certainly includes the recognition and alleviation of pain and distress, and it applies to technicians, researchers, and veterinarians. To be sure, we cannot expect investigators or technicians to prescribe pain-relieving medications; this responsibility rests with the veterinarian. However, they should seek information and/or assistance when needed.
The AALAS position paper also emphasizes veterinary assistance of investigators, not only during the planning of potentially painful experiments, which is mandated by law, but also as soon as a study is under way. The statement also advocates adequate veterinary monitoring. Animal care and use protocols should be reviewed by the IACUC, and a pain category based on the expected pain level should be assigned at this time, that is, in a prospective manner. As soon as the study is funded and the investigator is ready to order animals, the veterinarian should arrange with the research laboratory to monitor or oversee the first few experiments or procedures in an attempt to ascertain the actual degree of pain or distress experienced by the animals. Whenever refinements are possible, the veterinarian should make pertinent recommendations to the researcher.
The results of this monitoring, as well as all associated recommendations, should be reported to the IACUC in a timely fashion. Based on this report, the IACUC should review the pain level category assigned originally and change it if necessary, in a retrospective manner, before submission of the USDA annual report. Therefore, more meaningful information can be forwarded to this regulatory agency. Involving the animal research staff in this process serves not only as an opportunity to train the laboratory personnel but also helps increase their awareness regarding the humane treatment of the animals. The primary monitoring responsibility may ultimately be delegated to the research laboratory, after the veterinarian and IACUC deem that its training is adequate. All observations and communications should be documented in a monitoring log. The veterinarian should continue to monitor these procedures, albeit more sporadically.
When designing monitoring schedules before the start of a new project the veterinarian should meet with the investigator and decide which pain- or distress-relieving medications could be used safely, without undue interference with the study. The responsibility for determining which drugs are appropriate rests with the investigator. Of course, the veterinarian must be familiar with the mode of action and pharmacological effects of these drugs so that he/she can make a valuable contribution toward this goal.
An important factor in reducing distress to the animals is their appropriate conditioning before a procedure. In other words, we should try to get them accustomed to the new procedure or the new environment in advance of the actual experiment. This acclimatization will also result in more reliable research data.