“But, what do the researchers want?”
After a decade of programming vivarium facilities, and noticing that researchers are rarely directly involved in the planning and development process, a reasonable question might be: Why not? After all, at the end of the day, they are our customers!
Even more intriguing is the apparent animosity that almost always seems to exist between the researchers and the vivarium management and staff. Is it because there are genuine differences between what the researchers need and what their facilities provide? Or is it a “lost in translation” moment, with two groups bickering over the same issues from differing perspectives? If they actually talked to each other, rather than at each other, would both groups find they actually agree on most points, in most cases?
The simple act of conversation may be the easiest way to bridge the gaps between the utilization needs of the research community and the level of service and access that a conventional vivarium can or could provide. As is too often the case though, defensiveness derails the possibility of mutually beneficial concepts from ever reaching the table. In fact, one veterinarian said he saw “no sense in having inmates design or run the asylum.” That is a real shame.
So we decided to pose the question to the research community—does the traditional vivarium model meet their needs? If not, what do they need?
Through a simple survey of researchers, we endeavored to find out what researchers need to more successfully include animal models in their research, how well their current vivarium facilities are meeting their needs, where there may be opportunities for improvement, and what they see happening in the next ten years or so. This article summarizes the results and key findings of the survey.
We had been warned to not expect a lot of response; researchers are rightly concerned about security and threats to their work, so they might not be inclined to respond. So we did not get the level of statistical data we would have preferred to develop irrefutable findings. However, we found 35 participants, with a range of responses and thoughtful comments, enough to feel comfortable offering some generalized, anecdotal observations about what researchers are thinking about. At the risk of pushing the point, remember that the researchers are the customers, so what they’re thinking about should be important to the rest of us.
Confidence and Reliability
Outside of per diem costs, the researchers identified several important factors in the successful use of animal models:
- Essentially all of the researchers considered reliability of data, access to the animals, environmental conditions, and housing conditions and husbandry important. Keeping their animals separated from other researchers’ animals was also a strong consideration.
- The researchers’ ability to perform routine and major procedures themselves, availability of appropriate core facilities, adjacency of procedure rooms to holding rooms, and appropriate space for gowning or donning PPE were also important.
- The group was split regarding the ability to remove and return animals from the vivarium for procedures or experiments, with a little over half regarding this as an important issue.
- Somewhat surprisingly, the group was split down the middle on the importance of amenities such as locker rooms, equipment storage, etc.