Communication within a research animal facility
Communication is crucial not only in publishing a research study, but all the way carrying out such a study.
When it comes to research where one uses animals, communication between all professions involved is an essential part.
Researchers and animal technicians
In animal research, the ones that know most about the animals are usually the animal technicians. However, in many animal facilities they are mainly changing cages, feeding the animals and check that the animals are healthy in general. They can do so much more.
An animal technician is usually trained in different types of animal handling and training as well as blood sampling, giving injections, prepping for surgery, euthanizing and more. Not only do they know how to do it, but they are often happy to help with the procedures, to teach others and to share what is needed to make the procedures successful. They are familiar with the building, storage and stocks, hygiene standards etc. After all they spend their entire work days in the animal facility. For researchers, the animal technician may be the most important person for their experiment to succeed.
On one of the 3Rs Center’s many study visits, we listened to a workplace where they had started to hold meetings before the ethical application was submitted. The researcher, members of the animal welfare body and an animal technician all take part in these meetings and we learned how the animal technicians now are able to help researchers to alter experiments to the specific terms of the animal facility. Prior to this a researcher had gotten an application approved that contained methods not possible to comply within the animal facility. Better communication has led to better designed experiments, that saves both time and money.
The same goes for ongoing experiments. Animal technicians take care of a lot of animals, but still knows most of them individually. If an animal is removed without notice or starts acting differently, the animal technicians are likely to notice right away. To communicate the plan for a specific animal experiment with the animal technician before and during the experiment is crucial to make the study run right, and to make everyone’s job easier and more effective. The animal technician then only has to react to things that are outside the scope of the experiment.
Veterinarians and the animal technicians
For veterinarians and other animal health professionals, the animal technicians are the eyes and the ears in the animal facility. Animal technicians can often diagnose an animal and get a quick approval from the veterinarian to start a treatment.
Communication between these two professions widely exist today, but their vocabularies can differ. Education and training for health professionals, both when it comes to human and animal health, include a wide range of anatomical terms for body parts and illnesses. It is not quite the same for animal technicians. This can lead to shortcomings in the communication.
Often animal technicians catch up pretty fast and learn how hydrocephalus looks and what the likely outcome is for the animal, or where to take a blood sample when being told to do it from the saphenous vein and what Dexmedetomidine does.
However, it is important that everyone involved in the animal care knows exactly what is being discussed. There are a few things that can improve the conditions for good communication. This includes a dictionary for veterinarians, to create your own internal glossary and to put up a poster of common health issues in the animal rooms. One such poster has been created by Charles River, called the Common Rodent Health Conditions Poster, which can be ordered free of charge from their website.
Veterinarians and researchers
In an animal facility the ultimate expert on animal health is the responsible veterinarian. It is vital that the veterinarian is aware of the effects an experiment is expected to have on the animals, so that they can make the correct decisions for the experiment if something acute happens. Veterinarians have an occupational responsibility for animal welfare and they are the most reliable resource regarding when it is feasible for an animal to recover and not.
A researcher must communicate to the responsible veterinarian what the animals are likely to experience during an experiment, but they should just as much listen to the veterinarian’s expertise when it comes to ending animal suffering.