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How does the NIH ensure animal welfare?


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The mission of the NIH is science in pursuit of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

To carry out this mission, NIH has an ethical and legal obligation to ensure the welfare of and minimize risks for all who participate in NIH-funded research. This includes both humans and animals.

All animals used in federally-funded research are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare. Fulfilling these protections is a collaborative effort between NIH, federally-supported scientific investigators, and research institutions.

NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) provides oversight of all NIH-supported research activities that involve animals. OLAW monitors NIH-funded institutions to ensure their compliance with animal welfare laws and policies.  OLAW also investigates allegations concerning animal welfare and appropriate animal care in NIH-funded studies.

Federally-supported scientists are accountable for the protection of research animals’ welfare from the earliest stages of planning until the project’s completion. Before beginning the research, scientists must provide thorough, written justification for animal use, as well as a meticulous description of how animals will be housed and cared for and how veterinary care will be provided.

The NIH peer review system evaluates these descriptions very rigorously. Peer reviewers are scientists from institutions around the world who understand scientific value of a particular animal model for understanding the biological processes of a health condition and its treatments. Their evaluations ensure that only the highest quality research projects are considered by NIH for funding.

A committee at each institution called the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) also evaluates the proposed research. Comprised of local scientists, nonscientists, community members, and veterinarians, IACUCs closely monitor the research and ensure that the research conducted is in accordance with all provisions of the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (PHS Policy). The NIH will not fund research that uses animals if the IACUC has not given its approval to the proposed study.

Throughout the research process, the IACUC monitors the care and use of animals at the institution, and it has the authority to suspend any activities involving animals if the research is not in compliance with federal requirements. NIH-funded institutions must report promptly to OLAW if the IACUC finds any violation of the PHS Policy. OLAW then considers these reports and requires the institution to make appropriate corrections and to prevent further violations.

Working together with the research institutions it funds, NIH upholds its commitment to the safety and welfare of laboratory animals so that researchers may continue to understand the biological processes of health and disease and to develop treatments that improve quality of life for both people and animals.

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