The AWA requires that each institution with an animal care and use program have an IACUC that is charged with overseeing of the institution’s animal care and use program. Members of the IACUC are appointed by the Institutional Official (IO). The committee must consist of at least one veterinarian who is either certified or has training in laboratory animal medicine, one practicing scientist experienced in research involving animals and at least one public or lay member who represents the interest of the general community. The lay member must not be affiliated with the university. In reality, most institutions have more than one member per category. The number of committee members is determined by the size and type of research program. The IACUC at UTHSC currently is comprised of two laboratory animal veterinarians, eleven scientific members, three non-affiliated members and two ad-hoc members.
The IACUC is responsible for overseeing and evaluating the animal care and use program. In addition to reviewing research protocols involving the use of animals, the IACUC evaluates all other parts of the institution’s animal program. It is responsible for ensuring that all investigators have the appropriate training and expertise to conduct animal research. The committee inspects all university space where animals are housed or where studies involving animals take place. The committee submits reports to federal agencies as required by regulations, and forwards its recommendations concerning the animal care and use program to the IO. The IO addresses any animal care and use concerns and remediates any problems associated with institutional animal welfare.
IACUC responsibilities are time consuming and require a high level of commitment on the part of its members, who are volunteers. The committee generally meets once a month (or more if necessary) to review and discuss protocols, to develop new policies and to address any problems within the animal care and use program.
One of the more important functions of the IACUC is to serve the research community as an educational resource in the areas of laboratory animal care and use. Many of the scientific members have unique expertise and are willing and able to lend insight and assistance to investigators who may be new, or inexperienced, or who may be having difficulty with matters related to animal care and use. The IACUC can also facilitate collaborative efforts between investigators. The veterinarians who serve on the committee as well as other members of the Department of Comparative Medicine are valuable resources for determining how to use best practices in animal experimentation.
The committee oversees animal activities in part by documentation that is required by regulatory guidelines. Most of this documentation is provided in the Animal Study Protocol Form. The purpose of the protocol form is two-fold. It assists investigators in providing necessary documentation about procedures involving animals. It also helps focus the investigator’s consideration of the “3Rs” of humane animal experimentation; reduction; refinement and replacement (Russell and Birch, “The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, London, Methuen, 1959). While it may seem that some of the parts of the protocol form are arbitrary or cumbersome, all of the information to be specified within them is necessary and required. Accurate completion of narratives on this form ensures that the animals will receive the best possible care. The IACUC is currently revising its animal protocol forms to make them more user-friendly. Electronic submission of protocol forms is required.