No one likes to think about pain and distress. Fortunately, health researchers and laboratory animal medicine specialists not only think about this serious subject, but also work every day to find ways to alleviate and prevent suffering in both people and animals.
Despite amazing improvements that science and technology have already made in our lives and the promise of far greater medical advancements in the future, significant questions still remain unanswered about the nature of pain and distress. As a result, to help the countless people and animals afflicted by diseases, injuries and other painful conditions, scientists must continue to study the cause and consequences of pain and chronic stress. These studies also help to identify pain and distress that occurs unintentionally in animal laboratories. Their studies seek to better understand differences in individual experiences, and the best ways to evaluate, treat and ultimately avoid the negative effects of pain and distress. Laboratory animals are an essential part of the investigative process.
Scientists have long been committed to providing the most humane and ethical care to research animals that contribute to medical progress. Fulfilling that commitment is necessary to maintain research quality as well as to comply with existing legal requirements. For these reasons, when laboratory animals are unavoidably exposed to pain or distress, this suffering must be recognized and eliminated or minimized as much as possible. With the ongoing study of pain and better understanding of the mechanisms involved, the care and treatment of laboratory animals, like that of human patients, will continue to improve.
In order to encourage more humane and responsible care, over the past several decades the Scientists Center for Animal Welfare (SCAW) and several other national organizations have focused on developing and sharing with the research community comprehensive information on the humane treatment of laboratory animals. This ever-growing body of knowledge is exchanged at professional meetings, in electronic databases and through other information resources provided by a host of organizations concerned about animals.
As part of this process, and in preparation for possible further revisions to existing federal requirements for maintaining laboratory animal well-being and minimizing any pain or distress that research may necessarily entail, the following major initiatives are planned in the next several months:
- SCAW International Conference, "Pain, Distress and Stress in Research Animals: Current Standards and IACUC Responsibility" will be held May 18-19, 2000 in Baltimore, MD, with support from Genzyme, the Humane Society of the United States, Our Animal WARDS and SmithKline Beecham. Experts will discuss: available methods to reduce, refine or replace laboratory animal studies; understanding pain mechanisms and establishing humane end-points, and appropriate techniques and use of anesthesia and analgesics. Full program details can be found on the SCAW website www.scaw.com.
- The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM) Forum, "Laboratory Animal Medicine: Advancing Science and Animal Welfare in the 21st Century," is taking place May 21-24 in Fort Myers, FL. This program is devoted to the best practices for humane endpoints that reduce or eliminate pain and distress for various types of research and testing, and strategies for developing and incorporating these humane endpoints. For more information contact Dr. Melvin Balk at email@example.com.
- The Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) of the National Academy of Sciences is sponsoring a workshop in late June 2000 in Washington, DC, to examine the current national policy implications of the 1992 ILAR report, "Recognition and Alleviation of Pain and Distress of Laboratory Animals." Additional information regarding this open meeting is available from Dr. Ralph Dell, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- An expert committee assembled by the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California, Davis, is preparing a report on the issues involved in pain and distress assessment in various animal species and the latest methods for reducing or eliminating animal suffering.
- Other organizations, including the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) and ACLAM, are preparing position or policy statements, which reflect the ongoing efforts to make sure that laboratory animals receive the most humane and ethical care possible.