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How the A-PLAC committee keeps the paperwork (somewhat) under control
STANFORD -- "Every protocol has to be 40 pages long!" one researcher said,
talking about the added paperwork for a project involving animal research.
While this is not entirely true - renewals and amendments may be much
shorter - the animal-care approval requirement does add to a scientist's
Working with Kathy McClelland, the research compliance officer with the
Office of Sponsored Projects, and Valerie Fratus, the animal subjects
coordinator, here is how the Administrative Panel on Laboratory Animal Care
(A-PLAC) tries to be both complete and streamlined:
- Every person who plans to use animals for research or teaching must
submit a protocol to the committee. At Stanford, this applies even if the
research receives no funding, from the government or any other source. It has
long applied to small vertebrates like fish, rats and mice - animals that
until recently were not accounted for by some government agencies. Every
protocol must be renewed once a year. Changes in protocols - for example, if
a new scientist joins a research team - must be filed for approval.
- Fratus presorts the protocols, identifying renewals with no changes and
projects with standard operating procedures already approved for that
research group. She may suggest improvements that will speed approval - for
example , reminding the principal investigator to state whether the new
scientist has been trained in rat anesthesia procedures.
A dialogue begins with the researcher.
- Thomas Hamm, chair of the Department of Comparative Medicine, or one of
the department's other veterinarians, also screens the protocols and flags
those of particular concern.
- A-PLAC panel chair Donald Stanski and his colleagues divide up the
protocols to be considered; each is seen by at least three committee members,
who pay particular attention to the flagged ones.
They pass their questions back to the investigators electronically, via
McClelland and Fratus. They may ask: Does the project need this many animals?
Won't that procedure cause unnecessary stress?
With questions resolved, most protocols are nominated for approval.
- Some protocols come before the whole committee for extra scrutiny
because of unresolved questions about the research design. Sometimes it takes
several rounds of questions before committee members are satisfied.
In a few cases, they ask that the project be monitored by veterinary staff
until they are satisfied that it can be conducted humanely.
- The whole committee meets with every faculty member who uses live
vertebrates in teaching. They meet in full session with those few researchers
whose projects involve pain that cannot be relieved by anesthetics or
analgesics. In such projects, such as a study of pain itself, the painkiller
will nullify the data. Such projects are relatively few, involving 75 animals
in a typical year.
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