Looking Out for the Littlest Research Assistants

A lot has happened since my last post here, way back in July. The most momentous thing, probably, is the announcement that I was leaving UC Irvine to complete a full circle in my life and take a job at the University of Texas at San Antonio, my undergrad alma mater.

I’m so excited to be back at UTSA. The Libraries have undergone an insane amount of change from when I was an undergrad, which is super exciting to see and to be a part of. It’s also nice to be back home in the UT System and in San Antonio.

So between interviewing, waiting, finishing up at UCI, moving, getting started at UTSA, and jumping into the deep end with my new job feet first, I’ve had a lot going on and not a lot of energy or insights I felt were worth blogging about. But! I thought I’d spend a little time reflecting on one of my new responsibilities as a member of UTSA’s IACUC.

Lab mouse – uploaded by user Rama to Wikimedia commons

IACUC stands for Institutional Animal Care and Use Comittee, and it is the gatekeeping organization that approves any research that uses animals. IACUC reviews research protocols (applications explaining what the scientists are going to do with the animals and why) and conducts evaluations of the institution’s animal care and use, which includes the results of inspections of facilities.

From UTSA’s IACUC Mission Statement,

The IACUC must be comprised of a minimum of five members including a veterinarian with special knowledge of laboratory animal medicine who has prescribed program responsibilities; a scientist experienced in laboratory animal procedures; a non-scientist; and a non-affiliated member (a person who has no affiliation with the university other than being a member of the IACUC and who represents general community interest in proper animal care). The UTSA IACUC consists of 9 voting members possessing the qualifications listed above, and two non-voting members involved in supervisory aspects of the Laboratory Animal Resources Center (LARC). Two alternate members have also been appointed.

So, what’s a librarian doing on IACUC? I technically fulfill the “non-scientist” slot as a voting member, but the UTSA IACUC has a history of wanting librarians on the committee to evaluate one of the key sections of the IACUC protocols: the literature search.

Under the Animal Welfare Act, investigators must provide evidence that demonstrates that alternatives to procedures using live animals have been considered and that their research activities do not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments. This is know as the three ‘R’s: reduce, refine, or replace. The UTSA IACUC protocol application form asks for information on what keywords the researcher used for the search, which databases she searched in, when the search was done, what years it covers, and even has a question asking whether or not the researcher has met with a librarian to discuss their search. And it’s my job to pass judgement on all this!

Yikes!! What a scary prospect for someone without a biosciences background, right? Luckily the other members of the UTSA IACUC—especially the director, university vet, and the chairman—have been incredibly welcoming and wonderful about helping get me up to speed on understanding everything I need to know to be a voting member of the committee.

Part of getting up to speed includes going through hands-on training and facility orientation in UTSA’s Laboratory Animal Resources Center, which means getting to see the techs and research assistants working with the mice and rats that live there. (And learning more than I ever wanted to know on the humane ways to kill a mouse. 😞 ) They’re also sending me to DC in March to a workshop by the Animal Welfare Information Center on meeting the information requirements of the Animal Welfare Act!

I’m definitely being forced to stretch my boundaries, and while it’s a little bit scary, it’s also giving me a fantastic new insight into the research being done at UTSA and the biological sciences in general. It also feels really good to be looking out for all the little mice and rats and making sure that their lives as research animals are as good as they can possibly be.

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3 thoughts on “Looking Out for the Littlest Research Assistants

    • It’s been super interesting so far. There’s a lot of neat research being done at UTSA that I had no idea about. O_O And yeah, the goal is to make sure the little dudes have good lives while they’re helping advance science, and luckily everyone on IACUC is REALLY serious about it. :D

  1. Everything sounds exciting. Congrats!!!! I don’t necessarily know if I, personally, would ever want to move back to San Antonio, though. It would be nice to see UTSA again…

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