Animal Ethics and Care in Science

Governance regarding the care and treatment of animals in science

The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) is a national organization with a mandate to set standards for the care and use of animals in research in Canada.

The goal of the CCAC guidelines is to strive for best research practices and optimal conditions for the animals, through constant improvement as new information on animal well-being and health becomes available.

Each research institution has an animal care committee responsible for implementing a comprehensive animal care and use program that meets the national standards. This is evaluated by the CCAC through its assessment program.

Compliance with and approval of the CCAC is mandatory in order to receive federal funding, the highest source of funding for most Canadian universities. Failure to comply with the CCAC can lead to a suspension of animal care and research programs at the university.

In Ontario, the use of animals in research is also regulated by the Animals for Research Act which is enforced by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Unannounced inspections are conducted on a yearly basis to ensure compliance with the Act.

At Queen's, the University Animal Care Committee (UACC) is a Principal's committee that reports to the Vice-Principal Research.

Learn more about the UACC

Why animals are used

Pre-clinical trials on animals are often a legal requirement before the drug can be put to use. Regulatory agencies in most countries require evidence of drug safety before they can be used with humans and in many cases this pre-clinical testing is done on animals.

Animals are often the most valuable way to study the effects of how organ systems in the body interact with each other and to learn about the side effects that might occur with a particular treatment.

Humans are also recruited to participate in medical research through studies called “clinical trials.” Some animals may also participate in veterinary clinical trials with their owners’ consent.

In the research path to the discovery of, for example, a better treatment for hypertension, some studies might be done in cell or tissue culture, then in animals, and ultimately in humans. Such clinical trials are very carefully regulated.

Many techniques and vaccines developed through animal research are applied to animal health practices as well as in human medicine. In this way, developments made with animal research can also benefit animals.

Replacement, Reduction and Refinement

Scientists use animals in research only when necessary and are constantly trying to reduce the amount of animals used, refine their techniques to improve animal welfare and replace animal models with alternatives, when possible. For example:

  • Computer aids, as well as cell, tissue and organ cultures, are all useful in the preliminary stages of research and are also useful in educational programs.
  • Mathematical models can improve on experimental design and help predict an organism’s response to varying levels of exposure to a particular chemical.
  • Computer data banks offer the ability to share results with other researchers, which reduces test duplication.

The three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) are accepted around the world as the standard for the humane and responsible use of animals in research. They are the cornerstone of the Canadian Council on Animal Care program and are incorporated into all aspects of the guidelines and policies of the CCAC for the use of animals.

Pictured: a Sprague Dawley rat.

Pictured: a Sprague Dawley rat. Working with Animals in science is a privilege, this is demonstrated by the culture of care within the animal care and use program.