Implementing the College's action plan for world-class animal research



Changes to how Imperial manages animal research include revised governance, better ethical review, training and communications, and new staff roles.

In the five months since Imperial College London published its commitment to strengthen the governance of its animal research, the university has made substantial progress in implementing its Action Plan.

The changes build on the work of committed and engaged staff, who deliver the good standards of husbandry and day-to-day care identified in the independent investigation led by Professor Steve Brown. They are designed so that all processes relating to animals are driven by the highest standards of research, and that all animals are treated with full respect and high quality care.

Taken together, the changes are enabling the College to build a new culture around animal research. Imperial is supporting staff at all levels to take appropriate responsibility for the new arrangements, promote best practice, and embed awareness towards welfare and the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement).

“The changes that Imperial is making to implement the Action Plan represent a significant investment by the College and all the staff who work with animals”, said Professor Dermot Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice President (Health) at Imperial College London. “I am grateful for the help and support I have received from inside the College and the broader community to turn these ideas into significant improvements in the way we carry out this research.”

“Imperial’s pioneering work in seeking international accreditation for our standards of animal welfare and the implementation of novel training software is a sign of the world-class standards in animal research that we continue to aspire to and embed in our research.”   

The College’s Action Plan commits to change in several areas:

New governance structure

The revised governance arrangements set out a framework for managing and delivering world-class research within a culture that prioritises and increases opportunities for discussing issues relating to ethics, welfare and the 3Rs at every level. The framework includes a Central AWERB (Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body) with revised membership and terms of reference to deliver improvements in the 3Rs. The Central AWERB is now chaired by senior academic Professor Maggie Dallman, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Professor of Immunology. Its work is informed by the work of two local AWERBs, based at the Hammersmith and South Kensington / St Mary’s campuses.

The Central AWERB reports to the new Governance Board for Animal Research, which also oversees the Management Group, site-specific operations groups and a new trio of advisory committees to consider Quality Assurance (QA), 3Rs and Designated Rooms.

Appointments to these bodies are well underway, and are aimed at creating the most effective framework to promote regulatory compliance, clear leadership in animal research and effective and efficient central oversight of complex multi-campus operations.

The Governance Board includes senior researchers from Imperial and external advisors to assist with embedding best international practice in animal research. The QA and 3Rs groups advise on integrating best practice in animal research into the operational management of the animal research facilities. All groups have a regular schedule of meetings planned, and most have already held their first meetings.

Improved ethical review processes

Imperial’s ethical review processes have been reformed so that researchers, vets and Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWOs) are more actively and directly involved in discussing licence applications, and in reviewing project licences and practices in a timely and efficient way. Including the Chair of the 3Rs Advisory Group in the membership of the Central AWERB enables timely flow of information between the two groups and full consideration of the 3Rs with each project licence application.

The revised membership of the boards will optimise the way they discharge their responsibilities at central and local levels. Investment in a full-time senior administrator will free up time for the Named Veterinary Surgeon to focus fully on the leadership of the veterinary services. It will also create important resource for managing and providing secretariat support to AWERB, so that ethical review processes are supported in a way that enables them to achieve their aims efficiently.

Strengthened support for operational management

In the past five months, Imperial has made a series of investments in systems and staff to build on the high quality of animal husbandry recognised at the College, and to deliver continuing improvements in the way we manage our animal research facilities.

This investment is ongoing, and comprises resources for a number of areas. For example, a revised escalation policy provides readily accessible guidance, which is widely displayed in all working areas, on how to raise and follow up causes of concern in respect of animal welfare issues. The process reinforces the wider role of the NACWO and has been compiled to empower all staff working under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (ASPA), by providing them with a range of escalation routes depending on individual circumstances.

Imperial has also committed to seeking the international accreditation for animal welfare standards offered by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC). This is an additional accreditation beyond the minimum required by law. It provides an internationally respected validation that standards of animal welfare, facilities, training and competency assessments are deemed to be excellent. The College has appointed a full-time AAALAC project manager to work with Imperial’s animal research community, to consider the evidence that our animal care and use programme maintains a standard of excellence and demonstrates our accountability and efforts to promote sound, ethical practices. The project manager has already been in post for several months.

The College has made a significant investment in staffing levels by creating additional full-time roles, including a new senior academic position as Director of Bioservices, to provide sustainable resourcing of leadership and senior responsibilities. Additional roles to provide sufficient staffing and to safeguard animal welfare are also either already appointed or are now being recruited. These include:

  • A dedicated Named Training and Competency Officer;
  • A programme manager for QA and 3Rs;
  • An A-Tune project manager (to implement new training and competency software – see below)
  • And the AWERB administrator mentioned above.

Better management of training

The delivery and recording of compliance with mandatory training is a priority for the College, and Imperial is the first UK university to introduce new, secure online A-Tune software to maintain effective training and competency records in a centralised location. This is accompanied by investment in a full-time A-Tune project manager.

The new system not only facilitates compliance with relevant legislation, but also provides a number of other significant benefits such as automated prompts when refresher training is needed for specific techniques, an easy way to request any additional training that may be required, and a centralised system for raising awareness of continuous training opportunities for all staff working with animals, to keep staff at the forefront of in vivo research and 3Rs developments.

More effective communications

Imperial is making a series of improvements to how it engages with a range of audiences.

Internally, the emphasis has been on building better connections between biomedical staff and researchers, and sharing more information across the whole community. An internal newsletter for the community has been launched to improve mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities, and identify and share developments, outcomes, minutes from governance meetings and good practice from ongoing projects. A series of joint seminars and workshops is being organised to build stronger links and mutual awareness between all parts of the College’s animal research community.

Externally, Imperial has strengthened its connections with the broader animal research community through a series of visits to facilities at other higher education institutions, learning from and contributing to good practice, advocacy and insight into managing complex animal research sites.

The College continues its commitment to transparency by updating and expanding its animal research webpages and acknowledging the use of animal models in news stories about its research. In May 2014, Imperial signed up to the UK Concordat on Openness in Animal Research and plans are underway for developing ways to engage with public audiences about the purpose and impact of our research alongside raising awareness towards ethical and 3Rs issues.



Natasha Martineau

Natasha Martineau

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