Background

The University of Western Australia (UWA) undertakes research and teaching involving the use of animals in the areas of biomedical, biological, agricultural, environmental and marine sciences to both answer research questions and to educate students in their pursuit of knowledge. These activities are supported by an animal breeding program, where animals cannot be economically sourced from other animal suppliers.

This research, teaching and breeding is undertaken in accordance with the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th Edition (2013) (hereafter referred to as the Code). The code is published by National Health and Medical Research Council . Further, research, teaching and breeding are conducted in accordance with the Licence to Use Animals for Scientific Purposes U1/2015-2018 which is issued by the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia in 2015 and valid until 30 June 2018. UWA was advised, by the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, on 19 November 2014 that it was not required to be licensed to supply animals.

The Code requires that all licensed institutions undertake an Independent External Review (IER) of the operations of its Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) every four years.  These independent external reviews assist institutions to assess whether the procedures they have established meet the goals set out in the Code, and provides assurance that the institution, through its animal ethics committee (AEC), is delivering effective oversight of the care and use of the animals in its charge. The Code states that the process should be educational and provide an opportunity for self-assessment so that members of the AEC and those at the institution who have responsibilities for animal care and use are involved in achieving the desired outcomes.

An IER of UWA's AEC operations was conducted between 12 and 16 June 2017, following the previous review in July and August 2013. This review was conducted pursuant of the 8th Edition of the Code, whereas the 7th edition was current for the 2013 review. The IER covered the operations of the AEC, met with senior University managers, research managers, researchers and teachers and technical staff supporting animal care and breeding at the University. Attention was paid to both the response to and implementation of the findings of the 2013 IER as well as the current status of compliance with the Code.

Findings

The Review Panel commended the University for its culture of compliance, the structured induction program for AEC members, the support for first time applicants to the AEC process and for the marked improvement in the operations at the Ridgefield Farm.

The Review Panel found that the University was compliant with the Code and found no areas of major concern, but has provided recommendations in areas for improvement, in line with the Panel’s Terms of Reference. All references to Clauses below are to the relevant clause in the Code.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1: The Application Form should be amended with respect to Question 9, to include explicit advice requiring the researcher to consult a biostatistician, to determine ideal sample size and minimum sample size for reliable outcomes or provide evidence that the researcher has the necessary experience to do this and that evidence is provided. (Clause 1.21 of the Code refers).

Recommendation 2: That when the AEC approves an application subject to minor amendments/modifications, the final approval is delegated to an AEC Executive which must include the Chair and the at least one member from Cat C or D, (Clauses 2.2.23 (i) and 2.3.9 (i) refer) and that this final approval is ratified at the next AEC meeting.

Recommendation 3: That the University establish a competency register for research and animal house staff to record endorsed competencies, confirmed either by third party certification/reference, or observation by the Animal Welfare Office (AWO) or another competent person, and to be available to the AEC when considering applications. (Clauses 2.1.5 (v) (a), 2.1.8 (ii) and 2.4.8 (xix) refer)

Recommendation 4: That the AEC, through UWA, establish formal agreements with other institutions and their AECs, for the care and use of animals across those institutions when required. (Clauses 2.6.4 and 2.6.6 refer)

Recommendation 5: That the University consolidate all Standard Operating Procedures, regardless of which animal facility has developed them, in one location and make those accessible to all relevant animal ethics staff, animal facility staff, researchers and teachers and external AEC members, by way of a secure electronic web site. (Clause 2.2.36 refers)

Recommendation 6: The Animal Ethics Office ensure that researchers and teachers are involved in the process of revising AEC application forms prior to them being submitted to the AEC for approval. (Clauses 2.2.32 (i) and 2.7.2 refer)

Recommendation 7: That the University ensure that future appointments to the AECs have relevant and current experience. This includes ensuring that the Cat A and B members have recent or current experience in working with the animal species used in research at UWA or have the ability to acquire relevant knowledge and, that where possible, the Cat C member is a member of, and endorsed by, an animal welfare organisation. (Clause 2.2.4 refers)

Recommendation 8: That the University considers appointing a person responsible for the routine care of animals within the institution to each of the AECs. (Clause 2.2.5 refers)

Recommendation 9: That the University initiates a research project to analyse the database of the reasons for the AEC requesting modifications or rejecting applications, to determine if there are any systemic issues that can be addressed.

Recommendation 10: That consideration be given to the AEO staff, together with the AWOs and the Animal Welfare Veterinary Advisor (AWVA) undertake a preliminary review of projects submitted, covering such issues as completeness, monitoring reg.

imes, competencies and consistency of animal numbers, in order to streamline the AEC meetings.

Recommendation 11: That the University further define the roles of the various groups of veterinarians involved in the AEC system and communicate this to the animal research and teaching community. (Clauses 2.1.5 (vi), 2.1.5 (vii), 2.1.8 (i) (ii) and 2.5.17 refer)

Recommendation 12: That the AWOs act as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the AEC by conducting unannounced inspections of approved procedures being undertaken, and reporting the outcomes to the AEC. Clause 2.1.5 refers)

Recommendation 13: That the induction of new AEC members include a personal briefing on the broader issues of why the University is concerned about the care and use of animals for research and teaching. (Clause 2.1.5 (v) (c) refers)

Recommendation 14: That the University consolidate the notification of death and notification of health issues into an “Unexpected adverse event report” and report them to the AEC. (Clauses 2.1.5 (v) (d), 2.2.32 (ii) (c), 2.5.6, 3.1.24 and 3.1.25 refer)

Recommendation 15: That the AWO’s report to the AEC be a standalone report and not be wholly or partially included within the Director ACS report. (Clause 2.1.5 refers)

Recommendation 16: That the AWO and the relevant Animal Care Staff ensure that all animals are treated as outlined within the AEC approved project at the End of Experiment date. (Clause 2.4.21 refers)

Recommendation 17: That the University consider extending the use of the [email protected] system to all animal care facilities under its control. (Clause 2.1.8 refers)

Abbreviations used in this Summary

ACS
Animal Care Services
AEC
University of Western Australia Animal Ethics Committee
AEO
Animal Ethics Office
AWO
Animal Welfare Officer
AWVA
Animal Welfare Veterinary Advisor
Category (Cat) A-D
Categories of membership of the AEC as defined by the Code
Code
Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th Edition (2013)
IER
Independent External Review
NH&MRC
National Health and Medical Research Council
SOP
Standard Operating Procedure
UWA
The University of Western Australia

References

National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, 8th edition. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.