,” Greene said. “There’s just a lot of benefit there for people working with whole organisms that can’t be obtained by working with, say, invitro or cell culture or computer models.”
Russel Benford, a professor in the biology department, feels animal research allows for further insight for students.
“Certainly if we want to understand and appreciate animals more, it helps us to work directly with them,” Benford said. “There are a lot of interesting things to learn about nature and, in order to learn about nature, we need to interact with it.”
Because of Flagstaff’s diverse ecology, researchers have many different species available.
Cynthia Brown, public affairs coordinator for the Office of Public Affairs, recalled a common subject in the field.
“They’ve been looking at the presence of the plague in prairie dog populations, which comes up every year,” Brown said.
There are strict guidelines, however, regarding the type of animals as well as how the research is attended to.
“NAU does not do research with large animal species like primates or pet animals,” Greene said. “We are not equipped with enough lab space. Part of my job deals directly with the managing or regulatory oversight that takes place. Research with animals is very strictly regulated and in many cases even more regulated than medical research with humans and other things like that. There are laws and acts and legislation that have all been put in place.”
In addition to Greene’s work, there are local and national agency standards the research lab adheres to.
“To get to the focal point of how research at NAU is regulated, we’re overseen by several different agencies, one of which is the United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Services],” Greene said. “We are a USDA registered institution and we’ve held that registration for more than ten years. We’re also overseen by Public Health Services and a division of public health services called Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. There’s a suite of others as well. We abide by the Animal Welfare Act and its regulations and the guide for care and use of laboratory animals which is another publication put out by the institute of lab animal research and that’s sort of the Bible of you will. There’s PHS policy, U.S. government principles — there are a lot of rules and regulations.”
Greene is confident NAU’s animal research program will continue on with its recently earned ‘Exemplary’ distinction.
“In that 10 years, we’ve never been cited for a non-compliant issues and we were visited [this past Thursday] by our USDA inspector unannounced for an inspection,” Greene said. “[He concluded] we have an exemplary program that they’ve given us accolades on. The primary objectives are the health and welfare of the animals. With that comes quality work.”