Steps need to be undertaken in the Arab countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council, toward improvement in experimental animal welfare through a formal laboratory animal science training course
Syed Ilyas Shehnaz and Anoop Kumar Agarwal
Animal experiments are currently the mainstay in the determination of the biological activity of newly discovered compounds. The preliminary animal data serve as the basis for elaborate studies in the biological and medical sciences, such as the safety and efficacy testing of drugs, research into genetic disorders, and the development of diagnostics. It is essential that the preclinical data generated should be reliable, accurate and precise, in order to optimise the subsequent clinical studies. Moreover, the handling of laboratory animals and the performance of animal experiments are an integral part of post-graduate training in pharmacology, toxicology, biotechnology, physiology, molecular biology, microbiology and related courses. Many alternatives to animal experiments have been advocated globally. However, in view of the perceived limitations of these alternatives, animal experiments have not been totally replaced in most research institutions.
Biomedical research in Gulf Co-operation Council countries
The Arab countries of the Gulf region, i.e. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, together constitute the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). The number of biomedical research institutes in these countries has significantly increased in the past decade.1 This increase, taken together with the existence of 25 medical colleges2 and many other universities, means that research activities in the GCC countries have also concurrently increased. Nearly 7,000 MEDLINE®-listed research papers have been published from these countries over the past ten years.3 Kuwait and Saudi Arabia also featured among the top ten countries, with regard to biomedical research productivity in Asia.4 In spite of the active research profile of the GCC countries, to the best of our knowledge there is no formal training course that prepares the biomedical scientists in these countries to undertake animal research in line with the international standards on animal ethics, Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) or FELASA guidelines. Adherence to the principles of GLP is an essential requirement for all animal studies and must be indicated in the Investigational New Drug application, along with preclinical toxicity data, for clinical trials. Similarly, certification according to the FELASA guidelines is compulsory for biomedical scientists in most European countries.5
Laboratory animal sciences training
Several intrinsic and extrinsic factors have a bearing on animal experiments, and ignorance of these factors can often result in false positive or false negative data. The impact of these factors can be minimised through the formal training of the researchers involved in the planning, design and execution of animal studies. If undertaken, a structured training will help in troubleshooting, reduce errors and generate more-credible experimental data. Proper training will also help to reduce threats to the validity of, for example, neuro-behavioural studies involving whole animal responses, which are significantly affected by the environment and the experimental skills of the scientist. A short training course in Laboratory Animal Sciences (LAS) was previously suggested,6 which can be adopted per se or modified as per the local needs and resources of the GCC countries. The characteristics of various animal species, their associated housing and handling practices, their suitability for different experiments, procedural skills, available alternatives and protocol design, were proposed as the main elements of the training course. Moreover, many ethical issues, such as pain and injury, rehabilitation, re-use, euthanasia, and the disposal of carcasses, have been adequately addressed.7 After this training, the researchers would be equipped to address the ethical issues with justification and relevance, in line with the national regulatory requirements for animal experiments. The training could be offered by institutions and research centres, either individually or at a centralised facility in each country, with the pooling of expertise and resources from all the GCC countries. Owing to the charter of the GCC countries, there is a likelihood that an initiative taken by one member country in this direction will promote and facilitate animal research training in other GCC countries. Apart from the aforesaid caveats, the training would assist the senior members of the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) to inspect and scrutinise proposals for animal research, in accordance with the principles of the Three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement). The training could also serve as a prerequisite for the induction of new members into the AEC. In most GCC institutions, the constitution of the AEC is based on the members’ professional experience and completion of the quorum which helps meet the requirements of international scientific journals.
The non-GCC countries of the Middle East, i.e. Turkey and Iran, have taken the initiative in developing ethical regulatory systems for animal experiments by the setting up of AECs in almost all of their biomedical universities.8 An animal ethics course based on Islamic principles is being conducted in Iran as a mandatory requirement for personnel involved in animal research projects. The full training involves seven specific courses in addition to a general course.9 Attempts have also been made in North Africa and the Middle East to sensitise the scientific community to the advantages of alternatives to animal use, and guidelines have been outlined for the total replacement of animal experiments in education and research.10 The LAS course suggested for the GCC could assist in providing technical support for the effective execution of these guidelines.
Some Middle Eastern countries, such as Turkey and Iran, have passed regulations for establishing standards in animal research. Similar steps need to be undertaken in the Arab countries of the GCC, toward improvement in experimental animal welfare through a formal laboratory animal science training course.
Author for correspondence:Dr Syed Ilyas Shehnaz
Department of Pharmacology
Gulf Medical University
PO Box 4184
United Arab Emirates
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