There are many practical details that need to be considered before the experiment can be started.Some of these are briefly outlined below. A checklist is also provided which can be down-loaded or printed and filled in to ensure that nothing has been overlooked.
The name or designation of the experiment
Every experiment needs a name and/or designation. This might involve the name or initials of the investigator with a serial number, or some other descriptive designation such as the date started.
Any laws relating to the use of animals in research must be adhered to rigorously. In the UK the experiment must be carried out on licensed premises under an appropriate project license, and any procedures must be done by people holding the appropriate personal licenses as laid out in the Animals (Scientific procedures) Act. 1986. Detailed records need to be kept and annual returns of animals used under the Act must be made.
In the USA experiments on protected animals must be done under the authority of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 as amended by the Animal Welfare Act of 1970 and the 1976 amendments to the Animal Welfare Act. Details are given in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, National Academy Press 1996 Other countries have their own rules which must be adhered to.
The local ethical review (IACUC, ERP)
In many countries any experiment likely to cause pain, distress or lasting harm is also considered by a local ethical committee such as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) in the USA or by the Ethical Review Process (ERP) in the UK.
Human health and safety considerations
Experiments may directly or indirectly involve infectious agents which can be transmitted to humans, such as B-virus and tuberculosis in primates. They may also involve chemical or radiation hazards to staff. Animal carcases also need to be safely destroyed. These need to be considered, and appropriate safety measures introduced.
Safety of other animals
If animals need to be brought in from another source they may also bring in diseases which would be a hazard to other animals in the animal house. Wherever possible animals should come from a reliable source, they should have been screened for pathogens with a full report being supplied, and they should be quarantined, usually for 1-2 weeks, before being put into the animal house. It is essential for this to be done in consultation with the Director of the animal facility.
Staff skills, training, health and safety
The animal house should be under the control of a Director, and veterinary advice should be freely available.
The animals will need to be looked after by well trained staff, but any non-standard procedure requiring particular skills may involve further staff training. Care need to be taken to ensure that the staff have sufficient time to look after the animals and that they understand the nature of the experiment. They need clear instructions about the humane killing of any animals that appear to be suffering undue pain or distress.
Staff safety must also be considered. Allergies to animals are common, and steps need to be taken to reduce exposure to allogens. If hazardous materials are to be used, staff health must also be considered.
The availability of animal room space, cages, racking and supplies needs to be discussed with the Director of the animal house. If special facilities such as metabolism cages are needed then these must be procured. The availability of surgical facilities, procedure rooms and any special accommodation required also need to be considered.
The way that the animals are to be housed needs thought. Caging mice or rats individually takes up a lot of space and may lead to stress in social animals, so it is not recommended for long periods. However, placing animals on the same treatment in the same cage, while convenient, may not be the best approach to experimental design due to cage effects (e.g. if fighting occurs within a cage).
Procedures to minimise pain and distress need to be considered as a separate item. Any surgical interventions need to be done using the most appropriate anaesthetics and analgesics. Post-operative care needs to be provided. The animals need to be checked at frequent specified intervals. In many cases it is appropriate to have a welfare score sheet to record the behaviour of the animal. Clear instructions need to be given on the humane killing of animal animals thought to be suffering excessive pain or distress. Humane end-points should be used wherever possible.
Written Standard Operating Procedures need to be produced for the maintenance and conduct of the experiment.
It is up to the investigatory to provide sufficient finance to complete the project. This means that in most cases a budget must be prepared which takes account of the costs of animal procurement, chemicals and supplies and the costs of maintaining the animals for the duration of the experiment.
A checklist covering most of the decisions that need to be made before starting the experiment is given below. This can be down-loaded or printed aned filled out before starting work.