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Science, Medicine, and Animals
the 3 Rs in action
Chris McNickle worked in animal hospitals for more than 20 years before she came to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as an animal care technician. McNickle’s background in animal care helped impart not only an understanding of the ways that individual animals and different species react to illness but also “a compassion for the animal,” she says. Viewing her role as that of “patient advocate,” she says that her job in the laboratory is to “support the animal, watch the animal, and to try to improve the care of the animal.” She strongly believes that collaboration and respect among scientists, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians results not only in higher standards of animal care but also in more effective and productive science. • McNickle points to a recent 8-month study at NIH as a model of the type of research program in which careful attention to animal well-being and teamwork among veterinarians, animal care technicians, and scientists produced the maximum scientific benefit. The human benefits of this study are great—a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that is able to diagnose a heart attack instantly. • The project was a collaborative effort from the start, she notes, and was instituted when a veterinarian, Dr. Victoria Hampshire, identified two different researchers who were both using dogs to study the flow of blood through the heart attack-damaged arteries. Dr. Hampshire got the two researchers together, and they determined that, though it was not possible to REPLACE the dog model with an in vitro culture system (it is not possible to simulate a heart attack in a laboratory dish), they could get the information they both needed from the same set of dogs and thus REDUCE the number of animals used in the studies. • McNickle points out that it is crucial to recognize that laboratory animals have many of the same responses and symptoms as people, and they need to be provided with the same level of support. Thus, a team of veterinarians and technicians REFINED previous care procedures by instituting 24-hour critical care for the dogs in the study, similar to hospital intensive care units for heart attack patients. • Human patients also benefit from close monitoring of experimental animals and round-the-clock attention to their needs, McNickle says. Many of the drugs used to care for these dogs are the same as those used in human heart attack patients. She points out that by understanding what drugs and dosages cause side effects like nausea in the dogs, doctors are better able to treat human heart attack patients. “We’re better able to determine the dosage that will produce the maximum healing benefit with the least side effects,” which ultimately is the goal of all animal research.