The following guest post is by Richard Marble RLATg, CMAR, Laboratory Animal Facility Coordinator at Ferris State University. In this article, he provides an insight into animal facilities from the perspective of a lab animal facility manager.
Laboratory Animal Research and Testing.
You hear about this controversial subject as a topic of discussion in the news quite often. You’ll see live video feeds on TV of animal rights protestors in front of research facilities or on government building front lawns, protesting the use of animals in research. You’ll read of pro-animal testing groups standing across the street counter protesting the animal rights activists in the newspaper. But seldom do you hear the stories from the compassionate, animal and people loving individuals inside the walls of these companies and institutions performing the research and caring for the animals. I want to share with you a peek at life behind the walls from the perspective of a Laboratory Animal Facility Manager’s chair.
My name is Richard Marble, and I am an animal care facility coordinator (manager) in a small Midwest University. I have spent over 10 years in Animal Research, the last 6 years being spent in management. My experience spreads across Academia, Contract Research Organizations, and Laboratory Animal Providers. I possess a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Biology, and I am a Registered Laboratory Animal Technologist and Certified Manager of Animal Resources. I am passionate about what I do and I am thankful to be in a field where I have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of animals and people alike. To quote, Cindy Buckmaster Ph.D., a well-known animal researcher and champion for necessary laboratory animal research, “People in this field are the reason that 6 year olds with leukemia get to be 7.”
In my current position, it is my job to make sure the animals under our care receive the best and most humane treatment available. This in turn provides society with opportunities to gain valuable knowledge that improves the health and wellbeing of people and animals alike. I educate and consult with the investigators on proper procedures/care as well as advise them of the regulatory/ethical obligations regarding their work with research animals. I also provide day to day oversight of all animal care activities, advise the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) on regulatory updates/changes, protect the occupational health of the animal technicians caring for the animals, and serve as the primary point of contact to senior administration on ALL THINGS ANIMAL RESEARCH. As you can see this position involves wearing many hats. In order to accomplish all of this I am first and foremost an educator, but I am also a subject matter expert, a manager, a supervisor, a mentor, a committee member, a communications facilitator, and part of a team of individuals who care for our animals.
Most days start out with normal business tasks like checking emails, scheduling appointments, ordering supplies, and other general office tasks. Then the exciting and ever changing part of my day begins. One morning, I might take the opportunity enter the animal rooms and interact with the technicians and animals to find out what we can do to improve the care for our animals. Another morning I might meet with a prospective researcher and provide input on how to design their research project in order to get the best data from their work while having the least impact on the animals’ health or wellbeing.
Next comes lunch time. Sometimes lunch is also spent working. A vendor may stop in for a working lunch to discuss the changes in their products or go over upcoming projects, sharing how they can assist our investigators in obtaining the equipment they need. Other days I may take this time to recharge my batteries by getting out of the office and catching lunch with a coworker, or catching up on the latest news developments in human or animal healthcare.
Moving to the afternoon I might attend a meeting with IACUC members to review incoming protocols and discuss our legal/ethical obligations or training/ updating them on current best practices. This may include ways of reducing the number of animals needed for the research by suggesting utilizing animals from a behavioral study that has ended, refining a procedure by providing input on the latest/ least invasive way of performing it, or offering a scientifically validated option to replace some of the animals with cell or computer based options to obtain the same data. A different afternoon might be spent discussing facility equipment updates with physical plant personnel and educating them on the ever changing facility needs of animal based research in regards to HVAC, plumbing, surfacing, and electrical, or it might be meeting with a vendor on a new equipment installation project.
Then there are the emergencies. Though thankfully rare, they do happen. An animal gets sick, a drain backs up, a technician calls in sick, the HVAC goes down, the electric goes out, an external inspector shows up, or a researcher is three hours from a grant deadline and was just notified they needed some documentation from animal care. Did I mention these always come when a facility manager is the busiest? It is at these times that I find the challenge and the most fulfillment in my career. Everything I am working on gets dropped, and I attend to the emergency, in all cases putting animal health and well-being at the forefront. The vet gets called. Physical plant gets notified. I rush back to the office to get the inspector the paperwork they need to review. I may have to jump in and cover cage change duties for the sick technician. I may have to help my technicians scramble to put temporary heating into a room in order to keep the animals warm. I might be racing the clock to get the investigator the information they need so they can make the grant deadline, enabling them to have money to complete life- saving research or provide education for future drug development technicians. It is all in a day’s work.
At the end of the day, I look back on the accomplishments with fulfilment, and view the mistakes as opportunities to improve. Some days, when the stress has been high, I will spend the last half hour of my day, suited up in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sitting in the rabbit room handling and socializing the rabbits. It’s there, with rabbit sitting in my lap, that I am reminded of the ultimate reason my job exists and the passion for what I do. Ultimately, it is all about the animals, and the sacrifices they make so that people and animals alike live better, longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives due to necessary animal based research. This is the reason I get out of bed each work day looking forward to being part of the miracle of modern medicine. It is a privilege and a passion to be part of this miracle, and when you love what you do, you never “work” another day in your life. That is the perspective from this Lab Animal Facility Manager’s Chair. I hope you enjoyed the view.