A GEM of an Idea
Research Models
Laura Casey

A GEM of an Idea

Two innovative web-based management tools have led to more effective management of research model production, earning us a prestigious 3Rs award.

Managing specialized animal models and colonies is a complex, labor-intensive process. There are thousands of transgenic and defined health status strains used in research today, and the numbers keep increasing all the time. So how can one keep up with the needs of science but still remain true to the longstanding 3Rs principles of reduction, replacement and refinement?

Obviously, we ask ourselves this question all the time at Charles River. Our search for answers recently led us to develop two innovative web-based tools that have improved dramatically how we collect and share animal data on these specialized colonies. As a result, we are reducing the number of animals used in biomedical research.

These 21st-century solutions were also recognized Nov. 11 by the Roche Ethics Committee on Animal Welfare. The group selected our application on Production Isolator Colony Management as a winner this year in its Laboratory Animal Care and Management category. First introduced in 2008, the 3Rs Award program is open to all colleagues in the Roche group and their most important CRO partners.

It goes without saying that these tools would not be possible without the steady advances in online software and portable electronic devices. (Face it! Who among us goes anywhere without our SmartPhones?) Yet until recently, laboratories and research model breeders relied primarily on paper records and spreadsheets to manage transgenic colonies which could be both cumbersome and inefficient. The large volumes of data generated from breeding, separating, identifying and handling these complex models took a lot of time to enter and analyze, and the data entry errors the system produced from time to time slowed down the process even further.

So in 2012 we introduced a customized web and mobile application in our Genetically Engineered Model Services division (GEMS), which we call Internet Colony Management, or ICM, that uses electronic production indices and real-time data to track our genetically engineered rodents. This automated process is allowing us to manage these colonies more efficiently and effectively—and has enabled us to reduce the number of mice that we need to produce for clients and yet deliver on their research needs.

We did something very similar in Gnotobiotics, which houses our Gnotobiotic and elite animals. Like GEMS, managing the production isolator colonies had been a largely manual process. To streamline things, we implemented a process automation project and created a customized web-based mobile application called Animal Inventory Management, or AIM, which has allowed us to significantly reduce the number of mice produced for clients.

Because these twin projects were designed with the 3Rs in mind, animal welfare entered in every step in their development. In ICM, the procedures and workflows were designed to help technicians respond immediately to changing customer requirements, unlike the old manual system where time lags were inevitable. These rapid responses have provided project managers much better visibility of the colony, in real time, which is helping them to determine immediately if goals are being met. This greater visibility, for instance, is allowing clients to better focus on the colonies that are actively being utilized and to cryopreserve the ones that are not. When colonies are maintained as frozen product, it reduces the production of unnecessary animals.

In AIM, technicians input isolator information into keypads attached to their wrist on a weekly basis. The information pops up, in real-time, in the desktop interface of the management team so they can analyze, review and make decisions about production levels. The availability of real-time data allows us to adjust our colony levels based on our production-sales ratios, without compromising the needs of our clients. There is now no time lag and we have more accurate data.

Animal welfare is, of course, of the utmost importance. With ICM, technicians can provide updates on the conditions and health status of animals in real-time, which then drives the work list of veterinary technicians, also in real-time, allowing them to tend to the needs of the animals quickly. For instance, this automated notification and tracking system has allowed us to capture phenotype data rapidly enough so that colony levels can be changed if the expression of the phenotype is detrimental. And refinements made to ICM and AIM now offer real-time reports of any abnormal animals across the facility.

These innovations, now used to manage all of our colonies in North America, Japan and Europe, remind us how helpful software has been in reducing animal production of our transgenic and gnotobiotics animals. But there are other ideas out there that can also contribute greatly to the 3Rs. I've no doubt Charles River will be leading the way.

How to cite:

Casey, Laura. A GEM of an Idea. Eureka blog. Nov 12, 2015. Available: https://eureka.criver.com/a-gem-of-an-idea/