A Keen Regard for Animal Welfare - Steve Russell
Animal research has driven many advances in human medicine: insulin, vaccines, groundbreaking heart disease treatments – and even CT scans.
Many of these innovations wouldn’t be possible without that research.
Steve Russell, the University of Idaho’s attending veterinarian, recognizes the important role animals hold in the development of new techniques in human and animal medicine. He also recognizes the importance of ensuring the best possible care while the animals fulfill this critical role.
Russell aims to continuously improve U of I’s animal research program by raising the bar on animal welfare. He’s representing the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED) on the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) Task Force, part of a campus-wide effort to accredit U of I’s animal research program. AAALAC is an international, nonprofit accrediting agency that oversees the gold standard in animal use programs.
Russell is well-positioned for this task force. He has been involved with AAALAC for more than 20 years, including his time at Washington State University, where he was in charge of AAALAC standards and protocols. He has also served as an ad-hoc site visitor with the association for more than seven years.
Russell points out several benefits of AAALAC accreditation, including: Verification that the university has achieved the highest standards of welfare; an emphasis on continuous programmatic improvement, striving for gold standard animal care; and easier collaboration between U of I and other institutions for large, multi-institutional grant-funded projects.
“The AAALAC Task Force has already begun their internal review, and a lot of work has been done,” Russell said. “The task force is building a program description this year and doing reviews of our facilities, our processes and areas for improvement. It is a team effort, and everyone is involved.”
Russell’s concern for the well-being of animals constantly drives his work.
“It’s a delicate balance between research needs and the welfare of animals,” he said. “Our objective is to find that balance.”
Russell emphasizes the three R’s in minimizing animal distress: replacing animals with in-vitro options whenever possible; reducing the numbers of animals down to the minimum required for answering a research question; and the refining experimental procedures to minimize any distress to the animal.
He also knows it’s essential to have “a credible governing framework in place to keep all of our animal-related research projects on an ethical, compassionate path.”
That framework is U of I’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which ensures the university’s compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and policies for animal research. By design, IACUC provides a range of perspectives during its review, as any proposed animal research at U of I requires prior committee approval.
Russell believes the ability to use animals in research is not a right, but a privilege.
“To maintain that privilege, we must maintain accountability through a framework for compassionate animal care,” he said.