In early 1995, Advanced Resource Technologies, Inc. (ARTI), under contract with the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), National Institutes of Health (NIH), will undertake the most ambitious survey of laboratory animal use in the United States in the last 16 years. This survey will be mailed to all institutions that have animal use assurance statements on file with the Public Health Service. It is intended to provide the NIH with a current picture of laboratory animal use and projected animal research needs. These data will then be used to help NIH obtain funding for many of its extramural grants programs that aid the animal research community.
The survey covers many topics such as the nature of the organization, personnel, projected needs to support the animal research program, training, animal numbers by species and sex, conventional vs. nonconventional animals, facilities and the impressions of those filling out the document. It is 25 pages long.
According to Dr. Leo Whitehair, Director of the Comparative Medicine Program at the NIH, "The last national survey, in 1978-79, gave us quite a bit of information. There were estimates made of space needs for laboratory animals, anticipated costs for the construction, alteration or renovation of laboratory animal facilities and we obtained a good bit of information about the species being used. We hope to obtain similar up-to-date information with this survey." The 1978-79 survey was also used to build congressional support for the needs of laboratory animals. "What it did was give NCRR the necessary information for our director to go before the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate and provide accurate responses to their questions concerning the national needs for new construction and renovations of existing [laboratory animal] facilities," said Dr. Whitehair. "The problem is that the '78 survey is outdated and that information means nothing today."
In recent years, when NCRR officials responded to congressional committees questions concerning laboratory animal needs, it became apparent that a serious lack of current information existed. Dr. Whitehair stressed that the 1995 survey results will help NIH immensely in planning its laboratory animal programs and in the submission of realistic budget requests for programs of construction, equipment procurement, and other animal needs.
Because of rising costs and changes in Federal grants management, the survey will also give a better picture of current costs associated with animal facility operations. Back in 1980, the Comparative Medicine Program estimated that approximately 12 to 15 percent of the average research budget was spent on animals, "However," says Dr. Whitehair, "per diem rates (direct costs) are going up very significantly at many institutions. Direct costs and indirect costs are a big factor because of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Revised Circular A-21 that recently changed the way that certain types of services are charged at research institutions. This has been very difficult for veterinarians in charge of research animal facilities because they have had to revise their per diem rates upward rather quickly. The Circular A-21 provision directs that many items previously covered by indirect costs now be shifted to direct costs. This does not please the investigator because the direct costs in grants are what the investigator actually sees and has to conduct the research project. Per diems are going up and they will be paid out of direct costs that are awarded in their grants." "The survey," adds Dr. Elizabeth Gard, a laboratory animal veterinarian at ARTI, "looks at per diem rates generated by an organization in supporting animals and will give us an idea of the real cost of animal research to the overall organization budget."
If you are a PHS assured institution, why should you spend the time filling out another government report? Can't NIH get their information from the annual U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report? "No," according to Dr. Whitehair. "It's not the same approach to answering the questions that we're asking. Just numbers is one thing, but it doesn't really tell us what our needs are from a programmatic point of view about laboratory animal usage, facility needs, and projected costs of the overall resources." And says Dr. Richard Dukelow, Director of the Regional Primate Research Centers Program at NCRR, NIH, "The USDA report doesn't cover people and this survey will."
Dr. Gard also points out that this survey "looks for the first time at rats, mice, birds, invertebrate animals, newly emerging models used as alternatives, the use of farm animals, and at species the USDA tracks, but in a more comprehensive fashion. We are examining nonhuman primates (NHP) by species and this will give the Government an opportunity to look at supported resources and the projected needs of animal models that are different for differing NHP species." Dr. Whitehair also mentions that the NIH captive breeding programs of NHP may also be affected by the survey results.
A side benefit brought up by Dr. Dukelow is that many institutions probably have not fully examined their programs in such a comprehensive manner. "Oftentimes an institution doesn't have to really look at how many square feet, how many cages, how many animals they have. This provides them the opportunity to reevaluate their own systems and see what their long term needs really are."
For those people concerned about security, Dr. Paul DiTullio, a research psychologist working for ARTI, says that the survey is being conducted in a completely anonymous manner despite the many statistical problems this presents. "We are very aware of the institutions' concerns, so the tradeoff is anonymity." Once the final report is issued, all survey booklets will be destroyed.
It's fair to say that the overall document will only be as valid and effective as the respondents contributions. Because future funding of grants for laboratory animal resources may be partially based on the survey results, it is in the best interests of everyone involved for those people receiving this document to spend the time and provide ARTI with comprehensive evaluations of their laboratory animal programs.
Dr. Elizabeth Gard, DVM, ACLAM, and Dr. Paul Ditullio, Ph.D., will be administering the survey for ARTI.
Dr. Gard is a diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine and has over 17 years' experience with both commercial and Federal Government laboratory animal facilities.
Dr. DiTullio has a doctorate in experimental psychology and has more than 17 years' experience performing surveys for the Federal Government. He will be responsible for the statistical analysis of the survey.
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