FAQ - Research involving animal subjects


Why does NRC do animal research?

Many NRC researchers employ non-living (in vitro) alternatives to animal research but usually, at some point in the progression of their research, an animal (in vivo) model is necessary.

NRC always uses viable alternatives to animal research whenever possible and each year NRC and the broader research community make great efforts to develop and validate new alternatives.

Ultimately, a researcher must confirm that an animal alternative is not available for their particular research before they are eligible to receive approval to use an animal in research.

Unfortunately, no alternative model currently exists that can replicate the complex interactions that take place in a whole organism. Animal research is therefore often needed to determine the efficacy, as well as the safety, of a new drug, medical procedure or medical device.


What kinds of research at NRC involve animals?

Animal research plays a prominent and currently irreplaceable role in NRC laboratory research, particularly in the life sciences. NRC-IRAP also funds a small number of projects that require animals.

In the life sciences, NRC animal research contributes to projects investigating Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, stroke, infectious disease, cancer and vaccine development.

The majority of the NRC-IRAP projects involve the commercial agriculture or aquaculture sectors. Typically NRC-IRAP funded work is non-invasive and involves such things as the testing of new diets or husbandry equipment in a commercial fish or farm animal operation. NRC-IRAP does not maintain any animal facilities but does fund research which may involve animals. Ethics clearance is required for animal use before funding is granted.

What kinds of animals are involved at NRC?

Most of the animal research at NRC involves small animals such as mice, rats hamsters, guinea pigs and fish. This is similar to other animal-based research programs across Canada. Rabbits and pigs are also sometimes involved.

How does NRC ensure the wellbeing of animals involved in research?

From day one, laboratory animals are housed with other animals of the same species in a comfortable environment. In this way, they are socialized to adjust to laboratory handling as a normal part of life. All animals are kept in environments that are tailored to their physical and psychological needs. For example, mice are provided with cotton pads and shredded paper that they can use to make nests, pieces of hardwood or dowelling to chew on, and a plastic shelter. All animal research is overseen by qualified veterinarians and all animals involved in research at NRC are provided with veterinary standards of care. All technicians that handle animals are fully trained in animal handling in order to maximize comfort and minimize distress.

For example, a mouse undergoing surgery would be given a general anaesthetic and a post-operative analgesic (pain relief medication), just as any person would receive if they were to undergo surgery in a hospital. Following the operation, the mouse's recovery would be monitored, including incision healing, general body condition, and body weight. If the animal loses greater than 15% of its pre-surgery weight, it might be removed from the study, treated with antibiotics, provided with supplemental food, or euthanized. Plans and provisions such as these are pre-determined prior to approval of the application by the site-based NRC Animal Care Committee (ACC).

How does the NRC address the ethical treatment of animals?

Before animal research is considered, an analysis of the alternatives must be made. If animal research is found to be the only viable method, the research group must demonstrate to the reviewing ACC that the research will be conducted according to the highest ethical standards.

In evaluating the proposal and the steps that will be taken to ensure the wellbeing of the animals involved, ACCs refer to the "three Rs" for guidance:

  • Replacement: designing research methods that avoid or replace the use of animals in a study where animals would otherwise have been used
  • Reduction: minimizing the number of animals used
  • Refinement: designing and modifying procedures to minimize distress.

The ACC application must address any potentially adverse procedures or conditions along with the actions that will be taken to address them. This includes details of any surgery, any necessary anaesthetics, humane endpoint conditions for stopping the study, and the ultimate method of euthanasia.

What happens to the animals at the end of the experiments?

Animal research often requires terminal tissue collection and analysis, which requires humane euthanasia once the procedure is complete. The method of euthanasia is a key consideration in the ethics review and must be compliant with the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) guidelines (please see below for a link to CCAC website).

Do I need permission to do animal research at NRC?

Yes, all NRC researchers must obtain prior approval to undertake studies using animals. Requests for permission are made to the site-based ACC.

Granting of permission is based upon the review of a corporate Animal Use Protocol (AUP) form submitted by the principal investigator involved in the study.

What is an Animal Care Committee?

The cornerstone of the CCAC certification program is the site-based Animal Care Committees that review requests for animal research and oversee the organization's animal care and use program. The person responsible for the animal care program is the portfolio GM, to whom the ACC reports. According to the CCAC guidelines, ACCs are composed of representatives from the following areas:

  1. scientists experienced in animal care and use;
  2. a veterinarian, usually experienced in experimental animal care and use;
  3. an institutional member whose normal activities, past or present, do not depend on or involve animal use for research, teaching or testing;
  4. at least one, and preferably two or more, person(s) representing community interests and concerns, who have no affiliation with the institution and who have not been involved in animal use for research, teaching or testing;
  5. technical staff representation (either an animal care, animal facility or animal research technician);
  6. the ACC coordinator (the institutional employee who provides support to the ACC).

How important are community representatives?

The community member plays a critical role in the animal care and use program, representing the interests of the general public. In order to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest, the community representative must not have been involved in animal research in the past. The presence of a community representative is mandatory in order to achieve quorum for a meeting or to validate an annual facility inspection by the local ACC. Only the community member and veterinarian have mandatory status on the ACC.

Examples of past and current community members on NRC ACCs include individuals from all walks of life, including (for example): bankers, teachers, software programmers, members of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, and lawyers. One of the key challenges for all NRC researchers is to explain to the community members, in everyday language, how and why animals are used for research.

If you know of anyone that might make a good ACC community member please contact the chair of an ACC.

Where can I find out more about the ethical treatment of animals in animal research in Canada?

The Canadian Council on Animal Care is an independent body that oversees the ethical use of animals in science in Canada. The CCAC is responsible for the dissemination of information on the use of animals in science to Canadians and is accountable to the general public. In addition to guidelines, documents and policies, the CCAC compiles comprehensive annual statistics on the number of animals used in science and produces an annual report to disseminate information to its constituents and the general public.

Please visit the CCAC website.