Newsletter No. 85

CUHK Newsletter 2 No. 85 19th March 1996 The Anima l Hous e A New D i r e c t o r , a New Vi s i on, and Soon, a New Loca t i on The labelled cages hold mice that are being used for research. A white mouse in the surgical unit Goats in their enclosure Where cages are cleaned. T he term 'animal house' conjures up all sorts of images, and one doesn't really know what to expect inside an establishment bearing such a name. Dr. Anthony E. James, the new director of the University's Animal House, looking very much at home in his surroundings of one and a half months (at the time of the interview), started straightaway to put things into perspective for the CUHK Newsletter reporter. Most visitors will be impressed by the diversity of the inhabitants: there are different types of rodents (guinea-pigs, mice of four different varieties and rats of another four, hamsters, and gerbils) and non-rodents (rabbits, shrews, cats, dogs, goats, pigs, and poultry). The current break-up indicates that accommodation has been provided for 13,600 rats, 28,500 mice, 3,200 hamsters, 1,000 guinea pigs, 400 rabbits, and other animals in smaller numbers. They reside in cages and enclosures of different sizes, some individually and some in groups. According to Dr. James, the cages are cleaned thoroughly every three days, and physical and psychological comforts provided to the animals wherever possible. The goats, being herd animals, nuzzle each other in their enclosures and seem to enjoy the music that has been provided for them. One also instantly feels the higher temperatures that are being maintained where the tree-shrews, which thrive in warmer climes, are housed. The animals that have been used for experiments have their cages carefully labelled with their dates of birth, the name of the researcher who is using them, and other specifications regarding the research. There are many laboratories and a roomy and well-equipped surgical unit. What is the Animal House all about? Its mission statement is 'to supply quality laboratory animals, husband them in a modem and well-maintained environment, and provide expert advice from well-trained and competent staff in order to assist the biomedical and bio-scientific researchers of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.' University units availing of its services include the departments of biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology, physiology, surgery, orthopaedics and traumatology, paediatrics, medicine, pharmacy, biology, and chemical pathology, and the multidisciplinary laboratories. The research done covers a wide range of areas. Dr. Alfreda Stadlin of the Department of Anatomy, for example, has been studying the changes in the brain of aged mice to gain better insight into Parkinson's Disease. And Dr. Anthony Rudd of the Department of Pharmacology has been studying housemusk shrews at close quarters — f o r research into the mechanisms of vomiting and the feeling of nausea that are associated with chemotherapy. Established in 1981, the Animal House was originally attached to the Science Faculty. With the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine and the increased demand for experiment animals, it became an independent unit and moved to its present premises at the Choh-Ming Li Building for Basic Medical Sciences, where it occupies three floors covering 1,722 sq.m. The premises however show their age and are also inadequate in terms of space — which is why the Animal House will shift to a new building that is coming up near the University KCR station. The Shanghai Fraternity Association Research Services C ntre, as it will be named, should be ready by late 1996, though realistically speaking Dr. James feels that it will be fully operational only by mid-1997. The new animal house will have a floor space of 2,458 sq.m., and will mark the progression of the now conventional animal house to a barrier-maintained one, where animals are cleaner micro-biologically, and of a higher biological and environmental quality. Under strict monitoring, a new set of animals will be bred, or imported from countries like the US and the UK, to occupy the new animal house. Stringent conditions are essential for breeding and maintaining quality animals that support reliable, high-calibre research. Dr. James and his team of 24 staff members will work together to provide, in his words, 'a level of service that has not previously been available to researchers at the University.' The Animal House will supply breeding and husbandry services to researchers wishing to establish new lines of research animals, or cquire and import laboratory animals on their behalf. 'We shall ensure that any contact with the researcher is friendly, efficient, informative, accurate and therefore professional,' says Dr. James. He feels that some researchers may not be aware of the full range of services that the Animal House staff are capable of providing. He quotes as an example a colleague who was spending a considerable amount of time trying to 'invent' a particular device that would help restrain a cat enough to inject it without harming it or the research procedure. Dr. James was able to tell him that such a gadget already existed; a quick fax to a company known to Dr. James in the UK and a fax back of the appropriate catalogue page solved the problem that was holding progress back. Experience and knowledge in the field of animals can indeed help iron out difficulties that others may be facing. In fact Dr. James hopes to put together by July an information brochure on the Animal House that will help elucidate its myriad activities and potential possibilities. 'We can provide expert advice and assistance in anaesthesia, analgesia, surgery, animal model choice, breeding strategies, colony rederivation, colony health, colony genetics, transgenics, laboratory animal equipment, laboratory animal house design and training needs of technicians. Researchers are always welcome to contact me to discuss their specific needs as our aim is to be useful to them,' he says. As director of the Animal House, what are his views on ethics in animal research? There is no hesitation when he says, 'Our support of animal research is based on our belief in the validity of results gained. Such research must however ensure that at all times Burch and Russell's 3R's are followed — i.e., wherever possible, animal numbers are reduced to the minimum and animals are replaced by non-animal models if such an alternative exists, and the projects being carried out are so refined that the animals do not experience unnecessary pain or suffering. Our technical staff are available to help researchers achieve all these.' Adherence to that which is ethical, as well as legal, is important in another aspect of their work — the disposal of wastes. 'We produce up to six cubic metres of soiled bedding a day, and all of this goes to government-controlled land-fill. We have Environmental Protection Department permits and use experienced cartage contractors so that the University's reputation is not jeopardized,' Dr. James explains reassuringly. Dr. James is a member of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. After some years of private practice, he worked for the Australian government's Veterinary Public Health Service. He then pursued studies in laboratory animal science and looked after three animal houses in Australia beforejoining the University in December 1995. Does he perceive any major differences between those three, and the one at CUHK? Dr. James feels that while 'the Australian facilities may have started earlier in the application of new technology like transgenics and have a larger species range, the CUHK unit is growing'. The CUHK Animal House is an older establishment that is in the process of being modernized, and he is confident that eventually it will rival and be more modern than anything he has managed before. In the meantime, Dr. James and his family are exploring life in a new environment. 'My wife Helen resigned as a bank manager to come to Hong Kong with me and she is enjoying her retirement. My daughter now goes to Sha Tin Secondary College. My son is in his final year of senior school in Australia,' he says. The family now live in an apartment on campus with three dogs, and all qualms about living in Hong Kong have been set at rest. A tennis player, a distance runner, and a baseball player, Dr. James's hobbies also include bee and poultry keeping, very much in line with his work at the University. O Shalini Bahadur