Common Questions

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How have humans benefited from animal research?

Around the world, millions of people are alive today because of the benefits of medical research with animals, and millions more are living longer, healthier lives. Clear examples include cancer treatments, greater survivability from heart attacks, the development of HIV vaccines and successful transplants of many organs.

What ethics and standards are applied to animal studies at Western?

Western takes a very proactive approach to ethical conduct in research. Our Animal Care Committee (ACC) meets weekly to ensure our animal research meets both federal and provincial accreditation standards in animal procedures.

Research ethics represent a core training requirement for research teams, animal welfare staff and the Animal Care Committee members as they adjudicate each research proposal.

Staff, faculty members and graduate students are trained to conduct their work with the utmost regard for animals under their care.

How are research animals housed?

Animals used for research are housed in specialized facilities that meet the strict standards set out by the Ontario Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Canadian Council on Animal Care and federal research granting agencies.

It is critical and required that all animals used for research are housed in a highly respectful environment that allows animals to express their innate behaviours such as foraging, grooming, building shelter, feeding and social/family engagement.

How are the animals cared for?

Western provides the highest level of care possible for our animals; this is both a legal and moral obligation.

We have a team of veterinarians, animal care technicians, managers and office staff all focused on animal care.

We implement an environmental enrichment program that allows the animals to be inquisitive and stimulated intellectually through activities such as foraging for food or solving puzzles. Animal care technicians pay close attention to the socialization of the animals.

Will research shift away from animal use?

Researchers and research oversight bodies strive to reduce the need for animal models by repurposing existing data and models for emerging problems or replacing existing models entirely when better approaches become available. Examples include the development of advanced artificial intelligence approaches to accelerate the design of treatments for viral infections, use of plant-based models to develop viral antigens, cell organoid models, and establishing Open Science concepts so that global sharing of data can occur (and reduce the need for repeated experiments).

What animals are used in research at Western?

Rodents are use predominantly at Western. A list of animal types used can be found here.

Where do the animals used at Western come from?

These animals come from approved providers that meet the standards of Western's Animal Care Committee and other regulatory bodies.

Does Western use non-human primates?

Non-human primates (NHPs) make up about 0.5 per cent of the animals used in research at Western. They are used to study the neural bases of movement as well as understanding and developing of treatments for neurodegenerative disorders

While researchers can study some functions of the brain or treatments for brain disease by studying rodents, or by using tissue samples or computer models, the ability to understand advanced behaviour – like thinking or memory – requires models closer to humans in terms of brain structure and function. NHPs allow researchers to bridge the gap between rodents and humans.

Importantly, the development and dosage of drugs must undergo strict studies regarding their metabolism, toxicity and efficacy before being used in humans. Many differences exist in how drugs are metabolized and cleared between rodents and primates. Therefore, to establish drug breakdown and removal properties, as well as potential side effects, animal models, including NHPs, help us understand similarities and differences in treatment benefits of new drugs or devices before moving to human studies.

Do animals used for research experience pain or distress?

Some studies involve only observation of the animals. In other cases, they may be trained to complete tasks such as computer games. Research may also involve MRI scans, taking blood samples, injections and adjustments to feeding patterns.

All researchers and staff are trained to ensure humane handling techniques and all facilities provide living conditions that promote natural behaviours and minimize discomfort.

Significant oversight exists for any research that could cause pain or distress, and pain mitigation is a primary objective. Before a study can begin, researchers are required to develop plans in consultation with veterinarians that state how animals will be monitored and what actions will be taken to minimize discomfort.

Does Western use animals to conduct cosmetic surgery or test cosmetics?


What happens to the animals after the research?

The Canadian Council of Animal Care requires humane methods of euthanasia for research animals.

Researchers study animal models throughout their life cycle and post-mortem, doing everything they can to gain further scientific evidence to help cure and treat disease and to improve health and well-being for humans and other animals across the world.

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