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null The RI-MUHC is first in Canada to adopt sentinel-free animal health monitoring

One of ten champion institutions worldwide, the RI-MUHC has completely switched to a new program reducing the number of animals used in its Animal Resources Division

SOURCE: RI-MUHC

In a first for Canada, the Animal Resources Division (ARD) at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) has been recognized as one of ten champion institutions to have completely switched to an animal health monitoring program that does not require sentinel animals.

Over the last 50 years, the health of research animals has traditionally been monitored using sentinel animals. Sentinel animals are used to monitor the health of research animals, particularly in the early detection of disease. Recently, highly sensitive molecular-based diagnostics (quantitative PCR) combined with noninvasive environmental monitoring and testing strategies have been adapted to supplement, and even replace, the traditional health monitoring methods that require the use of sentinel animals. These newer approaches can significantly reduce the number of animals needed in human health research.

“Our ARD team proactively follows the ‘3Rs’ tenet of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement in animal care,” says Lucie Côté, DMV, director of the ARD at the RI-MUHC. “This means that we are always seeking new ways to reduce the number of animals required for human health research, refining scientific methods to improve animal wellbeing, and replacing animal tests with alternatives whenever possible.”

To this end, the ARD team considered whether they could create a health monitoring program that would eliminate the use of sentinel animals, yet still be highly effective. Working with Idexx Bioanalytics, a leader in the field of animal health monitoring and diagnostics, the ARD team conducted extensive testing over several years. They studied a traditional method that places sentinel animals in contact with the used bedding of research colony animals, then tests for pathogens that may transfer from the bedding to the sentinels. They compared these results with noninvasive monitoring methods, including measurement of pathogens in feces, fur swabs and dust samples from animal housing. The results showed that these noninvasive methods were most effective in monitoring the health of research colonies.

“Not only can we detect critical pathogens earlier, save labour and time, and better monitor the health of our colonies, but we can significantly reduce the number of research animals needed.”

— Lucie Côté, DMV

A model for other research centres

“The impact of these results is great,” says Dr. Côté. “Not only can we detect critical pathogens earlier, save labour and time, and better monitor the health of our colonies, but we can significantly reduce the number of research animals needed. We began working on this kind of noninvasive monitoring in 2018, and since that time we have reduced our needs by about 3,400 rodents.”

The North American 3Rs collaborative (NA3RSC), an organization focused on refining, reducing and replacing animals in research, reached out to the ARD team. By widely sharing the details of the techniques used so successfully at the RI-MUHC, this group aims to convince other research centres to refine their animal health monitoring programs by switching to these noninvasive methods. TheNA3RSC has recognized the RI-MUHC as one of ten institutions─and the only institution in Canada─ to have completely switched to an animal health monitoring program that is sentinel-free.

“Every single member of our team has helped to achieve this milestone,” adds Aurore Dodelet-Devillers, DVM, MSC, clinical veterinarian at the RI-MUHC. “This is something everyone here should be proud of.”

The environmental program promoted by the North American 3Rs Collaborative seeks to replace sentinel mice, while attaining more accurate results, reducing labour costs, and reducing emotional fatigue among animal care workers. Image credit: North American 3Rs Collaborative.
The environmental program promoted by the North American 3Rs Collaborative seeks to replace sentinel mice, while attaining more accurate results, reducing labour costs, and reducing emotional fatigue among animal care workers. Image credit: North American 3Rs Collaborative.