The use of animal models in biomedical research benefits human health and is strictly regulated. Breakthroughs in treatments for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS would not have been possible without studies using animal models of disease.
Good scientific research requires strict adherence to the ethical and humane treatment of research animals. At UC Davis we both endorse and enforce the "3Rs principles" in which biomedical researchers search for ways to Replace animals in research when feasible, Reduce the numbers of animals used, and Refine methods to improve animal welfare.
In March 2017, UC Davis was notified that AAALAC International had reaccredited the campus animal care program. AAALAC International is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through accreditation and assessment programs. More than 980 universities, companies and other research institutions in 44 countries have volunteered to be inspected and assessed by AAALAC, in addition to complying with federal, state and local laws and regulations.
In 2016, UC Davis decided to transfer responsibility for animal care programs to the Office of Research, as is the case at most research universities. As part of this process, then-Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter ordered a comprehensive internal review of animal care on campus. The final report of that review was received July 6, 2017, and is available here. The report found no systemic shortcomings in the animal care program but made a number of recommendations. Hexter's response to the report can be found here.
Advances at UC Davis
The path from fundamental discovery to clinical medicine can be long and often involves multiple collaborators. Animal studies can play a role alongside cell culture systems, computer models and experiments and clinical trials involving human volunteers. Here are some examples of recent medical advances that involved research from UC Davis:
Collaborative work between the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) at UC Davis and other research centers has led to the development of a possible vaccine for HIV, based on a “backbone” from another virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), developed at UC Davis. The vaccine is currently in human trials. Related work could also lead to a vaccine for CMV, a common virus passed from pregnant mothers to infants that can cause birth defects.
The CNPRC played a key role in the development and testing of tenofovir (PMPA), now the most commonly used anti-HIV drug in the world and a key ingredient in HIV prophylaxis. Thanks to tenofovir, HIV-infected mothers can give birth to HIV-free infants, and HIV-infected people can live long and healthy lives.
Our research found a link between environmental tobacco smoke exposure and adverse effects on prenatal, neonatal and childhood lung development, cognitive function, and brain development.
Changes in the brain that lead to cognitive aging have been identified. This work is now being extended to potential interventions to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. In addition, research has demonstrated that reversal of damage and restoration of brain function is possible.
What kinds of animals?
UC Davis is thought to have the largest animal research and care program in the U.S., based on both numbers of animals and the range of species studied. UC Davis researchers study animals of all kinds in natural habitats as well as in the lab. By far the most numerous research animals at UC Davis are fish and mice.
Fish (mostly small, less than the size of a finger) are used in a wide range of studies in genetics, development, evolution and environmental sciences.
Laboratory mice play a key role in fundamental biomedical research. UC Davis is a collaborator in the Knockout Mouse Project (KOMP), supported by the National Institutes of Health, which is building a "library" of mice that are modified to lack specific genes. These "knockout" mice are enabling scientists to make discoveries about diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
The California National Primate Research Center houses about 4,000 nonhuman primates, mostly rhesus macaques with a smaller number of cynomolgus, or long-tailed macaques, and a small colony of South American Titi monkeys. There are no chimpanzees or other (nonhuman) apes at the center. Research programs at the center include work toward treatments and vaccines for HIV, Zika virus and other infectious diseases; lung disease, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); reproductive health; and brain health, including age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's.
The School of Veterinary Medicine operates a spay/neuter program where cats and dogs from local shelters are brought to campus, neutered and returned for adoption. This provides valuable training for veterinary students and makes the animals adoptable.
As a world leader in agricultural research, UC Davis also houses production animals including cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens.
How animal research is regulated
UC Davis follows all applicable laws and regulations, and we strive to continuously improve our standards of animal care. At the federal level, animal research is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care Unit, which carries out regular inspections under the Animal Welfare Act, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, which can also carry out inspections.
The UC Davis animal care program, including the CNPRC, is accredited by AAALAC International. UC Davis is one of more than 980 research institutions and other organizations in 44 countries worldwide that have earned AAALAC accreditation, demonstrating our program’s commitment to responsible animal care and use.
All research studies involving animals must be approved by the campus's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which includes public representatives as well as faculty and staff. The IACUC also inspects the facilities every six months. Research involving primates is also reviewed by an internal committee at the center.