Judith L. Vaitukaitis
Director, National Center for Research Resources
National Institutes of Health
We are here today because we share enthusiasm for establishing the highest possible global standards for laboratory animal models, which we need to share universally. Sharing is not only a cost-effective approach but is also a way to acknowledge that biomedical research is now on a global scale. This global venue for biomedical research enhances the probability that scientific advances to improve human health will reach the people of all nations. As we meet, valuable laboratory animal models are being exchanged among biomedical investigators at research institutions worldwide.
Our collective attention to carefully characterizing and continuously monitoring the quality of our research animals contributes to establishing worldwide standards that will benefit all users. As the 20th century draws to a close, we salute the vision of Drs. Held, Allen, Nomura, Kaguiama, and others who, on behalf of their respective countries, had the foresight to focus on quality control standards two decades ago. The common denominator for the ongoing collaborations has been the dedication to improving and sustaining the quality of the laboratory animal scientific infrastructure.
The genome sequencing efforts for several species will provide the basis for well-characterized animal models for study into the next millennium. Laboratory animal models are invaluable for investigators to discern mechanisms of disease and develop novel approaches to prevent, control, or cure diseases with genetic factors that contribute to human disease or its susceptibility. The genomes of several important animal models already have been sequenced, and human genome efforts are rapidly moving forward. These activities further emphasize the need for well-defined laboratory animals that can provide the vital link between
basic research and patient studies. To this end, it is crucial to establish standards for monitoring genotype, phenotype, microbial status, and the environmental quality of the mouse and rat. Genetically altered rodent models are even more susceptible to their microbial environments than their genetically intact litter mates. This simple fact is not widely appreciated, however. At this meeting today, we will exchange information and further strengthen efforts in these critical areas.
Standardized databases are necessary for cataloging the many validated genetically altered rodents to prevent unnecessary duplication of this research effort globally. Complementary data—normal gene and altered gene sequences of induced mutants and their phenotypes—must be captured in databases for seamless access to facilitate research as the demand by researchers for high-quality genetically engineered mice and rats steadily increases. There is a great need for international collaboration in database design, data entry standardization, and management.
We must also train more experts in rodent pathobiology. Pathobiologists are essential for characterizing the impact of genetic alterations on phenotype. To enhance career development in this area, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is extending support for training and career development opportunities for veterinarians in laboratory animal pathobiology. This effort is expected to significantly increase the quality of laboratory animal model characterization and complement the effort of other scientists working with these models.
In recent years, NIH has initiated activities to position the rat model parallel with that of the mouse. Briefly, the trans-NIH mouse research priorities focus on sequencing of the mouse genome, functional analysis of induced genetic defects, and development of repositories and databases. In addition, several NIH institutes and centers are expanding support for the career development and retraining of experts in rodent pathobiology. NIH priorities include mapping and sequencing the mouse genome, establishing mutagenesis and phenotyping centers as well as expanding mutant mouse regional resource centers, and developing or expanding databases to facilitate access to appropriate animal models and provide relevant information about those genetic models.
The rat model is also considered a primary biologic discovery tool and a principal model system for assigning functions to genes. It particularly offers an excellent model system for toxicology and pharmacology studies. Rat model advocates believe the interaction of rat physiologists with mouse geneticists will enhance the possibilities of discovering and characterizing new genetic models of human disease. Again, the pathogen status and quality of these research animals are paramount to research integrity.
In the next century, we and others may look back on today's meeting and earlier efforts and wonder how the participants of this US-Japan effort had the foresight to address key quality control issues. The issues may have seemed mundane to some but will be viewed as absolutely essential to the significant
progress in defining the key role that laboratory animal models contribute to understanding the mechanisms of human disease and developing ways to improve human health—not only in the United States and Japan, but globally as well.
I again commend your efforts to further scientific progress through this exchange program, established many years ago by the governments of the United States and Japan. We must continue to safeguard our valuable and fragile laboratory animals by microbiologic monitoring for major infectious agents, improving diagnostic techniques for disease, training more pathobiologists, and developing more relevant databases and tools to mine data and increase access to information and other essential research resources. May our exchange today yield the knowledge needed to fulfill the world health promise of tomorrow.